ROAST CHICKEN aleppo, warm bread salad, salmoriglio
Roast chicken is possibly my favorite meal. Like, seriously last meal type enjoyable. Some people don’t get down with the chicken, but in my mind those naysayers are just a perfectly roasted chicken away from being converts. There are three important keys to a well roasted chicken: 1) the deep season, 2) dry heat and 3) the rest.
For the seasoning, salt is by far the most important additive. You really want to get the salt deep into the flesh of the chicken for maximum flavor. For the method here I employ a brine, but you could also achieve similar results by heavily salting the chicken the night before you plan to roast it. The brine, in my opinion, is more consistent and also allows the cook to incorporate other flavors. For instance lemon, thyme and parsley are included here. After the brine, I then like to use a dry rub to introduce some chili heat and an herbal background to the skin.
Maintaining a high temperature dry heat and minimizing moisture around the bird and in the oven helps reduce steam, which, in turn helps brown the chicken skin more quickly. The browning of the chicken skin not only introduces those wonderful roasted flavors and smells associated with the Maillard reaction but also helps to render the fat in the skin. The rendering makes the fat more readily available to moisten the flesh as well as absorb and distribute the flavors of the dry rub.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, there is the rest. As the high heat begins to penetrate the bird, the moisture within the flesh aggressively moves towards the heat source / surface of the meat. This process continues even after the bird is removed from the oven as there still is a vast difference in temperature from the the surface to the core. The bird is essentially still cooking and raising in internal temperature, so if you cut into it immediately then the juices come rushing out, resulting in a dryer, less flavorful chicken. However, if you let the chicken rest for a minimum of 10 to 15 minutes the flow of liquid from the core to the surface subsides as the chicken comes to a more uniform internal temperature. The juices cool, settle and remain locked in the flesh rather than spilling out all over your cutting board. Additionally, basting the bird during this time with the pan drippings and rendered fat helps to further increase the moisture and fat content in the chicken flesh, creating a deeper, richer flavor. No worries it will still be plenty hot after sitting for 15 minutes and your patience will be handsomely rewarded.
For the recipe here I’ve accompanied the chicken with a warm bread salad and Salmoriglio, a Southern Italian condiment made of lemon juice, olive oil, minced garlic, chopped oregano and parsley, salt and pepper. I’ve added capers to the Salmoriglio for more brininess as well as substituted aleppo pepper for black pepper to keep the pepper warmth one dimensional. The fresh acidic punch from the sauce helps cut the richness of the chicken and accent its flavor. I like to think of roast chicken as a lighter meal, so no potatoes here, just a rustic, tangy arugula and bread salad. I lifted this bread salad from the Zuni Cafe in San Francisco. The recipe is pretty much identical to Chef Judy Rogers’…why mess with a classic?
2 whole fryer chickens (approximately 3 lbs each) or 6 to 8 whole chicken legs
For the Brine
1 gallon water
1 c diamond crystal kosher salt
1 head garlic, peeled and cloves halved
½ c honey
1 tbsp black peppercorns
3 lemons, halved, juice squeezed into water
½ bunch thyme
Stems from 1 bunch italian parsley (leaves reserved for salmoriglio)
A few bay leaves
For the Chicken Rub
7 tbsp oregano
2 tbsp Aleppo pepper
2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tbsp anise seed
2 tsp kosher salt
Leaves of 1 bunch Italian parsley, finely chopped
Leaves from 2-3 sprigs fresh oregano
1 clove garlic, finely minced
2 tbsp sicilian salt packed capers, rinsed, soaked and finely chopped
1tsp aleppo pepper
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon
Red wine vinegar (if necessary)
For the Bread Salad
1 large rustic italian round, large tuscan loaf, or other open crumb peasant style bread
1 c extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp Champagne vinegar
3 tbsp dried currants
5 tbsp pine nuts
6 cloves garlic, slivered
½ c scallions, thinly sliced
¼ c warm salted water
5 fistfuls of wild arugula
reserved chicken drippings
Brine the Chicken
Find a pot capable of easily holding two small chickens or eight whole chicken legs. Add the salt, peppercorns, honey and water to the pot and bring the contents to a boil. Remove from the heat and add all the other ingredients, squeezing the juice from the lemons into the solution as you add them. Let cool to room temperature and then refrigerate to cool the brine completely. Once cool add the chicken to the brine and refrigerate for a minimum of 8 hours but no more than 16.
Make the Dry Rub
Grind the red pepper flakes and anise seed in a spice grinder and mix in a small bowl with the oregano, salt and aleppo pepper. Note: if the oregano leaves are on the larger side or are pulled from branched sicilian style oregano give them a couple pulses in the spice grinder to make them smaller/break them up. Store the rub in an air tight container. It will keep for months.
