Night of the Spatchcock

The chicken, the herbs, the bones.

A good stock is a force of nature. It can stand up to a studio executive or a Supreme Court nominee. It is made of flesh and bones, herbs, onions, whole peppercorns, perhaps a few whole allspice, carrots, celery and time. Hours of untended time, and at a temperature that moves things just below the surface of the stock pot with a quiet menace.

A broth is another thing entirely. A broth is an idyl, a simple, small idea made on the back of the stove in the hour or two before it’s needed, with whatever happens to call to me, for the sole purpose of bolstering up some pan drippings or finishing a pan sauce along with some sherry or cider and dijon mustard and a slug of very good vinegar.

A broth is just what is called for tonight. Recently, I brought home some local chickens from Hood Hill Farm. These small birds, just under three pounds, are meaty, lean and petite. They are more like gymnasts than those fatty four-pound grocery store chickens who were butchered shortly after sitting in recliners watching Kardashian reruns and drinking cheap bourbon before noon.

On a Friday night in mid December, the light is already dimming at 4:00 when I enter the kitchen to start dinner prep, I look at that cute little chicken on the sideboard and decide to spatchcock it and roast it with winter orange slices under its skin. I rub it with salt, pepper, and smokey paprika, and lob a knuckle of butter on top. Because it is a local bird, the farmer was kind enough to place the chicken neck in the cavity. Armed with nothing but the spine snipped off when I spatchcock the bird, the neck, and that fat little butt we called the Pope’s Nose when I was a kid, I start a broth: those meager bones, the green tops of two leeks, several cloves of garlic, some parsley leaves and stems, and just enough water to cover. The broth will simmer slowly for at least an hour, then sit and cogitate until I run it through a chinoix.

My bird is laying flat and placid on a rack on a sheet pan. It’ll roast at 375 until a thermometer reads 160 in the fat part of the thigh, which will take 75-90 minutes. And I’ll be rewarded with mahogany brown drippings on the sheet pan. All those dripings will be prodded and scraped from the sheet pan into the strained stock.

And what now? Since hunger will be afoot by then, I will make a beurre manie, simply rubbing equal parts cold butter and flour together with my fingers, and whisking it into the lightly bubbling stock and drippings. It will not confuse anyone into thinking it’s a much reduced rich sauce built over hours, but on a cold December Friday, it is light and simple enough to moisten my little bird, and pool nicely over some potatoes and butternut squash mashed together with minced sage leaves, butter, buttermilk and parmesan cheese.