I had other plans for this post, but today turned out to be as cloudy as dishwater…not appropriate for food photography. So I am going to talk about chicken. Friday evening, I roasted one. Roast chicken and I go a long way back. An uncle who was settled in the USA was visiting family in
Calcutta Kolkata. I was in 3rd grade. I heard he made roast chicken one day for his siblings, with Indian spices. On a tangent, I wonder how he managed it, because nobody had an oven at home. Perhaps he had brought one of those plug-in portable ones. My mother had one of those when I was in high school, really basic, no thermostat. Oh, I could write yards about that. But back to my point, by the time I was eight, I was somewhat acquainted with European cooking, thanks to Enid Blyton. I remember starting to read her books when I was probably six or seven. Now Enid Blyton wrote books for children of that age too, but these books that I had in my hands were for older children. They belonged to my sister. I struggled to keep track of the plots but I managed to understand that the children were having a lot of fun camping and eating food out of cans – something I had not heard of. When they ate at home, there was usually cold chicken and beef, potatoes in their jackets and other things that sounded completely exotic and impressive to me.
About twenty years later, when I had my first taste of roast chicken, I was not impressed. Even less impressed with cold chicken and potatoes in their jackets, I might add. I remember thinking- what a difference some Indian touches would make. Then I let another decade roll by. Finally when it became clear that my son was fond of chicken in all forms, I started playing around with the recipes that existed out there. Mind you, there are recipes for Indian style roast chicken, but the ingredient list alone goes for one page. My trimmed down recipe tastes like a cross between a homemade chicken curry and a traditional roast chicken. The basis is simple. Add the trademark herb-spice mix that is to Indian meat dishes what sofrito is to Latin American (and Spanish and Portuguese) cooking. Onion-ginger-garlic paste. And chilli powder for some kick.
In America, I once bought some bottled chilli powder, only to discover that it was a spice mix for making Mexican chilli and not the ground-up dried red fruits of the chilli plant. Chilli, the dish, is so similar to our Indian rajma that I have a hard time believing that it was not carried all the way from India to Mexico by the Spanish Armada. Some red-blooded Spaniard who said, “Ay Carumba! Damn the red beans, let’s put in some red meat!”
So don’t use that chilli powder, because it has other spices that are superfluous for this recipe. Unless you want to make chilli-flavoured roast chicken. Now that is an interesting idea!
Anyway, I just slathered some ogg (onion-ginger-garlic) paste on the chicken, marinated it for a while, slid it into the oven and then forgot about it for the next two hours. Well, not quite, because the delicious aromas wafting all around made my brain reconfigure some synapses.
Here is the recipe:
Minimalist Indian Roast Chicken
1. Whole roasting chicken (mine was about 1.6 kg) or pieces of chicken if that’s what you have
2. 3 small yellow or red onions – peeled
3. 6-8 fat garlic cloves peeled
4. A fat knob of ginger peeled
5. 1 lemon juiced
6. A cup of plain yogurt
7. Chilli powder/sweet paprika/hot paprika
8. 1-2 tbsp vegetable oil
Bare-bones of the process– Puree onions, ginger and garlic to a paste. Add salt and chilli powder (or paprika) to taste. Make a marinade along with yogurt and lemon juice and rub all over chicken. After two hours of marination, roast in oven at 150 degrees Celsius (for top and bottom heating) or 160 degrees (for bottom heating) for two hours or until chicken is nicely browned with charred spots here and there. Let rest for 10 minutes before carving. Collect the juices and the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Make gravy. Done.
The Process with hand-holding and a free shoulder massage – Take whatever tool or device you have for reducing food to a pulp and use it to grind the onions into a creamy paste. To help your tool or device in this process, use some lemon juice or a mixture of lemon juice and yogurt. You should get about half a cup of the paste. Less or more is not the end of the world. Process the ginger and garlic together similarly. It might help to chop up the ginger into small pieces comparable to your garlic. The combined ginger-garlic paste would also come up to half a cup, more or less.
Here are some guidelines to note. Garlic adds pungency, ginger adds heat and rough edges and onion helps to bind the two together and smoothen out all rough edges. So depending on what you are going for, you can accordingly adjust the relative proportions of the three aromatics to your taste. If you don’t like ginger, go easy on the ginger (but don’t skip it). If you don’t like garlicky stuff, add less or if you love it, add more. If you want a gravy to go with your roast chicken, add more onion.
Now make your marinade. Put the ogg paste that you just made into a bowl. Add a tablespoon of salt. If you are using paprika like I did, adjust the ratio of sweet paprika to hot paprika till you have a nice red colour and as much heat as you can tolerate (see below). If you are using chilli powder check first how hot it actually is and then add accordingly. You can nevertheless add sweet paprika for the colour. My mother would also add a spoon of sugar at this stage. If she had her way, it would be a tablespoon probably! While I don’t want to confuse my main course with dessert, I have to admit that a touch of sugar does smoothen out flavours and adds a roundness to the dish. If you’d like to try, add a tsp of sugar, not more, maybe less. I didn’t because I usually forget to. Add half a cup of yogurt, more if your chicken happens to be skinless. Mix everything and taste a drop. If you feel that you have been hit on your palate by a hammer, you are good for the next step. On the other hand, if you go – hmm, yummy – I could just eat that right now, then you probably need to bump up the salt and the heat. Yes, trust me. A good marinade that will result in spicy and well-seasoned chicken should be almost inedible in its raw state.
Rinse your mouth and prep the chicken. Poke it all over with a fork. Not your mouth but the chicken. Don’t be a sissy. Put all your frustrations and anger into the fork and let the chicken have it. It’s dead anyway.
Now massage the marinade all over with your fingers, also rubbing it into the cavity. If you feel icky about doing this, get a pair of disposable latex gloves and put them on first. Just remember to put them in the trash can when you are done. Pour the extra marinade into the cavity and all over the chicken. Cover and keep aside for a couple of hours.
Preheat your oven to 150-160 degrees (see the bare-bones instructions) Celsius. Massage the oil all over the bird and inside. Now put the chicken on a roasting pan, pouring the extra marinade over and inside the bird and slip it into the oven. Wash your hands and go for a walk, or meet a friend or do a project with the kids or finish that article of yours. Just walk away. Note, one could also roast chicken at much higher temperatures. I routinely do when I am using a different marinade. But not when I have onion, ginger and garlic sitting in the line of fire, waiting to burn to cinders before they have had a chance to mellow out. So low and slow is the way to go.
Wander back with about fifteen minutes to go (i.e. 1 hour and 45 minutes) and evaluate the situation. Is the bird looking nice and browned? Are the wingtips looking slightly charred, are there tiny charred spots here and there on the chicken? If the answer is yes then go back to whatever you have been doing. If on the other hand, your bird is still looking pale and sickly, now is the time to consider bumping up the temperate to 180 if you are in a hurry. But now you need to keep a close watch on the proceedings so that you can arrest any charring before it goes out of hand. A bit of charring adds great flavour, but more and your chicken will taste like it fell into the campfire.
I let mine sit in the oven for a good two and a half hours before I was ready for it. It did not burn or dry out – thanks to the low temp and the marinade layer sitting over the chicken. I let the bird rest for 10 minutes while I poured out the juices, emptied out the cavity and the browned bits into a bowl. You can separate the fat or whisk it into the gravy. You can use the juices as is, or make a smooth gravy by whisking in some flour (about a teaspoon) and bringing it to a boil over a low fire. Serve with rice or whatever grain or grain substitute you prefer, and a fresh salad.
We had a Spanish white wine on the side, Ay Carumba!
Drop me a comment if you have any thoughts.