Meditation on a chicken

This summer has been kind of crazy to say the least and I’ve found I’ve taken on fewer cooking projects that seem worth sharing (though if you’d like a post about blanching and freezing green beans or corn, I’d be happy to oblige). Lately the tasks I’ve gotten the most pleasure out of are the most mindless; the meals, the simplest.

Don't forget to grill a few lemons

Yes, it would be faster to cut the tips off green beans in a big bunch, but it’s nice standing at my new counter and breaking off the ends of a pile of beans one by one, getting into a rhythm–pick a bean from the pile on my right, snap the end with my left hand, ready bean goes in front of me, end goes to the trash bowl on my left.

Similar to the pleasure I’ve found in yoga, sometimes these repetitive actions are just what I need, a kind of moving meditation. Same with my meals lately–a simple open-faced tomato sandwich, a bowl of gazpacho, corn on the cob–they don’t require much effort and leave plenty of mental space to enjoy the sunset view from my new porch, a new book, or simply listening to the bells from the church around the corner.

I know, this is all a rather contemplative for a post about chicken. But it’s a really good chicken, I promise!

All you need

Over the 4th of July weekend, I got a new grill. I have lots of capital-T Thoughts on it I’ll share another time, but the relevant point is it has a lid, which means I could finally try a whole butterflied (or spatchcocked) chicken on the grill. (My mom has taken to calling it “sasquatched” chicken, which actually kind of makes sense–what else would a chicken look like if it were stepped on by a sasquatch?)

Marcella Hazan and her Essentials of Italian Cooking gave me exactly the recipe I needed. Five ingredients I have on hand always–salt, pepper, lemon juice, olive oil, chicken–requiring the barest amount of thought, but ending in a fantastic meal. Adding herbs, some garlic, maybe some lemon zest all occurred to me, but maybe another time.

Lemon juice, olive oil, pepper
On the grill

Whether your mind is occupied with enjoying last-minute beach vacations or the busy-ness of getting back to school (or, in my case, preparing for the newest round of students to come to campus and oh, planning a trip to Paris in fall), give this a try. It’s not only an easy dinner, it makes amazing chicken sandwiches the next day, leaving plenty of time to savor the not-fall-yet season.

Crispy skin
Looks prettty, but just try flipping one side over without losing all the pieces
Best chicken sandwich, all assembled

Grilled Chicken with Lemon and Pepper
You could add herbs, garlic, etc. to the marinade, but I encourage you to try it, at least the first time, simply with the pepper and lemon juice. The most complicated addition I made was to use black, green, and white peppercorns simply because I had them on hand.

1 whole chicken, about 3 1/2 pounds
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon whole peppercorns
2 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
2 lemons, halved, for serving

Turn the chicken breast-side down and cut along the backbone. Flip the chicken over and press on the breastbone to flatten the chicken (you can also ask your butcher to do this for you).

Coarsely crush the peppercorns with a mortar and pestle or place them in a small baggie and whack them a few times with a rolling pin. In a large leak-proof plastic bag, combine lemon juice, olive oil, and pepper. Add the chicken, seal the bag tightly, and gently shake a few times to make sure everything is combined and that the chicken is well-coated with the marinade. Place the bag on a plate to catch any errant leaks and refrigerate 2 to 3 hours, flipping the bag a few times.

About 30 minutes before you’re ready to cook, take the chicken out of the fridge. Prepare a grill (gas or charcoal) to medium heat (if your grill, like mine, conveniently has a thermometer, it should be around 425 degrees).

Remove the chicken from the marinade and pat the skin dry. Sprinkle the chicken with salt on both sides and place the chicken skin-side down on the grill. Pour a few spoonfuls of the marinade over the chicken and close the lid.

Cook the chicken for around 15 minutes or until the skin is crisped. Using tongs, flip the chicken over, skin-side up (if the chicken sticks to the grill when you try to flip it, close the lid, give it 5 more minutes, and try again). Reduce the temperature to 400 and cook the chicken for 30-40 more minutes; it will be done when the thickest part of the breast is around 155 degrees and the thickest part of the thigh is around 165. Carefully transfer the chicken to a platter and tent loosely with foil (the temperature will continue to rise a bit as it rests).

Meanwhile, put the two halved lemons cut-side down on the hot grill. Close the lid and cook for about 10 minutes or until they’re soft and slightly caramelized.

Cut the chicken into parts and serve with grilled vegetables and a squeeze of the grilled lemon juice.

(As an aside, if you do feel fancy, make mayonnaise with the grilled lemon juice and some roasted garlic., it’s ridiculous on the chicken sandwich and just about anything else.)


7 thoughts on “Meditation on a chicken

  1. Okay, Okay! I need to get the mini egg grill! It’s been on my mind constantly, and I need to take action! This chicken sounds incredible, and I’m way too scared of the unevenness of heat on my gas grill to risk a chicken on it.


    1. Ha, I swear I wasn’t trying to convince you, it just happens to be awesome 🙂 When I get around to posting that salmon recipe (soon) I’ll get into more thoughts on the grill so far, but it’s been interesting. Some things, like this chicken, the salmon, the ability to do baking are amazing, but the things I really got used to cooking by sight/touch/feel are taking some adjustment, like burgers and pork chops, which I still have not gotten quite right. As for even heat, that still takes a little playing around with the charcoal–you can tell by the first picture where I had a bit of a hot spot 🙂


  2. i achieve similar result with a none-stick pan and a bacon press, i cut the cornish hen in 2 halves (oh yeah, have you tried cooking little hens this way, will they burn?) and press it into the pan every now and then after flipping it, comes out same nice looking result.


    1. Smaller birds can be cooked this way, I imagine they’d just take less time. And yes, you can definitely do this in a pan, I love doing this in winter in my cast iron pan. But any excuse to grill in the summer!


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