#98 - Spatchcocked Grilled Game Hens, Beijing Olympic Flavor!

Exactly one year ago today I was on assignment for San Diego Magazine in Colorado attending BBQ U.--the cooking school/television event you may or may not have seen on PBS. (You can find my thoughts on the adventure here.)

Aside from spearheading the team that produced the epically audacious and much lauded Spatchcocked Grilled Game Hens, Beijing Olympic Flavor! my favorite part of the experience was picking Sensei Raichlin's brain on the subject of grilling over wood. A lot of Guys Who Grill like a lot of Gadgets for Grilling. They like tongs and forks and branding irons and presses and Kiss The Cook aprons and hats that flash the night's menu in LED lights across their foreheads.

Me? Not so much.

As the years go by and I grill more and more, I find myself shedding tools rather than accumulating them. When I discovered that putting some kindling and wadded up paper under the bottom grill grate, lighting it, and then piling coals atop the small fire was just as effective as using a chimney starter I happily chucked the starter. I don’t have basting brushes or giant forks or anything like that near my grill. I have a lighter, a scrape-y thing, and a small stack of supermarket circulars for igniting the blaze. In further embracing this pared-down grilling approach, I have also sought to minimize my use of charcoal and maximize my use of pure, untreated wood.

Grilling over a 100% wood fire is not always possible. I still go with longer-burning charcoal when I’m, say, slow smoking ribs, or roasting a duck, but for quick-cooking things like steaks or fish, I now go with a mixture of about 75% wood with a few briquettes tossed in to even things out. The wood I use comes in big bags from Home Depot. They sell both hickory and mesquite chunks, but I wouldn’t touch the mesquite if I were you.

While I was at BBQ U. I had the chance to eat dinner with Steven. In fact, we spilt the steak for two. (Hello? BFF!) And while we were enjoying our meal he told me about his experience eating the legendary bistecca alla Florentina in Umbria, Italy. As many of you already know, I am utterly incapable of resisting with any menu item containing the word “Tuscan” or even the mere suggestion of “Tuscan-ness,” so I’m sure there was a long thread of drool oozing from my lower lip and I listened to Raichlen’s energetic descriptions of three-finger-thick steaks cut from specially-raised, rare chianina cattle, and seared in a fireplace at 900 degrees over oak, then drenched in vibrant, green gold olive oil and finally sprinkled with sea salt.

Since hearing that story my dearest wish has been to cook steaks on a simple, square grill grate using nothing but wood. This morning I was searching for just such a grate on the Intertubes when I came across this Grilliput Camp Grill at camping-gear-outlet.com.


Now, the Grilliput Camp Grill is not exactly what I was looking for. It's not that there's anything wrong with the Grilliput, it's just that I’d like my grill grate to be made of cast iron so it’ll leave really excellent grill marks on my steaks. But what interested me more about the Grilliput Camp Grill was what the “Customers who bought this item also purchased:” Check it out!

Picture 3

Uh, let's take a closer look at that.

Wow! I have to think that’ll be one hell of a cookout! This dude’s going to be manning the grill while simultaneously double-wielding a black steel ninja bokken sword and a 15-inch predator machete! What the hell’s he cooking? A puma?

Anyway, I’m still on my quest for a neat little cast iron grate I could use to cook over a wood fire, and, if STEVEN WON’T SEND ME ONE OF THESE LIKE HE OUGHT TO! I’ll probably ask my neighbor to make me one. Hey, if there’s one advantage to living next door to a blacksmith and a welder, it’s that you can score free metal stuff from time to time. I’ll update you on my progress. In the meantime, here’s the recipe for Spatchcock Grilled Game Hens, Beijing Olympic Flavor!

Spatchcocked Grilled Game Hens, Beijing Olympic Flavor!

4 game hens, spatchcocked
large bunch fresh basil
3 cloves garlic
Assorted Fresh Herbs
4 bricks, wrapped in foil
1 candleholder, also wrapped in foil
parafin wax

Okay, first, wait until it’s an Olympic year and Beijing is hosting again. Then, spatchcock your game hens by cutting out the backbone, opening up the bird like a book and removing the breastbone with a sharp knife. Then, cut a small slit through the meat at the base of each thigh and run the ends of the drumsticks through them. Also, fold the wings against the body so that, when you assemble your Olympic Victory Podium, the birds will appear to be raising their arms in a triumphant salute.

Next, make a kind of “pesto” marinade of olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, crushed garlic and basil and let the birds bathe in it for an hour while you prep your fire. Set up your grill for direct grilling, clean and oil your grill grate and place the birds above the hot fire at a 45-degree angle to the bars of the grate. Place your foil-wrapped bricks atop the birds to press them down. Grill for 6-8 minutes per side, rotating the birds midway through cooking to create a crosshatch grill mark pattern.

When the birds are done, let them rest, partially covered, for 10-15 minutes while you re-wrap the bricks in clean foil to serve as your Olympic Victory Podium. Go into the kitchen of the spacious, elegantly appointed Broadmore Hotel and borrow a candleholder, a little chuck of paraffin wax and a lighter. Wrap the candleholder in foil to create an “Olympic Torch” and set it behind the Olympic Victory Podium. Gather several bunches of fresh herbs and try to make wreathes out of them for the game hens’ heads. Get fed up with this and just scatter the herbs around the serving platter. Painstakingly remove the centers of five lemon slices to create your Olympic rings and connect them using little bits of toothpicks you’ve cut up. Bring your whole assemblage out to the serving table and then dramatically ignite the Olympic Torch. Bask in the admiration of your peers. Serve with a simple salad of bitter greens and herbs.


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