My go-to roast chicken preparation is Judy Rodgers’ blast furnace method from the almighty Zuni Cafe Cookbook [affiliate link]. There are other roast chickens I like very much—Marcella Hazan’s still-life with two lemons, Samin Nosrat’s buttermilk-brined chicken—but the Zuni Cafe roast chicken reigns supreme in our house: my family would not complain if that was the only one I made for the rest of our days together. But I am an asshole and forever given to tinkering and experimentation and so I cannot resist sneaking in the occasional departure from our family favourite. This is one such recent departure—though the fingerprints of the Zuni Cafe method will be visible to anyone who knows it. I don’t turn the oven up as high as I don’t want the spices to burn—both for the sake of the chicken and for the sake of not filling the kitchen with smoke. I start out at 400º and raise the temperature 425º halfway in. It works very well with the Costco chickens we’ve been cooking of late, yielding a very juicy bird with crisp, spicy skin at just about the 55 minute mark. Your actual oven time will obviously vary depending on your oven and the size of your bird.
Oh yes, you can watch a reel of this being made on my Instagram. And don’t forget to follow me for more shoddy reels.
- One chicken, around 4 lbs in weight, rinsed and patted dry thoroughly inside and out with paper towels.
- The following finely ground together: 1 tspn coriander seed, 1 tspn zeera/cumin, 1/2 tspn black peppercorn, 1/4 tspn kabab chini/all-spice, 1 large Kashmiri chilli, 1 small piece cassia bark/cinnamon, 1/2 tspn haldi/turmeric powder
- A few big pinches kosher salt
- 1/2 tspn kasoori methi/dried fenugreek leaves
- Dry the chicken one more time for good measure and set on a large plate.
- Mix the ground masala with the salt, crumble the kasoori methi over and mix again.
- Rub the masala all over and under the chicken skin, saving enough to coat the inside as well. Set the chicken in the fridge, uncovered for at least 12 hours or up to two days. Remove from the fridge an hour before cooking to bring to room temperature and tie the legs together with kitchen twine.
- Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
- While the oven is heating up place a cast iron skillet or other pan that can comfortably hold the chicken over medium heat on the stove-top.
- When the pan is very hot, place the chicken on it, breast side up—the chicken should sizzle immediately.
- Place the pan in the center of the oven and set a timer for 55 minutes.
- Rotate the pan every 12-15 minutes.
- At the 30 minute mark raise the oven temperature to 425º.
- Use an instant-read thermometer or your eyes to determine when the chicken is done. Remove the pan from the oven and the chicken from the pan to a cutting board that has grooves in it to catch any liquid that emerges as the chicken rests.
- After 10 minutes of resting, carve the chicken (or hack it up, as the case may be) and serve with pan gravy and mashed potatoes.
- You can double the amount of turmeric if you want a more bronzed final product.
- I wouldn’t double the other spices though unless you want to set off your smoke alarms. If you have very good ventilation in your kitchen or otherwise want to live on the edge, you could use two dried chillies and a bit more coriander. I’d hold off on increasing the cumin, pepper or all-spice though.
- Because the oven is not hot enough to burn them the drippings make a very tasty pan gravy: pour off excess fat, place the pan over medium heat on the stove top and add a small knob of butter. When it melts, scrape up all the chickeny bits with a spatula and then add a couple of cups of chicken stock. Keep scraping, taste and adjust for salt and add a few tblspns of cream to thicken it.