We are back from Greece and the signs of Autumn are in full effect in New York City. In the final week at Comet on Broadway it was difficult to focus on anything else than thought that shortly my toes would be kicking up pink sand at Grecian beaches, perched on top steep cliffs with roaming goats, or peering out over the shimmering Aegean Sea like Homer in the Iliad. Greece was even better than expected, I can't believe Alicia had to talk me into going. And let me not forget about the FOOD. Oh boy, I can't remember the last time I looked down in delight at a simple plate of gigante beans simmering in dill or the tender meatiness of chargrilled squid drizzled in oregano and olive oil and the delightful aroma of lemon and fava puree. Greeks love fava beans. Even the tender skewered grilled souvlaki chicken turned me into a full on grecophile.
On the plane ride back, my brain buzzing with the rich flavors I had just experienced, all I wanted to do was cook. By the look of my Instagram posts, you'd think I've grown into a full blown vegetarian. It's true, my meat consumption has slowed down but tasting something as wonderful as grilled chicken souvlaki reminded me that I'll probably never quit meat forever. I bet you can close your eyes and picture the last time you had an unforgettable bite of tender juicy roast (or fried) chicken. Sticky, crispy skin, tender thigh, rich in flavors, how can you resist?
*Health talk detour for a second... I try to avoid eating chicken when I'm eating out and I'll explain why. My two cents about chicken:
Americans love chicken. We eat A LOT of chicken. For that reason and that high demand, U.S. chickens are heavily subsidized and heavily factory farmed. Chances are good that even at the finest restaurants (kitchens I've cooked in and have seen first hand) unless it specifically says 'organically raised' on your menu, that seared juicy thigh of little Cluck Norris on your plate is full of growth hormones and antibiotics and extra water to keep the chicken from getting sick as it was crammed around other chickens in a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation), super stressed, and probably didn't see much sun or eat what it was supposed to eat during its brief life on Earth. We are what we eat. Better put: what the animal eats, WE eat. Other than the humanity side of it, health-wise when we eat chicken raised this way we're directly taking in those antibiotics and growth hormones (in beef as well) and they forever become part of not only our food chain but our entire DNA and genetic makeup. Thankfully due to the information age, we're both seeing the damage and effects of the toll it takes on our health AND seeing the effects of how, when animals are happy and roaming and raised and slaughtered humanely, we begin to see a deep relationship with what we put in our bodies, how our bodies respond to those foods, and what it feels like when we truly feel good about what we eat. This isn't to put up a red flag or say we can't enjoy one of the delights of our past time but rather a call to our larger senses and to ask ourselves what's important for us and for the Earth. When you cook chicken at home, you have complete control over the chicken you buy. Spend the few extra bucks and get a good plump organically raised bird. It will make you feel good knowing you're not supporting factory farming and it actually looks and tastes loads better. If you care to dig further into this, check out one of my favorite books called The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan.
Back to the bird...
Dressing and cooking chicken should be part of every home cook's arsenal. That can be surprisingly hard to master, especially when you're roasting the bird whole. Breasts can dry out if cooked past 150 F and legs aren't fully cooked until 175 F. When you're roasting at high temperature in an oven, there's already an uneven heat distribution happening as the heat rises. So for roasting whole, the solution? Spatchcocking. It sounds like some medieval torture method but actually, it's a brilliant but simple method of preparing and cooking the whole bird. By spatchocking, or butterflying the bird by cutting its backbone so it lays flat, the legs are exposed to higher heat and is finished right when the breasts are finished which is precisely the result you want when it comes to juicy tender meat that keeps in a little amount of fat (aka: taste). It also gives you a much crispier skin with less cooking time (around 45 mins). It's brilliant. Some of the best roast chicken I've eaten in my life has had a nice simple spicy rub and a squeeze of lime at the end. I'm thinking Zankou Chicken in LA or Peruvian style chicken with spices like dry mustard, oregano, and smoked paprika, brown sugar, and salt. And that's it, just spices. No butter or oil or roasting spit. As long as it's laid right, you'll get a tender crispy chicken every time. Make sure you have a pair of kitchen shears. Now let's get started. I'm getting hungry. There are a few methods I'm leaving out which you can do but it's not necessary. Some people like to remove the backbone, I just butterfly it and call it a day. After you rub the spice mix into the bird, a great blend of hot and sweet, it's ready to go in the oven but if you have the time, let it sit in the fridge uncovered for a few hours so it absorbs the dry marinade and allows moisture to come out. I've tried a few different recipes but Melissa Clark's formula from the New York Times is my absolute favorite so I had to share. Enjoy.
1 whole organic chicken
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon arbol chili powder, or regular chili powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon mustard seeds or dry mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground all-spice or nutmeg
2 bay leaves, crumbled up
Lime wedges for serving
1. Wash and dry the chicken. On a clean work surface, place the whole chicken breast side down. Spatchcock the chicken by cutting down the backbone end to end. Turn the chicken over like a book and with your hands on the center of the breast press down hard. You might hear a crack from the wish bone. Flip the chicken around, pat dry, and remove any bits of liver that may be leftover. They can make the chicken taste bitter if left in.
2. Make your rub. In a small bowl, combine all your dried spices, salt, and brown sugar and mix thoroughly. If you have a pestle mortar, bash them up together but it's not necessary. Lay the chicken skin side up on a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate uncovered for at least 2 to 24 hours.
3. Heat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. On a rimmed baking sheet, roast the chicken for 40-50 minutes. The thick part of the breast should read 150 F.
4. Remove from the oven, cover with foil and let sit for 10 minutes before carving. For a nice presentation, remove the breasts from the breast bone, carve evenly against the grain and serve with lime wedges. Goes well with roast potatoes or carrots and almost any wine.
Enjoy! Fall is here so take the time to enjoy this cool change of season. If you're interested, check out Michael Pollan. There's more info in this day and age than ever about our culture around food.