I thought it would never happen.
For basically my entire life, chicken has been my go-to meal. I love the mild, satisfying taste, I love its chameleon-like ability to meld with so many other flavors, I love its extraordinary versatility.
You can cook it a dozen different ways, with a thousand different ingredients, in a million different variations. You could do all of that and never get tired of it.
I got tired of it. Officially up to here (*points three inches above my head*) with it.
A couple of weeks ago — was it really just a couple of weeks ago? — I was thinking about what to cook for dinner, and I hit on the idea of tandoori chicken. I’m a big fan of tandoori chicken, but I probably don’t cook it often enough. To make it right, you have to marinate the chicken overnight in a blend of yogurt and spices, so you have to think about it a day before you want to grill it.
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I had a day to spare, along with some yogurt, so I made it. And I’m telling you, it was better than I had remembered.
As it happened, I was shooting a batch of Prep School videos that week, in which I demonstrate how to prepare a dish or give some other food-related tip. When I thought about which recipes to highlight on the videos, I decided to make the tandoori chicken again.
It was so good, I wanted to share the recipe with the world.
Whenever I make tandoori chicken — or any chicken on the grill, for that matter — I always grill a whole chicken. I don’t even break it down into parts first; I just plop the chicken on the grill, close the lid and forget about it. One of the many advantages to this method is that, for a household of two, you end up with plenty of leftovers.
So I still had chicken in my fridge when I made another whole tandoori chicken for the video camera a couple of days later. But that’s not a problem, because chicken is my go-to meal. I love its mild, satisfying taste, its chameleon-like versatility, etc.
That was a Friday. On Tuesday, I still had some leftovers from two different tandoori chickens roosting, so to speak, in the refrigerator, when the time came to prepare food for the next Let’s Eat section. That week, I was writing about lemons.
I love lemons almost as much as I love chicken. And one of my favorite ways to cook with both lemons and chicken is to make lemon chicken. Which I did.
As I have explained in the story about cooking with lemon, I created my own recipe for the dish. It wasn’t quite a failure — it was superb, actually — but it wasn’t lemony enough to be featured in a story about cooking with lemon.
So I refrigerated the leftovers and made another lemon chicken, this time using twice as much lemon juice in the marinade.
At last I had a dish I was proud of.
But what I also had was the leftovers from three whole chickens, and that was only because I had finished off the first of the tandoori ones. I imagined that when I opened the refrigerator door, endless plastic tubs of chicken would cascade out onto the floor, like some kind of Tupperware-and-poultry Niagara Falls.
If you’ve ever seen “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” sequence from “Fantasia,” you’ll know what I mean.
But with every chicken meal I ate, my taste for it diminished. I didn’t want to waste food, so I continued to eat leftover chicken. Until I just couldn’t anymore.
Last night, I threw out all of the chicken in the house. Yes, it was a shameful waste of perfectly good food. Yes, some of it had actually been cooked that afternoon. But I just could not look at one more plump and juicy piece again.
Tonight, we have plans to go to the food hall at the City Foundry for dinner. My colleague Ian Froeb heartily recommends Chicken Scratch, the fairly new stand there from chef Nate Hereford, the former executive chef at Niche.
It sounds amazing. But all they cook and sell is rotisserie chicken.
Nope. No way. Not going to do it.
Crispy-Skin Chicken With Pan Sauce
4 small chicken thighs or 2 large thighs
½ cup dry white wine, see note
½ cup chicken broth, see note
3 sprigs basil, thyme or tarragon, or 2 sprigs rosemary
Note: If you don’t want to use wine, use 1 cup chicken broth.
1. With a sharp knife, cut fairly deeply along both sides of the bone on the back of the thighs. Season chicken with salt and pepper and place skin-side down on an unheated skillet.
2. Place skillet on stove and turn heat to medium-high. Cook a few minutes until you see rendered fat emerge from under the meat. Cover and cook until meat is done, 20 to 30 more minutes, depending on the size of the thighs (cut into meat to check; it is done when meat at thickest point is no longer pink).
3. Remove chicken and keep warm. Pour out fat from skillet. Place skillet back over high heat and add wine, if using, broth and herbs. With a wooden spoon, stir up all the brown bits on the bottom. Simmer until liquid is reduced by half or more. Remove pan from heat, add butter, and swirl butter around until it is melted and incorporated into sauce.
4. When serving, place chicken on plate and spoon sauce around it, to keep the skin crispy.
Per serving: 365 calories; 28g fat; 9g saturated fat; 155mg cholesterol; 25g protein; 1g carbohydrate; 1g sugar; no fiber; 1,532mg sodium; 15mg calcium
Crispy-skin method by Jacques Pepin; pan sauce recipe by Daniel Neman
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
¾ teaspoon granulated sugar
¹⁄8 teaspoon table salt
1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut crosswise into 1- to 1½-inch strips, see notes
1 quart peanut or vegetable oil, for frying
Note: Do not use chicken breasts, which will dry out during the frying.
1. Combine soy sauce, sake, ginger, garlic, sugar and salt in medium bowl. Add chicken and toss to combine. Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. While chicken is marinating, line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Set wire rack in second rimmed baking sheet and line rack with triple layer of paper towels. Place cornstarch in wide bowl.
2. Lift chicken from marinade, 1 piece at a time, allowing excess marinade to drip back into bowl but leaving any garlic or ginger bits on chicken. Coat chicken with cornstarch, shake off excess and place on parchment-lined sheet. Reserve marinade.
