Tastes like chicken (only better)

In a relationship spanning 35 years, my Significant Other has been a bit of serendipity for which I regularly give thanks.

There’s always a wart somewhere, though. Hers popped up when she announced, “I’m not going to eat mammals anymore.”

This affects me in two ways. First, I do a lot of the cooking at our house. When our kids want to know how to stuff a flank steak, they call their father.

Second, I don’t care much for poultry. So after three months of mammal-free menus, I’m damned sick of chicken.

In concept, I support Terri’s decision. The typical American diet is enormously wasteful, globally unsustainable and, as a walk through any public place will show you, promotes obesity. Most of us would be better off if we just said no to cows.

But I don’t like chicken. I mean, I like it better than turkey, which I like better than dog food, but that’s it.

What about fish? Yum. Fish increasingly has its own set of problems, though. I follow the guidelines of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, but conscientiousness increases both the cost and the guilt factor of being a fish-eater. (Download a safe seafood guide at www.mbayaq.org).

As a reluctant consumer, I’m ever on the alert for chicken recipes that don’t make me want to run to McDonald’s after dinner. I’ve tried dozens, and reviews generally have been good. In the end, though, they all fail me in one significant way: They taste like chicken.

Almost by accident, I’ve stumbled on a partial solution. It makes good use of an economical whole bird, tests your surgical skills, and a single chicken can provide two meals for two, plus a big pot of soup, plus trimmings for dog treats or tacos.

Follow along:

Buy a whole chicken, take it home and throw away the guts in the little bag. (They’re edible, but don’t use them in the stock you’ll read about in a minute.) Cut off the wings and legs, a job that gets easier after you learn how things attach. Set those aside.

Here’s the secret move: Turn the chicken, now essentially a meat football, over and use kitchen shears to cut through the ribs along each side of the backbone. Remove the backbone and put it with the legs. Turn the body breast up, spread it like a butterfly and press hard on the sternum until you hear things crack.

Just do it. This is known as “spatchcocking,” and it’s the key to tolerable poultry.

The legs, wings and backbone can go into a freezer bag. Save them until you have a bunch, then look up “stock” in your cookbook and make some, from which you can make soup.

Now, though, preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Slice a lemon into rounds and put them on a baking sheet, then put the spatchcocked chicken on the lemon slices breast side up. If you want, separate the skin from the breast and slip some herbs or garlic slivers under it, then pat the skin back into place.

Season with salt and pepper, then slide the chicken into the oven for about 45 minutes, or until a thermometer in the thickest part reads 165 degrees. Let it stand 10 minutes before eating. You’ll have the best part of the chickie perfectly roasted, with a crisp skin and no weird parts poking out to be over- or underdone. It’s enough for three or four people once, one person three or four times, or sandwiches or tacos for the family. When it’s gone, freeze the bony remains with the wings and legs.