Karl’s Lemon Chicken Habanero with Sautéed Spinach and Fingerling Potatoes

Many times, the inspiration for one of my Sunday dinners is a food challenge by the family. Other times, I look for an untried world cuisine to make my own variation of a traditional dish. This week, I started with a bottle of hot sauce.

Karl’s Lemon Chicken Habanero with Sautéed Spinach and Fingerling Potatoes

Karl’s Lemon Chicken Habanero
with Sautéed Spinach and Fingerling Potatoes

During the spring break, we went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. As we walked along Cannery Row, we came upon a store that sold almost nothing but hot sauces. The Pepper Palace had a tasting bar, so you could try before you buy. We finally chose Apple Smoked Habanero Hot Sauce.

Now I had an ingredient, but what was I going to make with it? I decided a roasted chicken is always a good main dish. Over the last few months, I have been experimenting with roasted chicken, developing my own technique. An overnight wine-based marinade, an herbed butter paste under the skin, and then into the oven.

I have tried different wines, different herbs and additions to add to the butter paste, and finally different roasting temperatures. Today, I decided on a sherry and herb marinade. In addition to the hot sauce, I decided to add some lemon marmalade to the butter.

My mother, Claudia, taught me to roast chickens at 350º F for one hour. I have read other recipes that suggest temperatures as high as 500º F. Other recipes go the other directions and roast the chicken at various lower temperatures.

The goal of high-heat roasting is to bring the chicken’s internal temperature quickly to 165º F before all of the moisture is driven out of the meat by the heat. Low-heat roasting tries to bring the internal temperature up slowly, so that the moisture remains trapped inside the bird, but this method takes far longer for the chicken to fully cook. The one temperature that I can really reject is roasting a chicken at 300º F. This temperature was high enough to force the moisture out of the meat, but still took so long to come up to temperature that it produced a super dry, tough chicken.

Today’s experiment was to start roasting the chicken in a hot oven and to then reduce the heat to 250º F. The high-heat sears and seals the skin trapping in the moisture and butter paste. I then slow roasted the bird until it came up to within a degree or two under the safe internal temperature of 165º F. I finally brushed on a glaze and broiled the skin for 10 minutes to finish the bird off. This method took three hours of cooking time, but it produced a tender, moist, fall-off-the-bone chicken with a crispy skin.

From an aesthetic point of view a roasted chicken has a problem. When you put it on a serving platter it looks naked all by itself. You can fill in the empty space around the edges with lettuce or parsley, but I have started to put a side dish on the plate. If I have roasted vegetables or potatoes, I spread them around the chicken “to keep it company.” This post is actually two recipes in one—one for the chicken and one for the side dish of spinach and potatoes.

After Dinner Note: I am usually very cautious about adding hot sauces to a dish. I usually figure that if an individual diner wants more spice that they may add it at the table. Today, however, I threw caution to the wind and used far more of the habanero sauce than usual. Surprisingly, it turned out to be a good choice.  Between being spread out over the entire dish—and the heat of the long cooking time breaking down the some of the capsaicin—the spiciness had turned sweet and flavorful. It still had some bite, but everyone agreed—even those who like it mild—that it was the best roast chicken I had ever made.

Karl’s Lemon Chicken Habanero with Sautéed Spinach and Fingerling Potatoes


Karl’s Lemon Chicken Habanero

1 whole chicken (4-5 lbs.)


¾ cup very dry sherry
¼ cup yellow onion, finely grated
4 large cloves garlic, crushed to a paste
1 Tbs. sherry vinegar
1 tsp. summer savory
1 tsp. chervil
1 tsp. Kosher salt
½ tsp. black pepper, cracked

Butter paste

4 Tbs. unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup Karl’s Lemon Micro Marmalade (or commercial lemon marmalade)
1 ½ Tbs. Apple Smoked Habanero Hot Sauce


¼ cup Karl’s Lemon Micro Marmalade
1 ½ Tbs. Apple Smoked Habanero Hot Sauce
1 Tbs. very dry sherry

Karl’s Sautéed Spinach and Fingerling Potatoes

1 lb. Fingerling Potatoes

2 Tbs. unsalted butter
½ yellow onion, diced
¼ tsp. Kosher salt
3 cloves garlic, minced

1 Tbs. Apple Smoked Habanero Hot Sauce
½ tsp. summer savory
½ tsp. chervil
¼ tsp. black pepper

12 oz. baby spinach


1. The night before your dinner, rinse and pat the bird dry.

2. 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.

3. Mix the marinade ingredients in a small bowl.

4. Set the chicken inside a sealable gallon plastic bag—neck side down.

5. Pour half of the marinade under the skin around the breast and work it up around the thighs and legs.

6. Pour the rest of the marinade into the cavity of the bird .

7. Press as much air out of the bag as you can and seal it.

8. Massage the bird to distribute the wine under the skin and to coat the outside skin with the marinade.

Note: The marinade in the cavity will leak out and provide plenty of liquid to do this. This is also why you put the bird in the bag before adding the marinade.

