06 May 2014

Preparing a chicken for the barbecue

When I was in North Carolina in April — or more precisely, on the verge of returning to France — a cousin of mine gave me a little packet of dried, powdered chili peppers that she had made. She and her son grow a big crop of hot peppers every summer, and she has a dehydrator she used to to dry them. Ginger's mother is my mother's "baby" sister.

Don't open the bag until you get home, she said, and open a window first. They might think you are a terrorist in the airport or on the plane if you open it where people can smell the hot pepper and feel the effects in their eyes and nose. It's really hot. And she was right: it is. Walt and I seasoned a chicken with the pepper powder along with some powdered allspice (piment de la Jamaïque in French), black pepper, and salt. We were planning to cook it on the barbecue grill.

Walt got a chicken at the outdoor market in Saint-Aignan Saturday morning. The poultry vendor prepares the bird you choose by cutting off the head and the feet, gutting the bird, and burning off any pinfeathers that remain stuck to the skin. Singeing the skin supposedly helps kill any stray bacteria, too, they say. Notice how they leave the "knees" on the chicken. That's so the leg meat won't shrink up as it cooks and the drumstick will be more attractive.

Since we wanted to cook the chicken on the grill, and because a whole chicken is a lot to eat for just the two of us, I decided to cut the bird in half. Half went onto the grill and half went into the freezer for later. All the extra parts — the back, neck, wing tips, heart, liver, gizzard, and pieces of skin and fat — went into a pot of hot water on the stove to make broth. Callie gets to eat the boiled meat and giblets.

The first step in preparing a chicken this way is to remove the back by cutting along the spine from the "pope's nose" up to the neck with some sturdy kitchen or poultry shears. I guess you could use a big knife but I think scissors work better, with less danger of cutting yourself. Cut down one side of the spine and then the other, and lift the whole spine and neck out.

With the bird lying breast-side down, use a big knife to cut through the breast bone. I like to use the big serrated knife in the picture above. Once I've cut part way through the sternum, I can use the other knife to complete sever the bone and bird in half. It's pretty easy, really. You end up with two nice halves and all the "noble" parts of the fowl to cook.

We seasoned the half-chicken on the outside and on the cut side with the hot pepper, allspice, and salt and pepper. Walt cooked the chicken half slowly for about 45 minutes on the grill, browning it first and then moving farther from the flame to let it cook all the way through. I like chicken well-done.

And that hot pepper spice was amazing — not just hot and spicy, but very flavorful. We have a good quantity of it left, given that you use very little to get a lot of flavor, and we'll be enjoying it all summer. It's true, too, than when you just sprinkle some onto whatever you're cooking, you have to quickly leave the kitchen to make sure you don't have a sneezing attack and burning eyes. (Sorry, no pictures of the cooked chicken half. We were too busy eating it to mess with a camera.)


  1. i have to know.. were the chickens smiling when you got to the market? or were they already dispatched? i really want to know what kind of bird it was - i'm noticing the color of the "knees."

  2. What a delicous dinner.

  3. I appreciate your food blog. I always learn something.


  4. There#s nothing like home-made chili powder! I make my own cayenne, and this year I'm growing pili-pili for something different. Next time you come to G-P I'll make sure you get some. P.


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