I love roast chicken. Love. L-U-V. To the point where I break one of my strictly enforced restaurant rules with it—meaning, if it’s something I can make it at home, I will rarely order it in when out to eat. But chicken? Man. There’s just something so utterly irresistible to me about the crispy skin, the moist flesh, the play of salty and herby additions and the way you can take those things and make them mirror or contrast what you’ve got going on the side. And then there’s the leftovers! And the sandwiches! And the broth-making! I mean, seriously, "Gift of the Magi" my eye -- whole roasted chicken is the gift that keeps on giving.
So it was with great, clucking joy that I received the newly published tome
A Bird in the Oven and Then Some by the wonderful and talented Mindy Fox. Single-subject cookbooks on anything other than, say, cakes or some such can be tough to do well, but this--resplendent with 100 outstanding recipes using flavors and influences from the world 'round, from Mexico to the Middle East--never gets boring for a second, and is a must for lovers of the flightless fowl. From myriad versions of roasting, to side dishes and sandwiches and leftovers that don't seem much like an afterthought at all, there's nearly two recipes for every week of the year.
On a chilly night a few weeks back, I sat down and read through the introduction, where Fox gives the low-down on different birds available on the market (organic, pasture-raised, heritage, kosher, certified humane, etc.), what words on a bird's packaging are red-flags for a less-than-stellar chicken, how to prep and cut up a whole chicken, what pans to use, how to make great broth, and a gazillion other really practical, useful pieces of cooking information. And then I got to the recipes -- roast chicken with green olives, fennel seeds, and thyme; moroccan cornish hens with m'hamsa; red quinoa salad with roast chicken, tart apple, ground pepper, and fresh basil; roast chicken melt with pesto, roasted red onions, and sharp chedddar; lemon chicken soup with rice. And of course, your basic sea-salt rubbed version. Damn. Could 2011 be the Year the Chicken?
A photo of a burnt-orange skinned roasted bird stopped me in my tracks, and I knew that was going to be the one for me that night. Fox's Peruvian roast chicken is a savory-spice sensation, that marinates in a mix of wine, paprika, cumin, black pepper, and oregano for a day, and gets a paste of garlic and salt rubbed between the flesh and the skin for good measure. On the side, the flavorful spices are balanced by a cool salad of avocado, lime, and cilantro that had us eagerly going from one bite to the next, the twist of tang and garlic and paprika in one bite mellowed by the creamy, bright flavors of the avocado and lime in the next. I'd never had bird like it, and yet I couldn't imagine living without it from hereon in.
I've been travelling a lot these last few weeks, and there hasn't been much time for cooking, but I still dream about that roasted bird, and am eager to get to the rest of the recipes, too, because I suspect I'm in for some really delicious surprises. And as soon as I get one, little silent night to myself, you can bet I'll be cooking up something from this again, and if I don't get the opportunity before next weekend, well... does a whole roasted chicken fit in a stocking?
Peruvian Roast Chicken with Avocado Salad
1 4-lb whole chicken
1 lemon, cut into quarters
5 garlic cloves, peeled
Fine sea salt
3 TBSP distilled white vinegar
1/4 cup plus 2 TBSP white wine
2 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil
2 TBSP paprika
1 1/2 TBSP ground cumin
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp dried oregano
2 firm-ripe avocados
1/2 to 3/4 small red onion
3/4 cup packed cilantro leaves
2 TBSP lime juice (from one large lime)
2 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil
Flakey coarse sea salt
Pull off excess fat around the cavities of the chicken and discard, then rinse the chicken and pat dry very well, inside and out. Over the sink or a plate, rub the chicken with 2 of the lemon quarters; reserve the remaining 2 quarters. From the edge of the cavity, slip a finger under the skin of each of the breasts, then gently but thoroughly loosen the skin from the meat of the breasts and thighs.
Finely chop the garlic cloves, then, using the side and the blade of your knife, scrape and chop together the garlic and 1/2 teaspoon of fine salt into a paste. Working with a little bit of the paste at a time, gently push the mixture into the spaces you created between the chicken skin and meat, being careful not to tear the skin. As you work the mixture in, rub your hand over the outside of the skin to smooth out the paste and push it farther down between the skin and meat where you may not be able to reach with your hand.
In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, 2 tablespoons wine, oil, paprika, cumin, black pepper, and oregano, Put the chicken into a 1-gallon resealable bag and pour the marinade on top. Pressing out the air, seal the bag, then turn several times to distribute the marinade around the bird. Put the bag into a bowl and refrigerate for 5 to 8 hours, turning the bag once or twice if you're home.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F with the rack in the middle. Transfer the chicken from the bag to a baking dish and pour the marinade into a small bowl (turn the bag inside out, if necessary, and scrape any thick bits of spices into the bowl with the marinade). Squeeze the remaining lemon pieces into the cavity of the bird, put the pieces into the cavity and tie the legs together with kitchen string. Season the chicken all over with 1 teaspoon fine salt.
Roast the bird in the oven for 15 minutes, then baste with a bit of the marinade. Reduce the heat to 375 degrees F and continue to roast, basting every 20 minutes with the marinade and the pan juices, until the juices of the chicken run clear when the thigh is pierced with a fork, or an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reads 165 degrees F, about 1 hour and 15 minutes more.
Remove from the oven and let the chicken rest in the pan while your prepare the salad.
Peel and cube the avocado. Very thinly slice as much onion as you want to use. Put the avocado, onion, cilantro, lime juice, oil, and a generous pinch of courase salt in a bowl; set aside.
Transfer the chicken to a cutting board. Tip the pan so that you can see the oil separating from the pan juices; using a soup spoon, skim off and discard most of the oil. Bring the juices to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add the 1/4 cup wine and, scraping any bits from the bottom and sides of the skillet, simmer for 3 minutes.
Toss the salad together. Carve the bird, and serve with the pan sauce and the salad.