It’s not that I believe there’s one way to roast a chicken; I believe there are thousands, and each has its merits. I love Marcella Hazan’s lemon-stuffed roasted chicken, a) because it’s fun to voodoo all those holes into the lemons, and b) because if it works, and the steam from the lemon juice puffs the chicken’s skin up from the inside, it’s quite a sight to behold. I love spatchcocking because you get to say “spatchcock” for the next 48 hours. But when I roast a chicken at home, I do it one particular way, because it’s quick and easy and because I’m hopelessly in love with the imagery of the chicken world’s version of a total floozy settling in for a snooze in the sun, which is exactly what I think of when I prepare my bird. It’s quirky. It’s silly. It’s a foolproof way to teach newbies which side goes up. And the wing tips never, ever burn.
Here’s how it works: first, you’ll need to imagine your chicken is settling in for a nice long nap at the beach. Never mind that your chicken is well past dead, and that you don’t want sand in your dinner. She’s tanning, okay? Everyone looks better with a tan. Give her a good lather, with olive oil, perhaps, or melted butter, and maybe some spices. Next, make her comfortable. Tuck her wings behind her back. Cross her legs. Take the extra material around her neck off, because no one likes weird tan lines. Now she’s ready to roast.
It might be the easiest way, or it might just be the way I’ve roasted a chicken most often, so it seems the easiest to me. But the real reason I roast chicken like this—the important reason—is because if I had to pick, crisp, salty chicken skin might be my favorite food on the planet. And in my 425-degree oven, this little trick tans the chick.
I’d eat a crunchy chicken skin—almost all of it, if you want the truth—everywhere Sam would eat green eggs and ham, and then some. Only poor Sam, in his seemingly infinite quest, never ate his gourmet treasure standing at the kitchen counter, which is a shame. Any food worth calling a favorite is worth eating standing up. Or, perhaps more accurately, said food should be capable of making one forget to sit down.
But aye, there’s a rub—I’ve always massaged my chickens with at least a half teaspoon of salt. At least. It’s an effective way to get the job done, but for people like me, it may not be the healthiest–1/2 teaspoon is about 1500mg of sodium, which is the upper limit for people who should theoretically be watching their sodium intake. So this week, for Sodium Girl’s 3rd annual Love Your Heart Recipe Rally (my participations in the first two years are here and here), I decided to give my roasted chicken a little makeover.
Every year, Jessica Goldman Fuong asks folks to take a normally salty recipe they love—a recipe they can’t imagine changing—and reduce its sodium. It’s certainly a challenge; for most of us, taking salt out of a recipe is akin to taking away our favorite pair of jeans. (How do you get dressed in the morning when you don’t have any pants to put on?) The chicken was a natural choice for me, since the salinity of the skin seemed to be what I relied on for flavor. Oh, and because I’m apparently pickling my kidneys; looking at Jessica’s numbers, I add as much salt to my food daily as most people are supposed to consume in a day, never mind the sodium even the healthiest foods contain naturally.
I started with Jessica’s recipe for “Beer Butt Chicken” in Sodium Girl’s Limitless Low-Sodium Cookbook—a gutsy recipe name, for one thing (be with what is, right?), but the recipe itself is also clever, because Jessica offers a few different spice combinations to round out the classic beer-chicken combo, where you roast the chicken standing up over a can of your favorite brew. I’d planned to use cider instead of beer (hard cider is also naturally low-sodium), but the cider was accidentally, um, consumed too soon. So I did what I’d never have done, say, a month ago: I went about my normal chicken-roasting routine, adding a bit of smokiness in the form of pimenton de la vera and a flavorful depth with cumin, smearing and tucking and tying per usual. But I skipped the salt entirely.
And you know what? That gal came out pretty as ever, puffed and crisp in all the right places. I shared her with friends, and later, when they were long gone, I stood at the counter, chipping the shattery, smoke-infused skin shards off the chicken’s legs, and I didn’t even think of sitting down.
Sure, she’s had work done. And in some ways, I guess it makes her no longer the chicken I always roasted before. But she’s still got her merits, and she’s healthier for me than the last bird I made. And–most importantly–she’s still worth standing up for.
Simple Smoky Roasted Chicken (PDF)
For a low-sodium dish, the numbers on this flavorful roasted chicken are a little high—if you split it between four people, it has about 162mg of sodium per serving, a hair higher than the recommended 140mg per serving for those following a strict low-sodium diet. For the rest of us, it’s just delicious—crisp in all the right places, and flavored with a good smear of ground cumin, smoked Spanish paprika, and dried oregano.
Time: 10 minutes active time
Makes: 4 to 6 servings
Equipment: Kitchen string, for tying legs
1 (4- to 5-pound) whole chicken, patted dry with paper towels
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon pimentón de la vera (smoked Spanish paprika)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Remove all chicken innards, trim any excess fat from around the chicken’s neck, and dry the chicken thoroughly with paper towels inside and out. Rub all parts of the chicken with the oil. Place the chicken in a roasting pan or in a cast iron pan. Blend the pimentón, cumin, and oregano together in a small bowl, then sprinkle the entire chicken with the spice mixture. Fold the wings behind the chicken’s back, tie the legs together, and sprinkle any remaining spice on any bare spots.
