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The “Boss” Grilled Butterflied Chicken with Lemon and Herbs, Greek Style

Updated February 23, 2016
This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

The Gemini Diner is one of many Greek-run diners in New York City and offers the same bill of fare-anything you could possibly want to eat 24 hours a day. My favorite waiter there is a big Greek guy who everyone simply knows as the “Boss.” Even the owners claim not to know his real name. When things are slow, Boss will come by my table, and, well, BS for a while. We usually talk politics, but food always comes up. I had been trying to get a connection to someone in the Greek section of Queens called Astoria to spit roast a baby lamb for me. “Why you want a lamb?” asked Boss after I had pestered him for a couple of weeks. “Hell, anybody can do lamb, but split chickens, now that’s good stuff. Let me tell you how to do that.” I wrote down his recipe, and when I got back to North Carolina, I fired up my grill and gave it a whirl. The result is one of my favorite recipes. Using this method takes a little work but it’s fairly simple. You need to remove the backbone of the chicken, which allows the chicken to open up like a book, lay flat on the grill, and cook fast-it’s called spatchcocking a bird. The marinade for the chicken is basic European farmhouse and adds a lively flavor, between the acidity of the lemon juice and the freshness of the herbs. Don’t attempt this with boneless, skinless chicken breasts. You’ll end up with nothing but dry, burnt chicken. One of my dad’s favorite lines, “The nearer the bone, the sweeter the meat,” certainly applies here. Give this one a try. It’s good hot, at room temperature, even cold the next day for lunch or a picnic. You know the “Boss” is always right.

A spatula and tongs are helpful in turning the chicken. You may have some flare-ups to start with; just move the chicken around on the grill or hit the flames with a squirt from a water bottle. Remember that some flame is good and adds to the flavor.

Serves4

Cooking Methodgrilling

CostInexpensive

Easy

Total Timea day or more

Make Ahead RecipeYes

Kid FriendlyYes

One Pot MealYes

OccasionFamily Get-together

Recipe Coursemain course

Dietary Considerationegg-free, gluten-free, halal, kosher, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free

Equipmentgrill

Five Ingredients or LessYes

Mealdinner

Taste and Textureherby, meaty, smoky, tangy

Ingredients

  • One 3- to 4-pound chicken
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup chopped mixed fresh herbs (such as thyme, oregano basil, and/or rosemary)
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • ½ cup fresh lemon juice (2 to 4 lemons)
  • ½ cup olive oil

Instructions

  1. Place the chicken on a cutting board, breast side down. With a pair of poultry shears (having shears really makes this a whole lot easier), make a cut on one side of the backbone from the neck to the tail. Duplicate that cut on the other side of the backbone. Throw the backbone in a zip-top plastic bag, seal it, and throw it in the freezer; add other backbones (believe me, you’ll be coming back to this recipe) to the bag until you’ve got enough to make chicken broth.

  2. Open the bird up, kind of like a book, and press down on each side. Turn the chicken over and press on both sides again. You should hear a few joints pop and the chicken should lie somewhat flat. Turn the bird over and make two slits toward the end of the bird. Pull the end of each drumstick through each slit. Turn the chicken back over and snip the wing tips if desired. Liberally salt and pepper the chicken.

  3. Combine the mixed herbs and parsley in a medium bowl. Stir in the lemon juice, then whisk in the oil.

  4. Place the chicken in a 2-gallon zip-top plastic bag and pour the marinade over it. Seal the bag, lay it flat in the refrigerator, and let marinate for 24 hours, turning the bag over a couple of times.

  5. Light a charcoal fire or preheat your gas grill on high. Oil your grill’s cooking surface.

  6. Remove the chicken from the marinade and pat it with paper towels, discard the marinade. Place the chicken, skin side down, over the fire and cook for 12 to 15 minutes.

  7. Turn and cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thigh registers 180°F, about another 12 to 15 minutes. Let rest a few minutes and cut into serving pieces.

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