Herbed Baby Chicken (Poussin) with Lemon-Thyme Butter

This recipe came about backwards. I had a wonderful, crisp, buttery potato galette and wanted a tender and flavorful chicken dish to complement it. A poussin (a six-week-old chicken) has the tender texture that I want for this dish, but it isn’t all that full-flavored, so a quick splash of lemon thyme butter is tossed on to add an intense accent. To butterfly the chickens, the backbone must removed, but with a little practice, it isn’t a difficult procedure.

Ingredients

Herbed Baby Chicken

  • 4 baby chickens, about 1 pound each
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (parsley and thyme)
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Lemon Thyme Butter

  • 6 tablespoons (3 ounces) butter
  • 2 large garlic cloves, peeled and chopped (2 tablespoons)
  • zest of 1 medium lemon, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoon fresh lemon thyme leaves
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Method

  1. Using a large, very sharp knife, remove the backbones and ribs from the chickens. Place each chicken breast side up on a cutting board; insert the tip of the knife into the cavity as far as it will go. Line the knife blade up parallel to the backbone and cut through the ribs on both sides of the backbone. Remove and discard the backbones of all the chickens. Spread each chicken out on the cutting board, and press down on each in turn with the heel of your hand, until the breastbone cracks, and the chicken will lie flat. Turn each chicken over and, using your fingers, pull out and discard the ribs.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, marinate the chickens, refrigerated, with the olive oil and the chopped herbs for 2 to 3 hours. Remove the chickens from the refrigerator about 15 minutes before cooking. Just prior to cooking, season the chickens lightly with kosher salt and black pepper.
  3. Start a fire in the grill and allow it to burn to medium-high temperature.
  4. Grill the chickens skin-side down until the skin is browned and crispy, almost charred, about 6 to 8 minutes. Turn the chickens and place them on a part of the grill that gives off only a moderate amount of heat, so as not to burn them. Continue to grill the chickens until they are firm to the touch all the way through, about 15 to 20 minutes longer. When the thigh is pierced and the juices run clear, the chicken is done.
  5. In a cast-iron skillet melt the butter over medium heat. When the butter begins to sizzle and foam, just before it browns, stir in the garlic and lemon zest, remove the pan from the heat, add the lemon thyme, and swirl briefly. Correct the seasoning to taste with kosher salt, black pepper, and up to 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice.
  6. To serve, put one chicken, skin side up, on each plate and splash a little lemon thyme butter over the chicken, and serve immediately with potato galettes.