I was thinking of roast chicken for Sunday night’s dinner. Last week, I ran out of ancho chile powder and when I went shopping, I picked up several different ground chilies. Jan had requested bone broth later in the week, so I did not want my chicken to be too spicy.
Note: While there is some debate on the issue, I use the spelling “chile” to mean a spice that is ground from a single type of chili pepper. The word “chili,” on the other hand, is a spice blend that may include any number of other ingredients—such as cumin, coriander, garlic, onion powder, etc.
I picked my chilies for flavor, not heat. I wanted a spicy, but not fiery bird, because I knew that I would be making several other dishes from the leftovers—although choosing chilies as the main spice did kind of lock me into the Southwest.
Note: While there are a lot of sites dedicated to the heat levels of the different chilies, there is a surprising lack of information on the taste of different kinds of chile powders. One reason for this is that the different sources of the original peppers can have a substantial impact on the final flavor that various brands produce.
Except for an unfortunate love of dancing chilies, Lucky Peach is the best site I found that gives some information on chile flavors. The three chilies I chose were: California chile powder, mild but flavorful—fully ripe red Anaheim peppers; Hungarian paprika, with the “warm flavor of ripe peppers and sunshine…as well as a complimentary bitterness”; Poblano chili powder, “dried fruit with a slight green note” that “are generally not that spicy.” I decide to mix my chilies with butter—so that they would stick to the bird—along with some Mexican oregano, garlic and salt and pepper.
After Dinner Note: This chicken came out very nicely, tender, juicy, and just the right chili flavor, warm without being at all spicy—son-in-law Chris would have definitely been dousing it with Habanero sauce.
Karl’s Three Chile Roast Chicken
3 Tbs. butter, softened
4 large cloves garlic, crushed
½ Tbs. California chile powder
½ Tbs. Hungarian paprika
½ Tbs. Poblano chili powder
1 tsp. Mexican oregano
½ tsp. Kosher salt
¼ tsp. black pepper
4-5 lb. brined chicken
1. Mix the butter with the garlic, chilies, herbs and spices and set them aside.
2. Several hours before dinner, 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.
3. Smear half of the spice butter under the skin over the breasts, thighs, and legs.
Tip: A small spatula is the cleanest way of doing this, but there is no substitute for fingers. Once the butter is under the skin, massage it over the meat through the skin.
4. Smear the remaining marinade inside the cavity and over the skin of the chicken.
5. Fold the wingtips under the bird to hold the wings against the chicken.
Tip: Pull the first joint of the wing up and over the shoulder of the wing joint. This pins the wing without toothpicks.
6. Seal the cavity by sewing up the skin.
Tip: I usually pull the flaps of skin together and use 2-3 toothpicks to stitch them together.
7. Truss the legs with string and pin the wings with tooth picks.
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.
8. Put the bird on a plate and refrigerate, uncovered, for at least one hour.
Tip: This dries out the skin and allows it to crisp in the oven.
9. About two hours before dinner, preheat the oven to 400º F.
10. Lay the bird, breast side up, on a wire rack in a roasting pan and pour half a cup of water into the bottom of the pan.
Tip: Lining the roasting pan with aluminum foil is an ecologically suspect technique, but it makes cleanup easier.
Note: I do not have a wire rack that fits the pan I am using. I place several canning lid rings—the kind with removable tops—to hold the bird off the bottom of the pan.
11. Put the chicken in the oven, on the middle level, and roast for 15 minutes at 400º F.
Tip: If the skin on top of the chicken looks like it is going to burn, cover the top of the bird with a loose tent of aluminum foil.
12. Reduce the heat to 350º F and insert a constant read thermometer set to 163º F into the breast near the wing joint.
Tip: Whenever I under cook a chicken, the under done spot is where the wing meets the breast. If you poke a hole here the juices should run clear with no pink. Roasting a whole chicken is always a delicate balance between the meat being moist and juicy and salmonella. Roasting the chicken to temperature should take about an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes.
Note: If the juices do not run clear you may leave it in the oven for another few minutes or transfer the chicken to a smaller plate and microwave the birds for two minutes to finish it off.
13. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter and cover it with aluminum foil to rest for ten minutes.
Tip: The chicken will continue cooking and reach a safe internal temperature.
14. Strain the pan juices and set them aside.
Tip: A piece of cheese cloth in a fine meshed strainer will separate most of the floating chunks of coagulated chicken juices and some of the excess fat as well.
Note: While I would usually use the pan drippings to make a sauce with flour and cream, today I am saving them for my bone broth later in the week.
15. Serve the chicken whole—to carve at the table.