Roast the chicken for 60 to 75 minutes, or until the breast meat measures 165°F on an instant-read thermometer. If the skin is dark golden brown before the meat is done, slide a baking sheet onto an oven rack above the chicken.
When the chicken is done, let rest 10 minutes, then carve and serve hot.
A good purge
That weekend of break-up sex? It was mostly fabulous. (I’ll tell you more about it later, here.) The upshot is this: I got the second round of celiac disease tests back, and they were normal. Which is great, except for the fact that the first gliadin antibody test was still screamingly positive. The doctor suggested I try a gluten-free diet for a couple months, to see if I’m one of those (and apparently there are many of us) who don’t test normally.
So that’s it. That’s what I’m doing. My hope is that on Hogwash, you really won’t notice all that much. Not eating gluten means eating a lot of other things, you see—things I’ve always loved, like fresh produce and great meats and cool new grains. I don’t think it’ll be that hard. Right? Right?
But packing up all the gluten in the house—that was hard. I decimated our pantry, rejecting anything made with wheat, rye, or barley. While my neighbor’s and nanny’s baking drawers grew, I celebrated what might possibly be the first time in history that the contents of my kitchen will fit comfortably within its boundaries. The more I stacked on the counter to give away, though, the more I started to panic: No wheat flour. No bucatini. No saltines!
So I did what I do best in times of change: I organized. I put all the alternative grains into one bin, all the rices into another. I gathered gluten-free pastas (thank goodness for that assignment) in one place, and stacked gluten-free flours together on the same shelf. It all seemed more promising that way. More controlled.
(For the record, if I were a superhero, I think I’d be the one in charge of reconstructing hopelessly disorganized spaces. I’d swoop in, shooting thunderbolts made of paperclips, and tie offenders up with rubber bands. I’d have secret headquarters inside Storables. I haven’t started marketing myself yet because I just haven’t found the right tagline. Or name, for that matter. The leading candidate, Super Stapler, is too Office Space and just not feminine enough. Please let me know if you’re in the business of building superhero brands.)
Anyway. In my purge, I found two giant bags of unsweetened medium-flake coconut. I have no idea why I bought that specific size, or why I bought two bags, but there they were. I couldn’t stop the normal gears from turning. Coconut cake, I thought. But wait, I . . . can’t. I’m sure I’ll be able to make a gluten-free coconut cake someday. I’m positive it’s not difficult, and that it could taste really, really good. But right now? I feel like a moron. Like none of the organs I normally use to cook and eat food will ever function the same way again. Like I have to somehow learn everything from scratch: Coconut. What is coconut? (This might be the closest I ever come to knowing what it’s like to change one’s sexual orientation.)
I scrapped the cake idea. Macaroons, I thought. Macaroons are a scoop-and-dump operation, and even in their most Americanized form, they’re almost never bad. And they’re often gluten-free. The recipe on the back of the package beckoned. I stirred, and scooped, added a bit more coconut, and some tangerine zest, and dumped, imagining them dipped in chocolate. They puddled on the baking pans, flat and sticky and unappealing.
Was I being mocked? Did I just flunk macaroons? I think I did.
I backed up and started again. Think simple, Jess. I thought of my mom, who’s getting a knee replacement tomorrow. She’ll have to learn how to walk all over again, with more or less the same body—it’ll just be rearranged a bit, that’s all. I’m lucky this little habit shake-up doesn’t require three days in the hospital, right? I have (almost) all the same ingredients, on the grand scale of food. I just have to learn new ways to put them together.
I finished my little pep talk. Then I launched into an Indian-inspired meal, pouring an easy tomato and chickpea curry over quinoa, simmering spinach in coconut milk and ginger, coating chicken in a spicy yogurt mixture. (I do eat more than chickpeas. I swear.)
Then something else happened: I fell miserably, violently ill. I never even tasted my food. My husband took the baby so I could writhe in peace for the first terrible 12 hours, then I spent the next 3 days in various stages of one very bad mood, hardly eating, perfecting my best amoeba impersonation. I couldn’t touch the Indian food. In fact, I still can’t, which is why there’s no recipe here today. (But if you’re looking for a quick no-fail diet, have I got the flu for you!)
Battling sickness without saltines was a new challenge, for sure. I’ve worked up to eating Rice Chex (with milk now), quesadillas on corn tortillas, and rice cakes with peanut butter. (Hello, high school.) Meat and vegetables are still in the no-fly zone. But, on the plus side, my first few days of eating gluten-free have been relatively easy, because I really didn’t have to eat at all.
So there you have it: My new sort-of plan. I hope to be gluten-free through the end of April, and reassess then.
Thanks, by the way, for all your support. You guys have been awesome.
Filed under commentary, gluten-free, lupus
Tagged as gluten-free, going gluten-free