In Southern cooking (U.S.), a buttermilk marinade is frequently used to tenderize the chicken pieces before frying. I decided to try the technique in roasting a whole chicken. I found a few recipes that called for cutting up the chicken, but none for leaving it whole. While I have made buttermilk roast chicken before, every recipe has room for improvement.
The buttermilk is slightly acidic and it flavors and tenderizes the meat. Cooks Illustrated says, that strongly acidic marinades should be used for no more than 30 minutes. I have found that, even with a little lemon juice, you may marinate this chicken for 48 hours with damaging the meat.
After Dinner Note: This recipe produces an incredibly moist and flavorful bird.
Karl’s Buttermilk Roast Chicken II
4-5 lb. chicken
2 cups low fat buttermilk
2 Tbs. grated yellow onion
2 Tbs. lemon juice
2 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. Kosher salt
¼ cup butter, softened
2 Tbs. buttermilk
2 Tbs. chives, snipped
1 tsp. thyme
½ tsp. white pepper
½ tsp. Kosher salt
⅓ tsp. Lemon zest
1. Several hours before dinner—preferably the night or even two nights before—rinse and pat the bird dry. Separate the skin from the breast and thighs.
Tip: Lay the chicken on its back with the neck facing away from you. Slide your fingers under the skin at the back of the breast bone and spread your fingers apart. Try not to rip the skin any wider near the breast bone. Push your hand in further and repeat the finger spreading. Slide your fingers over the outside of the thighs. You should now have much of the skin separated from the meat on both sides of the bird.
2. Set the bird inside a sealable gallon plastic bag—neck side down.
3. Mix the buttermilk, onion, lemon juice, sugar, and salt in a small bowl.
4. Spoon about half of the marinade between the skin and use your finger to spread it over the breasts, thighs and legs.
5. Take the remaining marinade and pour it inside the cavity.
Tip: Wash your hands at this point, so that you do not contaminate the outside of the plastic bag.
6. Press as much air out the bag as you can and seal it.
Tip: The marinade will leak out of the bird. Spread the marinade over the chicken by massaging the plastic bag.
7. Put the bag in a large bowl and refrigerate the chicken for at least two hours, but best if overnight or even over two nights. Turn the bird over occasionally to redistribute the marinade.
Tip: The bowl is not necessary, but it prevents any chicken contaminated marinade from leaking into your refrigerator.
8. About three hours before dinner, mix the butter, buttermilk, chives, thyme, pepper, salt, and zest in a small bowl.
9. Remove the bird from the bag and pour the excess marinade out of the cavity.
Note: This will be primarily the whey of the buttermilk and the excess salt.
10. Pat the skin dry with paper towels.
Tip: You are not trying to wipe away all of the marinade, you are just trying to remove any excess moisture.
Note: Discard any remaining marinade.
11. Set the chicken on a wire rack set in a roasting pan.
Tip: The wire rack keeps the bottom of the bird up out of the pan juices as the bird roasts. I do not have a wire rack that fits my usual roasting pan. I use several canning jar rings—without the lids—to make a makeshift rack.
Note: Lining the pan with aluminum foil may be ecologically suspect, but it makes cleanup easier.
12. Smear half of the butter paste under the skin, spreading the paste over the breast, thighs, and legs with your fingers.
Tip: This is messy, I know, but it is the only way to do it effectively.
13. Smear the remaining marinade inside the cavity and over the skin of the chicken.
Tip: Hey, you already have butter all over your hand—pretend you’re in the movie “Ghost.”
14. Leave the buttered bird on the counter to warm to room temperature, about 40 minutes.
Tip: The bird will cook more evenly if it is not cold from the refrigerator.
15. Preheat the oven to 500° F.
16. Put the chicken in the oven, on the middle level, and reduce the heat to 325º F.
17. Rotate the pan after one hour and increase the temperature to 350º F.
18. Insert a constant read thermometer set to 165º F into the breast near the wing joint.
Tip: Whenever I under cook a chicken it is where the wing meets the breast where the juices are still not running clear. Roasting a whole chicken is always a delicate balance between some bits being over done and salmonella.
Note: If the top of the breast skin looks like it might burn, cover it lightly with some aluminum foil to prevent it from getting over done.
19. Continue roasting until the chicken is done.
Tip: Poke the breast right by the wing joint, if the juices run clear the bird is done.
Note: If the juices run pink, continue roasting for ten more minutes, better safe than sorry.
20. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and cover it with aluminum foil to rest for 15 minutes.
Tip: This rest will bring the internal temperature of the bird to 170º F.
Note: Depending on the size of the bird and your oven’s exact temperature, it should take about an hour and thirty minutes to an hour and forty-five minutes to roast the chicken.
21. Remove the foil tent and carve the bird at the table.
22. Strain the pan juices into a small pot and bring it to a boil. Add some corn starch mixed with water or flour mixed with milk to thicken the sauce into a gravy to be served on the side.
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