For the Salmoriglio
Finely chop the italian parsley and oregano. Add the herbs to a mixing bowl with the chopped capers, finely minced garlic, aleppo pepper, lemon zest and lemon juice. Stir in the olive oil until all the ingredients are incorporated and the mixture is sauce like. If too thick add more oil. Salt to taste and adjust the acidity to your liking with a few dashes of red wine vinegar or another squeeze of lemon juice if necessary. Reserve at room temperture until ready for use. Salmoriglio can be stored in the refridgerator for up to a week.
Roasting the Chicken
Remove the chicken from the brine being sure to drain the water from the cavity. Dry the chicken with paper towels, both inside and out. The dryer the chicken the less it will steams, which means the drier the heat and the more golden brown the skin.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Truss the bird if you wish, however with a small bird its not a necessity because the ratio of skin(fat) to chicken is high and there is less worry about drying out the meat. When you truss a bird, the wings and legs are pushed up close to the body and the ends of the drumsticks cover the top of the breast. Trussing helps the chicken to cook evenly, and it also makes for a nice presentation. Personally, I only truss the bird if it is on the larger side as it helps prevent the top of the breast from drying out.
Liberally sprinkle the rub over the birds so that they have a nice uniform coating on all sides. Place the chickens in a roasting pan and let the birds temper for 45 minutes and up to 4 hours. This tempering period is an ideal time to crisp the bread for the bread salad.
After the temper and when the oven is up to temperature, put the chicken in the oven and leave it alone—don’t baste it, don’t add butter, don’t add stock or don’t add any lemon juice. We are looking for the dry heat and don’t want to create any excess steam. After 20 minutes or so in the oven start to watch for browning. Every oven is different so if it doesn’t appear to be browning, raise the temperature progressively until it does. Around 30 minutes or so the skin should start to blister, but if the chicken begins to char, or you notice the fat is smoking, reduce the temperature to 375 degrees. Continue to roast until the chicken is done, total oven time will be about 45 minutes to an hour.
Remove from the oven and let rest for at least 15 minutes while you baste the chicken every few minutes with the juices and drippings collecting in the bottom of the pan. During the second half of the resting period tilt the bird to add the drippings from the cavity to the pan. After continuous basting reserve any more drippings to incorporate into the bread salad if you so desire.
For the Bread Salad
Preheat the broiler.
Using a bread knife remove the majority of the crust from the bread particularly the bottom crust. Cut the bread into about 8 large chunks. Brush the bread all over with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Put under the broiler, to crisp and lightly color the surface, turning the bread chunks every couple minutes to maintain an even crisp to all sides. Once cool, trim off any badly charred tips and tear the chunks into small, bite size wads, no larger than 2 inches.
Make a vinaigrette with the Champagne vinegar and about ½ cup of the olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Toss about ¾ of the vinaigrette with the torn bread in a wide salad bowl. Salt and pepper to taste.
Place the currants in a small bowl and moisten with the red wine vinegar and warm water. Set aside.
Place the pine nuts on a sheet pan and set in the hot oven for a few minutes or until slightly roasted. Remove and set aside.
Add a few tablespoons of the olive oil to a small skillet, add the garlic and scallions and sweat over medium-low heat. Sweat, stirring constantly, until softened and being mindful not to let the contents color. Drain the currants and stir in with the scallions and garlic. Stir in the pine nuts and remove the mixture from the heat. Scrape the contents from the skillet into the bread and fold / toss to combine. Drizzle the salted water all over the salad and fold to incorporate again. Taste the bread and add salt, pepper, and/or a few drops of vinegar to taste, then toss well.
Pile the bread salad in a large casserole dish and tent with foil. Place the salad in the oven just before you remove the chicken and warm for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and pour into the salad bowl. It will be steamy-hot. Drizzle and toss with a few spoonfuls of the pan juices from the chicken. Dress the greens with the remaining vinaigrette and a little salt and pepper and fold into the bread salad. Taste again. Drizzle with any of the remaining vinaigrette if necessary or some of the chicken drippings if you like.
Remove the twine if you trussed the bird and start carving the meat. First Remove the legs and thighs. Cut the breast down the middle and serve it on the bone, with the wing joint still attached to each or make an incision down the middle and cut along each side of the breast bone to serve it boneless. The rest of the carcass I like to mine for the most flavorful bits that are not typically served. Around the backbone you will find the oysters, two succulent morsels of meat that are amazing as well as the chicken “butt”, the crispy, juicy triangular tip located at the end of the cavity. These are the cook’s rewards.
Add a heaping scoop/large handful of bread salad to each plate. Nestle a piece of chicken next to the bread salad and spoon some of the salmoriglio over the chicken as well as the plate. Serve and devour. Don’t be afraid to eat with your hands!