9. Set the chicken in the refrigerator overnight to marinate.

Tip: Flip the bag over every few hours to redistribute the marinade.

Note: Set the butter and marmalade on the counter to warm to room temperature—the marmalade and hot sauce mix into the softened butter much more easily.

10. Four hours before dinner, mix the butter, marmalade, and hot sauce in a small bowl.

Note: If you are using a commercial lemon marmalade you may need to remove the lemon rind chunks—with a fine meshed sieve—before making your butter paste. The chunky bits would lift up the chicken skin and it might burn at those points.

11. Drain the marinade into a bowl and reserve for later.

12. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels.

Tip: You are not trying to wipe away the herbs, you are just trying to remove the excess moisture.

13. Smear half of the butter paste under the skin, over the breast, thighs, and legs.

14. Smear the remaining paste inside the cavity and over the skin of the chicken.

15. Seal the cavity by sewing up the skin.

Tip: I usually pull the flaps of skin at the cavity opening together and use 2-3 toothpicks to stitch them together.

16. Truss the legs with string and fold the first joint of the wings under the breast to pin the wings to the bird.

Tip: Take a piece of string and tie it to one end of the leg. Wrap the string around the end of the other leg and draw them together. Tie the ends of the string together to hold the legs in place.

17. Lay the bird, breast side up, on a wire rack in a roasting pan and let to rest for 40 minutes to an hour to come to room temperature.

Tip: The bird will cook more evenly if it is not cold from the refrigerator.

Note: 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. Lining the roasting pan with aluminum foil is an ecologically suspect technique, but it makes cleanup easier.

Makeshift roasting pan rack

Makeshift roasting pan rack

18. Put the reserved marinade into a small pot and bring it to a low boil.

Note: The heat will cause the lipoproteins that have leaked out of the chicken to coagulate into what is generally called “pot scum.” There is a debate on whether or not this tastes bad or if it is necessary to remove it, but here I did not want it to burn if my liquid level in the bottom of my roasting pan dried out.

19. Strain the marinade through cheese cloth set in a sieve to remove the solids.

20. Pour the clarified marinade into the bottom of the roasting pan.

Tip: This prevents the juices from burning as they leak out of the bird and onto the pan. It also provides you with the liquid to make a savory gravy to go with your bird.

21. Preheat the oven to 500º F.

22. Rinse and pare the fingerling potatoes.

Tip: Fingerling potatoes are small enough that you do not need to cut them in half before cooking. Roast them whole with the skins on.

23. Scatter the potatoes around the edges of the chicken.

24. Put the chicken in the oven, on the middle level, and roast the bird for ten minutes.

25. Reduce the heat to 250º F.

26 . Rotate the pan after one hour and 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.

27. Check the potatoes for doneness by poking them with a paring knife.

Tip: If the knife slides in easily the potatoes are done.

Note: if the potatoes are not quite done check on them about every ten minutes. When they are ready, transfer them to a bowl and wrap them in foil keep them warm.

28. Lay a sheet of aluminum foil on top of the breast skin and continue roasting until the chicken is almost done.

Tip: Covering the breast lightly with some aluminum foil prevent the breast meat from getting over done and keeps the skin on top from burning during the long roasting time.

Note: Depending on the size of the bird and your oven’s exact temperature it should take about 2½ hours for the internal temperature to reach 173º F.

29. Mix the marmalade, hot sauce, and sherry in a small bowl.

30. Remove the aluminum foil from on top of the bird and brush the skin with the glaze.

31. Switch the ovens heating element to broil and continue cooking the bird until the top is well browned and the internal temperature reaches 175º F.

Tip: Poke the breast right by the wing joint, if the juices run clear the bird is done.

32. 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.

While the chicken is resting:

33. De-fat the pan juices and put them in a small pot.

34. Bring the pot to a boil and reduce the volume by half.

35. Put the last bit of butter into a large sauté pan and heat it over a medium high heat.

36. Sauté the onions and fingerling potatoes with the salt until the onions are just starting to pick up some color.

37. Pull the vegetables to the side of the pan and sauté the garlic in the hole in the center, until fragrant.

38. Stir in the hot sauce, summer savory, chervil, and pepper.

39. Add the baby spinach to the pan and continue sautéing until the spinach is wilted and tender, 3-5 minutes.

Tip: You will have to add the spinach in stages. Adding it all at once would overflow all but the largest pans. However, once it has wilted a bit it will easily fit in the pan.

40. Drain any juices that have come out of the chicken into the pot with the pan juices and thicken the gravy with 1-2 teaspoons of cornstarch mixed with water.

41. Spoon the spinach and potatoes around the chicken and serve.

42. Carve the bird at the table with the gravy on the side.

1 Comment

Filed under California Fusion, Chicken, Main Dishes, Potatoes, Poultry, Side Dishes, Vegetables

One response to “Karl’s Lemon Chicken Habanero with Sautéed Spinach and Fingerling Potatoes

  1. mylifeasishan

    Looks great

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