Roast chicken smells like home. It is the smell of a communal meal, of care and love that goes into thinking ahead and dry brining a chicken and of showing someone you’re willing to put in a little effort on a sleepy Sunday.
Chicken fat rendering under high heat is, in and of itself, an olfactory experience – its savory aroma lingering in your kitchen long after you’ve finished the meal and collected the plates.
Above all else, roast chicken is the smell of something familiar. This roast chicken is a basic recipe of my childhood – with a couple of tweaks. If you’ve had the pleasure of knowing and loving a Puerto Rican, you know we use adobo in everything. Any protein. Any vegetable. My dad even seasons his lasagna with it.
I share this affinity for the neon-yellow all-purpose seasoning, and I make my own blend. Not only does it use up a few spices you probably already have on hand, it can also help to avoid complicated brand politics, which has inspired many to make their own. Just don’t forget one very important ingredient: MSG.
MSG is polarizing, but unless you have a very specific allergy, I promise it’s OK to use in moderation. Mix in a pinch of MSG with your salt next time you’re cooking and marvel at the umami X factor you never knew you were missing.
Another variation on my mother’s recipe is that I spatchcock the chicken. I find this little bit of extra effort really helps the chicken to roast more evenly. Pro tip: Position the chicken’s legs facing the back of the oven. It’s hotter back there, and it’ll get the legs up to temperature without overcooking the breasts.
The pan sauce I use is a twist on a mojo marinade. While the traditional preparation involves marinating the entire chicken in a mixture of bitter orange citrus (or lime) juice, orange juice, olive oil and garlic, I like to add a couple of these ingredients halfway through roasting to take full advantage of the pan drippings, resulting in a bright sauce that fully showcases what this chicken is all about.
This straightforward, pantry-friendly recipe is always in my back pocket, and I believe it should be in yours, too. In lieu of the prequarantine dinner party, consider delivering half to your friend who is boycotting Goya. Or to your relative who couldn’t care less. Once it’s safe to gather indoors, make it for friends you’re trying to impress.
Or for those who show up hungry and without notice. (In this case, go for a quick marinade.) It’s flexible. It’s familiar. It’s different. It smells incredible – like home, even if you can’t be under the same roof.
Adobo Spatchcocked Chicken
This chicken sings when you include the MSG and let it rest overnight. Getting the marinade under the skin – a step missing from a lot of otherwise great recipes – helps to ensure the chicken is well seasoned. It takes a bit more work, but it is worth it. You can roast it plain, or you can add onion and citrus juice to drive home the Puerto Rican flavors. Carve the chicken and serve it with white rice.
If you prefer not tackle spatchcocking, ask your butcher to do it for you. And, if you prefer to omit MSG, you might want to add an additional tablespoon of kosher salt. (Or, you could add more, up to 1 teaspoon.)
One (3 ½- to 4-pound) whole chicken
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt, or more as needed (see headnote)
1 ½ teaspoons garlic powder
1 ½ teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
½ teaspoon MSG, to taste (optional, see headnote)
1 large yellow onion (about 10 ounces), halved and thinly sliced
½ cup no-salt chicken stock, white wine or water
Juice of 1 orange
Juice of 1 lime
Cooked white rice, for serving (optional)
Lime wedges, for serving (optional)
Place the chicken, breast side down, onto a cutting board. Using poultry shears and starting at the neck, make a lengthwise cut down one side of the backbone to the tail. Make a lengthwise cut down the other side of the backbone. Discard the backbone, or save it to make chicken stock. Trim and discard the fat just inside the body and neck cavities, or reserve for another use.
Turn the chicken over and place it cut side down and, pressing firmly with your hands on the skin side, flatten the chicken. Pat the chicken dry, inside and out, with paper towels.
To make the adobo, in a small bowl, combine the olive oil, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, oregano, coriander, pepper and MSG, if using.
Carefully slide your index finger under the skin of the chicken, loosening it from the flesh without tearing it. Using your hands, spread the adobo mixture under the skin and then all over the chicken. Place the chicken on a platter and refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 2 hours and preferably overnight.
About 1 hour before you plan to roast the chicken, remove it from the refrigerator. (Bringing the meat to room temperature before roasting ensures more even cooking.)
When ready to roast, position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees.
In a 12-inch cast-iron skillet, or other oven-safe pan, add the sliced onion, spreading it on the bottom. Place the chicken, breast side up, on top of the onions with the legs facing the rear of the oven. Roast for 30 minutes.
In a small bowl, combine the chicken stock, wine or water with the orange and lime juices.
Remove the chicken from the oven and pour the liquid into the skillet, avoiding direct contact with the chicken. Roast for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, or until the thickest part of the breast registers 155 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.
Transfer the chicken to a carving board and let rest for 5 minutes. Test the temperature again – it should read 165 degrees. Carve the chicken and plate, spooning pan juices on top. Serve with white rice and lime wedges on the side.
Yield: 4 servings
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