3. Add oil to large Dutch oven until it measures about ¾ inch deep and heat over medium-high heat to 375 degrees. While oil heats, check chicken pieces for white patches of dry cornstarch. Dip back of spoon in reserved marinade and gently press onto dry spots to lightly moisten.
4. Using tongs, add half of chicken, 1 piece at a time, to oil in single layer. Cook, adjusting burner if necessary, to maintain oil temperature between 300 and 325 degrees, until chicken is golden brown and crispy, 4 to 5 minutes. Using spider skimmer or slotted spoon, transfer chicken to paper towel-lined rack. Return oil to 325 degrees and repeat with remaining chicken. Serve with lemon wedges (the lemon adds an important flavor note).
5. For even better results, fry a second time at least 1 or 2 hours, and as long as 24 hours, after frying the first time. Keep refrigerated before frying a second time.
Per serving (based on 6): 423 calories; 23g fat; 4g saturated fat; 107mg cholesterol; 23g protein; 27g carbohydrate; 1g sugar; no fiber; 375mg sodium; 12mg calcium
Adapted from “The Chicken Bible” by America’s Test Chicken
Maple-Bourbon Chicken Wings
¼ cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper or cayenne pepper, or to taste, optional
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. In a small saucepan, mix together maple syrup, bourbon, brown sugar and pepper, if using. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until it reaches the thickness of a syrup. You will have about 1 cup of liquid. Allow to cool and thicken.
3. Season wings with salt and pepper. Spread on a baking sheet in a single layer. Roast for 20 minutes. Flip and roast 15 more minutes. Place wings in a bowl and toss with maple-bourbon mixture.
4. Spread coated wings back on baking sheet and cook until done (internal temperature of 165 degrees), 10 to 20 minutes, depending on size of wings. If wings start to get too dark, cover with a sheet of aluminum foil.
Per serving (based on 6): 415 calories; 8g fat; 2g saturated fat; 129mg cholesterol; 50g protein; 30g carbohydrate; 29g sugar; no fiber; 188mg sodium; 65mg calcium
Adapted from “Salt Sugar Smoke” by Diana Henry
Roast Chicken With Herbed Butter and Croutons
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, slightly softened
½ cup chopped fresh herbs, such as flat-leaf parsley, chives, chervil, basil or cilantro
1 teaspoon table salt or fine sea salt
½ teaspoon dried garlic flakes
1 whole small chicken, about 3½ pounds
1²⁄³ cups cubed day-old bread
Note: The chicken can be buttered and stuffed up to a day in advance, wrapped in plastic wrap and refrigerated.
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2. In a medium bowl, mash together the butter, herbs, salt and garlic flakes.
3. Put the chicken breast-side up, neck end facing you, on a clean work surface. Slip a clean hand under the skin, starting at the base of the neck, and work your hand further in gently, lifting the skin over each breast and down over each thigh, without tearing. Once the skin is loosened, slip in two-thirds of the herbed butter (reserve the rest for the croutons), pushing it under the skin to coat the breasts and thighs evenly.
4. Add the bread cubes to the remaining herbed butter and stir to coat. Stuff the buttered cubes inside the cavity, and tie the chicken with kitchen string around the drumstick ends and wings to hold its shape. Put the chicken breast-side up in a baking pan, preferably on a rack. Roast for 20 minutes.
5. Loosen the chicken gently from the rack or the bottom of the pan. Flip to expose the back and baste with the juices. Roast for 20 minutes more. Loosen and flip so the breast faces up again, baste with the juices and roast until the skin is golden brown and crackly, a final 20 minutes (longer if the chicken is more than 3½ pounds). A meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh should register 165 degrees. Remove from the oven, cover with foil and let rest 10 to 15 minutes.
6. Carve the chicken and serve with the croutons and cooking juices.
Per serving: 751 calories; 33g fat; 13g saturated fat; 293mg cholesterol; 76g protein; 33g carbohydrate; 3g sugar; 2g fiber; 1,217mg sodium; 121mg calcium
Recipe from “Tasting Paris” by Clotilde Dusoulier
Rao’s Famous Lemon Chicken
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1½ teaspoons minced garlic
½ teaspoon dried oregano
2 (3 to 3½ pound) chickens, halved
1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place racks in top and bottom thirds of oven.
2. Whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, vinegar, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate if not using within several hours. Whisk or shake vigorously before using.
3. Season chicken halves with salt and pepper, place on 2 baking sheets and roast 30 minutes, turning once. Cook longer if using larger chickens.
4. Remove chicken from oven and preheat broiler. With a very sharp knife, cut each half into 6 pieces (leg, thigh, wing, 3 small breast pieces). Pour sauce over chicken and toss to coat well. If necessary, divide sauce in half and do this in 2 batches.
5. Broil 1 pan of chicken for 3 minutes. Turn each piece and broil for an additional minute. Keep that chicken warm while repeating with the other pan.
6. Place chicken on serving platter or individual plates. Pour sauce into a heavy saucepan. Stir in parsley and place over high heat for 1 minute. Pour sauce over chicken and serve with lots of crusty bread to absorb the sauce.
Per serving: 410 calories; 23g fat; 5g saturated fat; 187mg cholesterol; 46g protein; 6g carbohydrate; 2g sugar; no fiber; 234mg sodium; 32mg calcium
Recipe from “Rao’s Cookbook” by Frank Pellegrino