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Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2007 07:24 am

Hey, chick: Take it all off!

Roasting a bird should be in every cookÂ’s repertoire

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Untitled Document The roast chicken is a common culinary conundrum — it’s the “See ya, wouldn’t want to be ya” item in a beginner cook’s repertoire. Although you might love tearing into a properly seasoned, tender-fleshed bird, you may also stop short when it’s your turn to pull out the roasting pan. The dual challenge of seasoning the bird adequately and arriving at a balance between cooked and overcooked meat is enough to make the most confident cooks run to the nearest Peruvian chicken-takeout joint. The thing is, when you’ve done it, when you’ve managed to make chicken both delicious and tender at the bone, you feel like you’ve done the high jump. It’s exhilarating (not to mention that your friends think you’re a genius). More important, it’s really not hard — not the way I’m about to show you. First things first: Take off the bird’s clothes. Yes, we’re doing a skinless whole bird, and, no, it’s not going to dry out. You’ll discover, after pulling off the skin (start at the breast, by the way, and don’t worry about the wings, which are tricky), that there’s plenty of fat cushion to go around and keep things flavorful. Without skin, the bird is heart-healthier, and it marinates more efficiently. There’s no longer a barrier between meat, bone, and marinade, and you only need 30 minutes for a spice rub to do its magic. Plus, without the skin layer, the bird cooks faster, by about 30 minutes.
I learned this method from From Curries to Kebabs, by Indian culinary diva Madhur Jaffrey, but she calls it “Curried Whole Chicken, Durban-Style” (Durban is a South African city with a significant Indian population). Several chickens later, I have adapted Jaffrey’s recipe and have dubbed it “Naked Chicken.” After all, isn’t everything better naked?

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O’Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.
NAKED CHICKEN
One 3- to 4-pound chicken, skinned and whole Juice of one lemon Approximately 1 teaspoon salt 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped Three cloves of garlic, chopped Two or three fresh chiles of your choice, chopped (I like    the medium heat of serranos) 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin 1 teaspoon ground coriander 1/2 teaspoon turmeric (for color; optional) Freshly ground pepper, to taste
With a knife, make diagonal slits in each breast, going all the way to the bone, and in the thighs and drumsticks, on both sides of the bird. Apply lemon juice and salt all over the bird, inside and out. Using a blender, food processor, or mortar and pestle, combine ginger, garlic, chilies, oil, cumin, and coriander until the result resembles something like a paste. Taste and see whether you like it: Now’s the time to adjust seasonings. It should have a hefty kick. Rub the paste all over the bird, inside and out, including those slits. Let the chicken marinate for about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet or roasting pan with foil or parchment paper (unless you feel like cleaning a goopy pan later). Place chicken on liner, breast side up, and finish off with a healthy dose of ground black pepper (cayenne is also fun). Place pan in oven — legs in first so they can benefit from the heat at the back of the oven — and roast for approximately an hour and 15 minutes. You may check on the chicken’s progress every half hour. Don’t worry, it’s not drying out. After the first hour you’ll see browning, and it’s fine if you want to flip the bird over for even color. When the internal temperature of the thigh reaches 160 to 165 degrees, remove the chicken from the oven and let it rest for about 15 minutes. At that point, the aromas will be so overpowering, you may find it difficult to act refined when carving up the bird.
Serves a maximum of three healthy chicken-lovers.
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