Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Talking Turmeric. And proof that there's no wrong way to roast a chicken.

Turmeric. Every used it? Ever heard of it? I had vague memories of this spice, having seen it over the years in old cookbooks from the nineteen sixties and earlier. I'd never used it though until a bottle of this electrifying yellow stuff called to me from a shelf at Whole Foods. I mean with that color, how could I not buy it? I'm very scientific you see, in choosing my ingredients.

A wiki search gave me a brief rundown. Turmeric is actually part of the ginger family and is also known as Indian saffron, as it rivals saffron's distinct twang but is considerably less expensive. But most interesting of all (to me) is that turmeric is what makes mustard yellow, as well as countless other things from fabric to yellow cakes. You see it stains like the devil, so you have to be careful when handling it if you're vein about the way your fingers look. I'm only vein in theory but not in practice seeing that I'm too lazy to wear plastic gloves, even when peeling beets. I actually like it when people stare at my purple/reddish stained hands on the subway - keeps them on their toes.

Anyway, turmeric stirred the chemist in me, and by the time I got home I'd already devised a spice rub to put on the giant chicken breast I'd secured from my Whole Foods battle (grocery shopping in New York is not shopping - make no mistake - it's battle.) As I worked the insanely psychadelic looking rub into the chicken skin, I remembered to my horror that my roasting pan and rack had been murdered by the turkey at Thanksgiving (don't ask - it's a miracle it hadn't happened earlier given how cheap it was.)

I immediately set to work on how I would keep my breast halves aerated while baking to ensure crispy skin and even cooking. I could use a baking rack, but that seemed too obvious. No - the slut yellow of the turmeric was telling me to try something new. And so I did. I cut a lemon into thick wedges, placing them at odds and ends to form a bed for the breasts, tucked a sprig of rosemary underneath them, and off we went.

I have to say - I love rosemary more than I can say over the interweb. BUT - I always find that when I put fresh rosemary on a bird for roasting, it ends up burning to blackened bits by the end and all I end up tasting is char. Well, I've solved that with this recipe. The sprig infuses the bird from underneath while it roasts while a fresh layer of gremolata (a fancy Italian word for an herb medley) sprinkled over the chicken at the end, wakes everything up and makes you think, contentedly, with each bite - rosemary...

Turmeric Spiced Chicken on a Lemon Rosemary Bed:
1 chicken breast, bone in and skin on, split lengthwise
salt and pepper
1 large lemon (have another on hand just in case), cut lengthwise on the diagonal to create wedges (should yield 3 wedges per breast half to lay on)
2 sprigs rosemary, plus additional to mince for the gremolata, recipe below

Alisa's Turmeric Rub:
Combine the following thoroughly. Keep in an air tight container for up to two months if not using right away.
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons Hungarian paprika
1/2 teaspoon mustard
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

Combine the following:
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
dash of olive oil to bind

Sprinkle the chicken breast halves liberally on all sides with Alisa's tumeric rub, rubbing in well with your fingers (use plastic gloves to avoid stainage if that bothers you;) Cover with plastic wrap or put in plastic bags and place in the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours or up to 8. This isn't mandatory - if you don't have the time it's okay. BUT it will be better with a little spa time with the spices.

Remove from the fridge at least 30 minutes before roasting and preheat the over to 425. Make the beds for the breasts on a rimmed, aluminum lined and Pam sprayed baking sheet by laying the lemon slices together in opposition to allow for maximum air flow underneath the breasts. Top with a sprig of rosemary, then lay the chicken halves over the beds, smushing lightly and adjusting as necessary so that they lay flat and don't slide off.

Drizzle the tops with oil, salt liberally and put in the oven for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 375 and cook for another 20-30 minutes, or just until the skin is nice and deep golden and crisped and the chicken is cooked all the way through.* While it roasts - whip up the gremolata, sprinkling it over as soon as the chicken comes out. Let the meat rest for 10 minutes before serving.

*As long as you've taken the chicken out of the fridge well beforehand, the skin shouldn't lie to you - a deep, golden nice and rendered looking skin should mean a cooked bird provided you have the further evidence of caramelized juices gathered on the pan (which can actually look burnt - see above pic.) The only exception is if your oven's way off - God love you. I've experienced that before:(

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