Saturday, January 22, 2011

"What's the Matter, Colonel Sanders? Chicken????"*

When I was growing up, my parents often had dinner parties, but even when they had one extra person over for dinner, my dad delighted in making a special occasion out of the meal.
One of the dishes that I remember most vividly is lemon butt chicken.  Yes, I probably remember it because of the name.  It's a simple roasted chicken with lemons as the main accent, but for its simplicity, it can still wow an audience and at the same time be the epitome of comfort.
My dad generally cooked like I do - without following a set recipe.  I can't totally be certain if he followed the same procedure each time he and my mom made this dish.  So, instead of asking my mom what they did, I just went with what seemed right at the time.  There are MANY online recipes for a roasted chicken, some with low heat and some with extraordinarily high heat.  The important thing is to make sure the chicken is properly cooked through - not medium rare, as Scott likes to joke.

with a side of radish-turnip latkes

Lemon Butt Chicken

  • One whole roasting chicken (the fresher, more local, the better)
  • Two lemons, one zested
  • Thyme, chopped or leaves separated from stems
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 onion, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 stick butter (or compound butter - see below), softened

Preheat the oven to 425.
Make sure there isn't that gross bag of stuff inside the chicken's cavity.  If there is, feed it to the dog.  If there isn't, make sure the dog gets something else for dinner.
Rinse chicken, inside and out, and pat dry with paper towels.
Zest mixture
Combine the zest, thyme, salt, and pepper and rub the cavity of the chicken with the zest mixture.  You can also rub the skin of the chicken with any leftover mixture.
Apply the butter to the breast of the chicken underneath the skin.  You may need to cut the skin a little bit.  If you have leftover butter, you can place it inside the cavity or between the thigh and drumstick or the wings.
Stuff the cavity of the chicken with the onion and lemon.
Place any leftover onion and lemon into a roasting pan and place chicken on top (I put my chicken on a rack in the pan, but I still throw these in - the onions become GREAT snacking as the chicken rests).
The end result
Roast for approximately 90 minutes.  The chicken MUST reach an internal temperature of 180 when a thermometer is inserted between the thigh and the drumstick (I highly recommend a digital thermometer).
Remove from oven and let rest 10 minutes.
Carve and serve immediately.

Before mixing
Thyme Compound Butter

  • 1 stick butter (I prefer unsalted), softened
  • Thyme (to taste)

Mix the thyme and butter until the thyme is evenly distributed.  Spoon into sheet of waxed paper and roll into a log.  Refrigerate until needed; it can also be frozen when proper methods are used.

Of course, you could do this with any flavoring agent.  I will be making dill butter tomorrow with all the dill that we received this week. And I should probably make a garlic butter to have on hand just in case.

The lemon and the butter keep the chicken incredibly juicy.  What is great for our family, right now, at least, is that we can make two meals of this chicken.  I like dark meat, so I had a thigh and drumstick, and Scott had a breast.  The other half was saved, and the carcass will become the base for yet another delicious stock.
I wasn't able to eat chicken when I was pregnant.  I managed to have some fried stuff once (yeah, I know - super healthy, right?), but the thought of having roasted chicken would have turned me green.  I even tried to buy Scott some chicken at the store (he loves chicken, and even on my best day, I'm lukewarm on it), and I almost passed out over my cart trying to purchase it.  That I can roast a chicken AND have the desire to is, to me, a pretty big step, although I am not sure I am keen to do it again any time soon.
The weekend isn't over yet, and I have several new items on my culinary wish list, so hopefully I can squeeze a few more in!

*Quote from Mel Brooks's Spaceballs

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