On Chicken.

I don’t know why chicken sometimes gets the short end of the stick.  Is it not as “exciting” a protein as beef?  I mean, I love a nice rare steak, but few things are as comforting as chicken pot pie, as versatile as a chicken breast or as pretty as a burnished roast bird straight out of the oven.  The golden crispy skin, the promising plump meat, the fun of eating a drumstick with your hands…  There isn’t a beef equivalent of that.

So, now that I’ve gone on a bit about the culinary virtues of poultry, you’d think that I’d be cutting up chicken left, right and center (and saving the bones for stock, of course).  The sad truth is this: I’ve never even roasted a whole bird.

I know, I know.  Shameful.  I haven’t a good excuse either.  You know what else I haven’t done, now that I’m in a confessional sort of mood and am listing all of my shortcomings? Deboned a chicken.  I swear, I am not scared of chicken — you know I would tell you if I were.

When I saw that this recipe called for a boned bird, I decided to not take the easy road, buying breasts and thighs.  I was going to disassemble a chicken, dammit.

If you haven’t yet taken apart a bird, please take two pieces of advice: get your hands on a sharp knife, and don’t try to figure this out on your own.

The whole procedure is really quite simple, but only if you follow some instructions.  I propped open my copy of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall‘s excellent River Cottage Meat Book to use as my guide; not only does Mr. Fearnley-Whittingstall clearly explain each step, there are also helpful photographs as well.  Also, the kitchn has got a great post and accompanying video that will take you through the entire process.  Personally, I prefer the book method, not because I am a technophobe (how can I be? I have a blog, I tweet and carry around an iPhone) but because I’m kinda grossed out at using my raw-chickeny fingers to constantly pause the video while I catch up.  And, oh yes, you will have raw-chickeny fingers.  You’re going to have raw-chickeny hands, so you may as well embrace it.  Just don’t embrace anyone or anything until you’ve washed.

There are so many things that you can make from your freshly broken-down chicken, and it’s far more economical to buy whole birds and take them apart than to purchase the pieces.  If you’re really on top of things, and I oftentimes am not, you could buy birds and freeze the parts you don’t use for another date.

Or you could just make this recipe, which is even simpler than deboning a chicken and far more appetizing.  I’ve made this both for a crowd and for just Keith and me; I think it’s safe to say that you’ll satisfy pretty much anyone.

Another plus: the flavors are so big that anyone will think the meal was a lot of effort, rather than child’s play (though with that sharp knife, maybe another phrase would be best).  The bulk of the work is done by a yogurt-based marinade and your oven.  All you have to do is chop some cilantro, slice a couple onions, mince a bit of garlic, roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty.  The most strenuous part of this meal is scrubbing your hands after finishing prep.  Oh, and fighting over who gets first dibs on the pieces.

Easy Chicken Masala, from Bon Appétit
Makes six portions

1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon garam masala
2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1 large garlic clove, pressed (I mince)
1 4- to 4 ½-pound roasting chicken, cut into 8 pieces, backbone removed
2 small onions, cut into ¼-inch-thick slices

  1. Mix yogurt, chopped cilantro, olive oil, garam masala, salt, and garlic in 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Add chicken to marinade, 1 piece at a time, coating all sides. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate at least 2 hours. Note: Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated.
  2. Position racks in top third and bottom third of oven; preheat to 400°. Arrange onions in thin layer on large rimmed baking sheet to form bed for chicken. Top with chicken pieces in single layer, spacing apart for even roasting (chicken will still be coated with marinade). Discard remaining marinade.
  3. Roast chicken on top rack until cooked through and juices run clear when thickest portion of thigh is pierced with knife, about 1 hour. Serve chicken atop onion slices. Spoon pan juices around.
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