Sweet & Spicy Whole Roast Chicken

We were having rotisserie chicken for dinner, again. As a 12-year-old, self-declared sometimesatarian, I was less than pleased. From a young age, I’d decided to be dramatically opposed to chicken at all times, especially when it arrived at our kitchen table in still-obviously-a-chicken form. The problem was that my mother loved rotisserie chicken, and for good reason — she could use the leftovers to make dozens of dishes the next day, it was a $5 grocery store purchase that could feed the entire family with a side salad, and it took 0 minutes to prepare. Still, I wouldn’t touch the damn thing.

9 years later, I landed on Italian soil with the long-held opinion that chicken made me vomit. The smell, the consistency, and even the taste — I’d avoided chicken in most forms throughout my first few years of college and I planned to continue that trend during my semester abroad.

Then I started to eat Tuscan cuisine, and everything changed.

Despite daily runs and a near-constant attempt to limit my calorie intake, I gained 5 pounds during the 6 months I lived in Florence. I still have no regrets. I ate nutella croissants and caffe lattes for breakfast and bowls of delicate pastas for lunch. I indulged in multi-course dinners almost every night, usually consisting of antipasti (meats and cheeses)primi (mostly pasta), and secondi (generally meat dishes) courses, plus dozens of desserts, sides, glasses of wine, breads, coffees, and after dinner liquors. In other words, I feasted.

If you walk down the Arno river in Florence, away from the Ponte Vecchio in the direction opposite the Duomo, you might decide to wander into the small neighborhoods along the river. And if you do, you might glimpse a restaurant that looks closed. In fact, you might not even be sure if it’s a restaurant. But it is: it’s called Club Paradiso. And at Club Paradiso, you’re not a customer — you’re family. The tiny restaurant is in a living room, with 10 tables and odd decorations covering the walls. It always looks closed, with the curtains drawn and no sign out front. But it’s actually always open, if you know how to find it. Inside, Andrea and his wife serve whatever they want for every meal. There’s no menu, only a construction-paper list that Andrea will discuss with you, if you ask, based on what he bought at the market that day. For 20 euros each, you’ll get 4 incredible courses, plus house wine and bread. You’ll probably be the only non-Italian in the restaurant. The food will probably change your life.

During my first visit to Club Paradiso, Andreas served us an antipasti spread of local meats and cheeses. Next, we had handmade miniature gnocchini with tomato and mozzarella. For our third course, he brought out prosciutto-wrapped chicken breasts in garlic sauce, which I’d vehemently argued against during our menu discussion. He didn’t care what I thought and brought it to our table anyway. I took one bite, then another. Then I stared at the thing on my plate: I liked chicken. I LIKED chicken. I finished it in five minutes, under Andrea’s gleeful watch. I returned to Club Paradiso 4 more times in the next 2 months, ordering chicken dishes for my secondi each time.

Now, I cook chicken at home at least once per week. And the basis of my chicken portfolio is this recipe for simple, sweet, salty, savory roast chicken. Yes, roasting a whole bird can be scary — but once you’ve done it once, you’ll be able to do it again and again. It’s perfect for entertaining, but it’s also a great dinner for one or two. Make this on a night when you have time, as roasting isn’t a fast process. But remember that this bird will provide more than just dinner for tonight. You can use the leftover roast chicken in grilled cheese, in pasta, on pizza, in stir fry, and more in the coming days. This one chicken, which usually costs around $7, provides 3 meals for Sean and me, plus we save the carcass to make stock.

Maybe I can convince you to fall in love with chicken, too.

Sweet & Spicy Whole Roast Chicken

Serves 4 for dinner, or 2 with leftovers. Recipe adapted from Eating with my Fingers.
  • 1 whole chicken, bones in, skin on
  • 8 cloves garlic
  • 1.5 T whole grain mustard
  • 1 t rosemary, dried or fresh
  • 1 t thyme, dried or fresh
  • 1 jalapeno, diced
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 inch chunk of ginger, grated or diced
  • 1 lemon

Preheat your oven to 425 F. Take the chicken out of its packaging and inspect it. Remove anything in the cavities (usually there’s a bag of gizzards). Rinse it off, pat it dry, then put it in a roasting pan with at least 2-inch high edges.

Combine in a small bowl: 4 cloves garlic minced, whole grain mustard, rosemary and thyme, jalapeno, olive oil, ginger, and the juice of half a lemon. Season aggressively with salt and pepper. It’s worth noting that this mixture is super adjustable… if you don’t have one of these things, it’s not a big deal. Dijon works great instead of whole grain mustard. I’ve also made this without lemon, with different herbs, and without jalapenos. It’s still good.

Stuff the leftover lemon half and 4 garlic cloves (whole, peeled) into the chicken’s body cavity. Then spread the mustard herb mixture all over the outside of the chicken… and into the oven it goes!

Give the chicken 25 minutes, then check it out. If the skin is browning too quickly, make a foil tent and put it over the chicken. If not, leave it be. Now is a good time to put something else into the oven if you want a side dish – I often make roasted broccoli or roasted potatoes, and I add them to the oven at this point.

Give the chicken about 35 more minutes in the oven. Drink some wine. Eat a snack. Then check it again. When the chicken is done, the thickest part of the thigh should register at 165 degrees on a meat thermometer. You might need more time, because the cook time depends on the size of your chicken, and that’s okay.

How do you know if the chicken is not done? If you poke into it and the juices run clear, that’s great — but if the juice looks pink, put it back into the oven. Honestly, the meat thermometer is your best gut check — otherwise, it can be tough to tell. Worst comes to worst, you’ll carve the thing and notice that it’s a bit underdone, and you’ll send it back to the oven for another 10 minutes!

Let the chicken sit for 5 minutes once it comes out of the oven, then carve it like you’d carve a turkey. Serve with roasted potatoes, thick hunks of bread, salad, roasted veggies, or whatever else you want.

I usually save the leftover chicken from this recipe to put in other things: enchiladas, pasta, grilled cheese, homemade miso ramen soup, curry, stir fry, and beyond. I also put the carcass in a zip lop bag to store in the freezer until I want to make homemade chicken stock — that recipe is also coming soon to the blog!

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