I put this meal together to celebrate H finishing her grad school finals (only 1 more semester!) and it was a smashing success. Crazy delicious and unique flavors and textures really set this apart as “one of my best ever.”
I brined the chicken in an orange blossom infused solution with some utility saffron (cheapo no flavor stuff from the Armenian market) for a gorgeous color and floral accent that penetrated deep into the meat. Orange blossom is another thing you need to experience to understand – it is so incredibly floral and bright that it is unlike anything else, even fennel pollen. The two sides were simple and perfect accompaniment for one of the best chickens I have ever made.
Much of this meal was conceived because I didn’t have any potatoes. I butterfly the chicken and roast it at 500 very quickly to get a wicked crisp skin, but you need something to catch the drippings at that temp or else your whole house will be consumed by smoke. Hence the potatoes. But I didn’t have any so I started scheming up other things I could use to keep the house from smoking over.
Enter Yorkshire pudding – this is a traditional British pastry that has been made for hundreds of years specifically for catching drippings from roasting meats for Sunday lunch. Perfect. I decided that I would put the chicken on the middle rack on a cookie cooling rack, and the pudding in a baking dish on the bottom shelf to catch all the delicious chickeny bits.
It worked just as planned, and the crispy, chewy, super savory bread pudding pretty much blew my mind. But the chicken got an even more extreme treatment.
I recently read Heston Blumenthal’s In Search of Perfection wherein he details the steps for a perfect chicken. One step, and the one I borrowed, was to fry the wings and giblets in butter, then inject that butter into the bird after cooking to make it crazy rich and chicken flavored. I upped the ante a bit by using duckfat instead of butter and by seasoning the wings and backbone with baharat, a middle eastern spice blend. Insane.
I sauteed the spinach quickly with garlic, butter, and sherry, which was nice and light to accompany the delightfully heavier pudding, and I made butter poached pears for dessert to finish it off in style. All in all, a truly memorable experience.
For the brine:
- 12 cups water
- 1/3 cup salt
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 4 tbs orange blossom water
- 3 tbs utility saffron
For the chicken:
- 3-5lb chicken
- olive oil
- 2 tbs duckfat
- 1/4 tsp baharat
For the pudding:
- 1 pint whole milk
- 2 eggs
- 2tbs duckfat
- 6oz all purpose flour
- pinch of baking powder
- 1 generous pinch of salt
For the spinach:
- 2 heaping handfuls baby spinach
- 1/2 cup sherry wine
- 6 cloves garlic
- 2 tbs butter
- olive oil
- Combine brine ingredients in a pot. Combine with an immersion blender. Brine chicken 8-12 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 500.
- Butterfly the chicken by using kitchen shears to remove the backbone, then break the breast bone. Cut off the wing joints. Pat very dry, then use a spatula to separate the skin from the bird all over. Rub outside and under skin with olive oil.
- Add the backbone, wings, 2tbs duckfat, and baharat to a small cast iron pan, cover in foil, and fry for about 15 minutes. Allow to cool, strain, and load into a flavor injector.
- Put the duckfat for the pudding in a large glass baking dish and put it in the oven.
- Combine the ingredients for the pudding and mix to combine until smooth. When the oil in the baking dish is smoking hot, add the batter, then place the dish on the bottom shelf of the oven.
- Place the chicken, breast up, on a cooling rack, directly above the baking dish so it drips onto the batter.
- After 30 minutes, remove the pudding, which should have puffed up all around the edges, and continue cooking the chicken until the breast registers 155F, if it has not already. Put something else underneath to catch drippings.
- Allow the chicken to rest for 10 minutes. Now prepare the spinach.
- Heat some olive oil in a saucepan and sautee the garlic very gently. Crank the head and add the sherry. After about 30 seconds, add the butter and the spinach, then cover.
- Reduce the heat and steam for about 2 minutes. Cut the heat and toss to combine, then add salt to taste.
- Inject the chicken all over, especially the breast, with the infused oil. Carve, plate, and enjoy.