"How come my chicken never comes out looking like this?" was Ben's cry as he spotted this burnished bird resting on the windowsill last night before dinner. For a moment, I considered smiling
pompously beatifically and telling him to just leave the cooking to me, but then I relented and explained: rubbing a raw chicken (or human flesh, for that matter, but it's too long of a story to explain how I know about this one) with citrus juices before roasting will render the appetizingly crackly skin a lustrous browned color. Ben asked for the recipe then, to make when I'm not around. If it's any indication of how much he liked our dinner, he's never done this before.
We awoke yesterday morning to find our city blanketed in so much snow that we couldn't even see one block south. We managed somehow to get ourselves to Tribeca for brunch with friends, but that excursion drained any energy we might have still had for the rest of the day (I know, we are so youthful and athletic). We circled around Ben's fridge when our dinner plans were cancelled, eyeing the raw chicken that lay there, wondering how we'd infuse a little spark into a Sunday meal that's become, for lack of a better term, a bit rote.
So it felt like divine intervention when my book of clippings opened to a page that had a recipe for a roast chicken stuffed and rubbed with citrus fruits, ground cumin, herbs and garlic glued into it. We had to amend some of the instructions by necessity (no roasting pan, at least not at Ben's place, so no searing of the breast before slipping the chicken into the oven, and not half as much cumin as required because of the aforementioned slight aversion to the associations it pulls up in my tastebud-to-brain neuron highway), but this didn't end up making a whit of difference in the end.
The recipe comes from Bobby Flay, when he was being written about in the New York Times by the Lee Bros, and living alone in Chelsea (he's married now). You take a chicken, rub it with a few segmented oranges and limes, stuff the cavity with more citrus wedges, peeled garlic cloves, oregano, salt and pepper. You cover the chicken with ground cumin and more salt and pepper and balance the bird (I'm a veritable Macgyver - that's a baking rack you see there) on a rack over a baking pan that has chicken stock, juice, citrus wedges, and more garlic cloves floating about in it. The chicken both roasts and steams in the oven, and becomes infused with a whole spectrum of flavors: sour citrus, bitter peel, aromatic garlic, pungent cumin and herbal oregano. It's a veritable symphony of flavors.
Plus, there's a gravy. What's better than a gravy? There's something totally satisfying about pouring the pan juices into a pot, squeezing in a little extra juice, sprinkling in a bit more salt to taste, and reducing the shiny brown liquid to a drippy glaze to pour over the carved chicken. I don't know why, it just makes me feel like one accomplished lady. And on a Sunday night, no less.
Citrus and Cumin Roasted Chicken
2 navel oranges, washed and cut into eighths
2 limes, washed and quartered
1 3-pound chicken, washed and patted dry
2 tablespoons ground cumin
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
5 garlic cloves, crushed and peels removed
Several sprigs fresh oregano
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup chicken stock or low sodium canned broth, more if needed
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Remove zest from two orange wedges and two lime wedges, and reserve. Rub chicken with juice of those wedges. Season entire chicken, including cavity, with cumin and salt and pepper to taste. Inside cavity place the used orange and lime wedges, plus 3 orange wedges, 3 lime wedges, 3 cloves garlic, and 3 sprigs oregano.
2. Place a small roasting pan over high heat, and add oil. When oil smokes, place chicken breast-side down in pan. Sear, rolling slightly for even browning, until breast is golden brown, 4 to 5 minutes.
3. Remove chicken from pan, slip a flat rack on bottom of pan, then place chicken on rack, breast-side up. Add stock, remaining garlic cloves and a couple more sprigs of oregano to pan. Squeeze juice of seven orange wedges and remaining lime wedges into pan, adding spent wedges to pan. Roast until chicken juices run clear when leg is pierced near joint, about 1 hour 30 minutes. Check moisture in pan a few times while cooking, adding chicken broth if pan juices are drying up.
4. Transfer chicken to a warm platter, and allow to rest for 20 minutes before carving. Remove fruit wedges, oregano and garlic from pan, then place pan juices in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, and adjust seasoning, adding more orange juice from remaining wedges if desired. Remove from heat, and add reserved zest. Carve chicken, and serve with sauce.