Have you heard of spatchcocking? With Thanksgiving coming up, the phrase is making the rounds on the Internet, showing off a way to cook a turkey in less time and create a more even cooking process. It can be done with a turkey, chicken or duck, so I decided to make the attempt and give it a try with a whole duck from Maple Leaf Farms, my favorite duck producers who I am happy to be an ambassador for.
Where did spatchcocking come from? Researchers who study food trends trace it back to Mark Bittman, New York Times food editor, whose 45-minute roast turkey recipe appeared in 2002. The process, however, was not new, it just was not widely used. Spatchcocking is similar to butterflying, but we tend to think of butterflying large chicken breasts, not the whole bird. Julia Child deconstructed a turkey in search of faster cooking time, and the recipe has been around for quite a while now.
But alas, it is new to me, so I decided to give it a shot.
Spatchcocking may look and sound like a lot of work, but it is quite easy if you have the right tools. Why should you do it?
- Turkeys, chickens, and duck are all shaped oddly for a roasting pan. With some of the skin at the bottom touching the racks, all of the juices from cooking drip down and create soggy skin underneath.
- That odd shape leads to uneven cooking times. The smaller areas of the bird will be cooked through well before the larger pieces. While spatchcocking does not completely solve this problem, it definitely helps.
- Don’t own a roasting pan? If you have a large baking sheet and a rack to place in it, allowing the bird to sit up off the sheet, you are good to go. Larger birds, such a 20+ pound turkeys, may not work quite as well with this method.
- Serious Eats offers more tips, but one I like a lot is that the bird looks pretty cool this way. I prefer it more like this than a whole bird.
Okay – let’s go.
Start with your toolbox:
- Kitchen shears large and strong enough to cut through bones
- Large baking sheet with at least a 1-inch rim
- Baking rack large enough to hold the duck once it is flattened
- Aluminum foil
- Basting brush
- Meat thermometer
Step One: Remove the duck from its plastic packaging and rinse it under cold water. Inside the neck, the cavity is the neck and the giblets. Keep the neck but discard the liver and heart, unless you want to make gravy from them later. We’ll use the neck for stock.
Lay the duck with the breast side down in a sink or on a large meat-safe cutting area.
Step Five: WAIT! It needs flavor and seasonings! How about a 1/4 cup spiced peach jam mixed with 2 tablespoons of soy sauce for that umami boost? It’s as easy as mixing the two together and slathering it on the bird. Seriously, that’s all you need to do. NOW you can pop the bird in the oven.
Step Six: Once it has cooked for 30 minutes, take the bird out of the oven and, using a fork, gently prick the skin to create holes for the fat to drain out. You can attempt this before the bird goes into the oven but I found the skin to be difficult to pick. Trust me, a LOT of fat will come out of this bird. If I was not using a marinade I would save the fat, but I don’t want peach jam and soy flavored fat, so I discarded it.
Step Seven: Place it back in the oven and let cook for a total of 1 hour and 30 minutes to 2 hours. Using a meat thermometer, probe the duck in the thigh. The temperature should be at least 165 degrees and the juices should run clear. I found that the juices in the lower breast meat area (closer to the leg) did not run clear until 1 hour and 45 minutes, and the temperature was 175 degrees. Once the duck is cooked, you can turn the heat up to 450 or to your broiler and carefully watch the duck as you render additional fat. Another method for this is to pre-boil the duck, but we’ll get to that in another SGE episode.
Step Eight: Let the duck cool for 15 minutes before slicing and serving. Bon appetit!