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Bob Hart’s recipe for citrus-spiced birds

CHICKEN MAGIC

Just about the best and most foolproof way to fast-cook a chicken – or any similarly delicious bird, for that matter – is to butterfly it first. And even to knock it into two, separate pieces if you like.

And there is a magical ingredient I have stumbled upon recently which makes real sense of the entire technique.

I am especially fond of quail cooked in this manner: it delivers an entirely delicious result, as I have been proving to my own satisfaction for quite some time.

But this week, in the extended leisure time which is clearly one of the real benefits of a decent pandemic, I have been testing the method on poussins – often called spatchcocks – and even medium-sized chickens, all with stunning results.

I suggest you choose your birds adventurously, ideally after having ventured further afield than your local supermarket – perhaps to one of the major markets, or to a master butcher like Leo Donati of Lygon Street, Carlton – and pick up a few quail, poussins, or a couple of small, free-range chickens, and try this.

First of all, mash two large, peeled garlic cloves in sea salt with the side of cook’s knife. Place this in bowl large enough to hold however many birds you would like to cook (say, 4 quail or a couple of poussins or small chickens).

Split the quail: open them up by slicing down the backbone with a pair of sturdy scissors. But knock the larger chickens each into two pieces, again by slicing through the backbones, opening them up and then cutting downwards through the breasts.

Now add 1tsp hot chilli powder and 2tsp, generous ones, of five-spice powder to the bowl with the garlic. Add the juice of a lemon and 2tbs peanut oil.

Toss birds in this however many multiples of marinade you need; coat them with it, and leave them in it for an hour or so.

Fire up your barbecue – gas grills such as Weber Qs or larger work well, but so will a solid fuel device like a Weber Kettle or a kamado such as a Big Green Egg: solid fuel, of course, adds the real flavour benefit of wood smoke.

Now, set your grill to around 220C to kick things off, place the birds on the grill and drop the lid. After 5-10 minutes, depending on the birds you are cooking, brush some of the remaining marinade on the birds and flip them. After the temperature has climbed back over 200C, lock the temperature at around 200C for the rest of the cook.

Cook the birds for as long as you find they need. Chickens, obviously, will take longer than the quail which will be done in around 20 minutes in total. With the larger birds, use a probe thermometer to ensure the internal temperature is approaching 80C when you take them off.

Remove from the grill, rest the birds briefly, and eat: I like to joint them and toss them with a simple, mixed, dressed salad -livened up with any juices that have accumulated during resting.

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