What’s cooking today: Umami spatchcock chicken

What’s cooking today: Umami spatchcock chicken
Tony Jackman’s umami spatchcock chicken. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

The quest for umami, that extra zest or zing that chefs try to achieve, comes to the chicken flattie in this recipe.

Umami is that spark of flavour that has your palate sitting up and taking notice. Strictly speaking, it is brought to a recipe by the addition of monosodium glutamate (MSG), the controversial element of so many Chinese dishes but to which some people are deadly allergic. Like a shellfish allergy, it can cause the throat to close up. So, there being such an incidence in my family, I use MSG in precisely nothing.

You’ve never encountered Aromat in any of my recipes, and you never will. If ever you add it to any of my recipes, I’d rather not know about it. It is anathema in my kitchen. But that doesn’t mean we cannot seek a certain umami in other ways.

The basic elements of a complex or well-rounded flavour profile are sweet, sour, bitter and salty, while the fifth element is the mysterious “umami”.

If we put our minds to what might bring the kind of flavour kick that MSG brings, but in other ways, my mind goes directly to zest. Leon, lime or orange zest, or a mixture of any of those. So if we use citrus zest in a marinade, for instance, along with black pepper, employ a generous hand with the salt, add orange zest and juice and a hint of chilli oil for extra interest, some really fine quality raw honey, and an interesting vinegar such as prosecco, well, we’re well on track to achieving another kind of umami.

For my umami marinade for a spatchcock chicken, I combined all of the above.

As for how to prepare a spatchcock chicken, here’s a helpful video. I use two skewers, once the fowl has been flattened, to secure the bird which makes it easy to handle on the braai. You push one in from one side of the breast and across and up into the opposite leg and through the other side; the other goes the opposite way. See the photo as a visual aid. It’s easy and is done in seconds.

(Serves 2-4)


3 Tbsp Forage and Feast Prosecco vinegar, or similar

1 Tbsp Mount Pleasant raw bush honey, or other fine-quality real honey

2 Tbsp Banhoek chilli oil, or similar

Zest and juice of 1 orange

A hefty pinch of black pepper

Maldon sea salt, generously


Start in the morning. Mix the marinade ingredients (that’s everything except the chicken). Prepare the chicken according to the video, and douse it on both sides in the marinade. Refrigerate for the day or overnight.

Skewer the bird with two bamboo (or metal) skewers as described above.

Braai over very hot coals for at the very least 30 minutes, preferably 40 for the chicken to be cooked right to the bone, turning often. Baste as often as you can, once or twice between turns. Frequent turning ensures even cooking. Skewer it to the bone and press the flesh to be sure it’s done; juices should run clear, not pink. DM/TGIFood

Follow Tony Jackman on Instagram @tony_jackman_cooks.


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