Despite my previous post extolling the virtues of my lovely hens, I do eat chicken, though I try to ensure it’s free ranging chicken, antibiotic and hormone free and not pumped with water and salt post-slaughter.
Chicken is not my favorite meat, but that’s not to imply that I don’t like it. I enjoy tender, moist legs and thighs but can’t stand the ubiquitous dry breast fillet sandwich-filler. Who wants to eat tasteless, cardboard-dry chicken breast that’s been compressed and fried in mystery oils or breaded with anything-but-bread crumbs?
That being said, with the proper treatment, breast meat can be tasty and tender and very juicy. We will pay special attention to the much maligned chicken breast in a future post, but today let’s focus on those aforementioned legs and thighs.
I believe he profiled his herby chicken on one of his many cooking shows, but here is the online recipe, if you’d like to have a look. Jamie uses a spatchcock, which is a young chicken cut down the middle of it back and pressed so that it lies flat in the pan while roasting, and he also adds a couple extra flairs like fresh ginger and some white wine.
All of that is delicious and I encourage you to try it just as he describes, but I’ve simplified the recipe for no other reason than it’s delicious, tender and so, so flavourful without any bells and whistles.
I encourage you to use fresh herbs for this recipe because they’re so prominently on display. Using dry herbs is usually ok but if you use dried herbs here, you’ll be left with a little too much crunch because dried herbs are just that: crunchy.
Don’t like having to buy fresh herbs for every recipe? Plant your own! Especially thyme, oregano and rosemary, all of which take a freeze and don’t need to be replanted every year. Rosemary is covered in lovely blue flowers every spring and summer, so why not make your landscaping edible?
This recipe is very flexible. Don’t have very much rosemary? Add a little more oregano. Use parsley if you have it, or marjoram. A little mint is a nice addition too. As long as you have enough hardy herbs to coat your chicken, it’s very difficult to get it wrong. For this reason I won’t include exact measurements of herbs. Be brave! Make executive decisions! As long as it smells good, it will most certainly taste good.
Heat your oven to 400F/200C. You’ll need an oven-safe heavy-bottomed pot with a lid (this is what I use), or a casserole dish and aluminium foil.
Remove the herbs from their stems. Parsley stems are fine because they’re quite soft and tasty, but rosemary, oregano, thyme and some basils have tough stems. You’ll want a great big pile of herbs after de-stemming because once you finely chop them all together, you’ll want about 1 cup – 1.5 cups worth of herbs.
Remove the skin and root nub from the garlic cloves, then toss them on top of the herb pile and chop everything together as finely as you can. Pour approximately 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil over the top and chop some more. Then add about a teaspoon of sea salt and a few grinds of fresh black pepper and chop some more. You’re aiming for a course, moist paste to spread on to your chicken quarters, not so fine that you can’t distinguish individual leaves or small pieces of garlic. We’re not making pesto.
Thickly cover your chicken quarters with your herby mix, and don’t neglect the bottoms. I find this easier to do in the pan I’m cooking in, as the herbs aren’t super sticky. Make sure your pan is well coated with olive oil before adding your chicken. Try to stack your chicken quarters so that most of the skin on the thighs is visible, which will allow it to brown at the end of cooking. Once everything is in place, cover your pot with its lid or use aluminium foil to tightly seal off your pan or dish. This method of cooking is basically a dry braise, where the meat cooks in its own juices and fat with minimal evaporation, ensuring an incredibly juicy, tender result.
Place your pan in the oven and leave for about an hour. My mantra is that no oven is equal, and for that matter, no chicken is equal in weight or density. After an hour, check your chicken. The flesh should easily peel apart when stuck with a fork. If it does not, cook covered in increments of 15 minutes until it does.
When the chicken is falling apart-tender, remove the lid or foil and turn the oven up to 500F/260C for 5 minutes to crisp off the skin. A word of warning: garlic burns very easily. If you can’t stand the taste of burnt garlic, watch your chicken very carefully, and only leave it in for 2-3 minutes. I personally don’t mind sacrificing a few burnt garlic pieces for a crispier skin, but I understand if that is not to your liking.
As soon as a little color appears on the skin, promptly remove it from the oven and allow it to rest for 5 minutes to reabsorb some of those delicious juices. Squeeze over your lemon juice (use more if you love lemon), which is an acidic flavor amplifier, and serve with a green salad dressed in a fresh dijon/garlic vinaigrette.