The first step in preparing grilled butterflied chicken is to butterfly the bird.
Question: When a recipe calls for butterflied chicken, where do you make the cut — down the back or the breast? See, I always cut down the breast. You can see that in the chicken piri piri and chicken inasal recipes.
Then, I saw Jamie Oliver butterflying a chicken by cutting down its back. And that made me think. Why down the back? The breast is where the meat is thickest and it makes more sense to split it for even cooking. There’s hardly any meat on the back part so that doesn’t take long to cook. The only reason I could think of is that Westerners are partial to breast meat and they probably want the breast meat to retain as much of its juices as possible. Ergo, keep the breast intact.
If, indeed, that is the reason, then the principle really does not apply to me. In my family, when I cook a whole chicken, the breast meat often becomes leftover that is made into chicken salad the following day.
If you have other theories as to how a chicken should be butterflied, down the back or the breast — and why — I sure would love to hear it.
This grilled butterflied chicken recipe is very similar to my version of chicken tikka. In fact, the marinade is exactly the same. But since we’re cooking with a whole chicken this time, we depart from the chicken tikka procedure a bit.
- 1 whole chicken 1.5 to 1.8 kg.
- 2 tablespoons rock salt
- 1 tablespoon turmeric grated (or use powdered)
- 1 tablespoon crushed galangal
- 5 heaping teaspoons sambal oelek (chili-based sauce, available in jars; you can substitute 1 tsp. of finely chopped bird’s eye chilis)
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 2 thumb-sized knobs ginger , peeled and grated
- 6 cloves garlic , peeled and grated
- 1 cup coconut cream (if using fresh, you need to extract the cream from at least three coconuts with no, or very little, water)
First, you butterfly the chicken. Down the back or breast, I’ll leave that to you.
Spread the butterflied chicken and place skin side down in a wide shallow container. Use a fork to to pierce through the parts where the meat is thickest. That means the thighs, legs and breasts. Pierce several times. This will ensure that the marinade gets through the thickest parts. This is especially important if you only have a few hours to marinate the chicken.
Mix the rest of the ingredients in a bowl. Spread over the chicken. Cover. Marinate in the fridge for several hours (overnight, if you have the time). Turn the chicken over every couple of hours, massaging the marinade into crevices that where the marinade cannot easily penetrate (I’m talking about the joints, especially under the wings).
After marinating, grill your chicken. Over live coals or in a convection oven. If using an oven, I recommend a temperature between 375F and 400F. In an oven, it usually takes 40 to 50 minutes to cook the chicken through. If grilling over live coals, I suggest using a grill basket so that the chicken stays flat and spread.
A well-marinated grilled butterflied chicken like this does not really require a dipping sauce but, if you must, you can boil the leftover marinade and serve it on the side.