Grilled Butterflied Whole Chicken With Grilled Figs, Manouri Cheese, & Lentil ChimichurriRecipe By: Greg Denton and Gabrielle Quinonez Denton, with Stacy Adimando
If you’ve been to a backyard barbecue, chances are you’ve been served some burnt chicken. This is common and even understandable, because prolonged, direct contact between flames and delicate, fatty chicken skin can easily lead to flare-ups and over-blackening. The two tricks to tender, juicy chicken are indirect heat and a willingness to wait.
The indirect heat method used here is one of the foundations of open-fire cooking in South America. Seasoned cooks there know exactly how far away to position different cuts and meats from the coals for optimum results. That’s why we turn chicken skin-side-up so that the skin never even touches the grate of a grill, and yet the skin and outermost layer of the meat still crisps and browns beautifully.
You can make and serve this chicken on its own, of course, but we love the fruit and cheese accompaniments when figs are in season. Along with the creamy manouri cheese and herbaceous lentil chimichurri, the sweet figs are the ideal contrast to the bird’s smoky flavor and crispy skin. Likewise, you can serve the accompanying salad on its own as a light meal.
If figs are not in season, try peeled, seeded pears, fresh apricots, or thin slices of delicata squash.
- 1⁄2 cup lentils du Puy (French green lentils), rinsed and picked through
- 1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1⁄2 cups Chimichurri (page 15)
- 1 (4- to 5-pound) chicken
- 8 fresh firm-ripe figs, halved lengthwise
- 1 (3-ounce) wheel manouri cheese (or substitute a block of halloumi, cut 3⁄4 inch thick)
- Put the lentils in a small pot and add enough water to cover by about 1 inch. Cover the pot and bring to a boil over medium heat (you will see steam start to escape from the lid). Decrease to a simmer and cook until the lentils are just tender, about 18 minutes; drain. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil to the lentils and season with salt and pepper. Spread the lentils out on a flat dish and refrigerate until cool. Transfer to a small bowl and combine with the chimichurri; taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. Store covered at room temperature until ready to use.
- Prepare a grill to medium heat, building the fire — or turning on the gas — on one side of the grill and leaving the other side open for indirect-heat cooking. (If using charcoal, start with a larger batch since you need it to last a little over an hour.)
- To butterfly the chicken, place the chicken breast-side-up on a cutting board. Working from the tail end, insert a sturdy, sharp knife into the body cavity and make a straight cut through the ribs along one side of the backbone. Turn the chicken around on the cutting board so that the neck side is facing you (leave it breast-side-up). Starting at the neck cavity, cut along the same side of the backbone in order to connect to the previous cut and split the bird open down its back (but leaving the backbone attached on one side). Turn the chicken over so that the breast side is now against the cutting board. Carefully splay the legs open and apply strong pressure onto the inner cavity with your palms to flatten the bird as much as possible. Season the inner cavity with a generous amount of salt and pepper, then gently flip the chicken and season the skin side, being sure to season under the legs and wings, too.
- Transfer the chicken, breast side up, onto the grill in an area that is next to the coals but not directly atop them. Cover the grill, either with its own lid or by placing a large metal bowl over the chicken. Cook for 5 minutes, keeping watch for any flare-ups, until you hear sizzling sounds and the underside of the bird begins to brown lightly. (If flare-ups do happen, move the bird a little farther from the heat and cover it again. If it is not beginning to brown after 5 minutes, move it closer to the coals.) Cook for another 10 minutes, then rotate the bird 180 degrees, keeping the breast side up. Continue to grill, rotating the bird every 15 minutes but never turning it over onto its skin side, until the chicken is just cooked through, 1 to 1 1 ⁄4 hours. To test for doneness, make a small cut where the thigh meets the breast and be sure the juices run clear; keep cooking if you see any pink. Remove from the grill and let rest for 15 minutes before carving.
- Meanwhile, brush the manouri cheese and figs with some of the remaining oil and season with salt and pepper. Transfer the cheese and the figs, cut side down, onto the hottest area of the grill. Cook just until grill marks form, about 3 minutes; turn and repeat on the remaining sides. Gently remove from the grill and keep warm.
- To serve the cheese and figs, place the grilled cheese wheel on a large round plate. Distribute the figs atop and around it, then spoon half of the lentil chimichurri on top.
- To carve the bird, place it, breast side up, on a cutting board. Remove the legs at the thigh. Separate the thighs from the legs, and separate the two breasts by cutting down in between them through the chest plate. Cut each breast in half horizontally, just under the wing. Pile the pieces onto a large plate or platter and serve with a small bowl of the remaining lentil chimichurri.