Without a doubt, the very best part of fried chicken is the battered, seasoned, gold-tinged and impossibly crisp exterior. But, as far as I’m concerned, the tender chicken within is no distant second. The best fried chicken recipes have you soak the uncooked chicken in a salty/sweet brine of buttermilk and seasonings for at least day, resulting in meat that’s decadent long before it hits the fryer. Wouldn’t it be great if the insides could garner the same gushing their pretty skins do?
This is what I was thinking of when I stumbled on an old Nigella recipe for buttermilk roasted chicken. Of course, that was four weeks ago and for three of them, I sat at a table piled with eraser dust and red pencil overlooking the avenue below,
editing away dreaming mostly of the buttermilk chicken I would finally make when I was done. The recipe turned out to be a good place to start, but I wanted more — a longer soak, more salt, less oil, more garlic and, for some reason, I felt the recipe was itching for paprika. So, I went another round with it last night — finishing it with a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of more paprika and flaked sea salt before roasting it — and this, at last, was the buttermilk chicken I had dreamed about.
Despite the day-long soaking time — and trust me, the difference between a two-hour soak and a day-long one is tremendous, tremendous enough that I implore you to hold out for it — this recipe is a cinch, and totally fits my other side project: getting a relatively hassle-free, wholesome dinner on the table as many nights a week as possible, a table where we all sit down and eat the same things. It takes five minutes to throw together the buttermilk brine the evening before, and (with legs, at least) just 30 minutes to roast. In that time, you can toss a salad or roast another vegetable and later watch in awe as your toddler inhales a second leg of chicken. Or at least we did. Needless to say, we plan to make a habit of this recipe.
One year ago: Chocolate Peanut Spread
Two years ago: Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter and Ricotta Muffins
Three years ago: Mushroom Bourguignon and Smashed Chickpea Salad
Four years ago: Crunchy Baked Pork Chops, Pickled Carrot Sticks and Amusingly Enough, Fried Chicken
Five years ago: Artichoke Ravioli with Tomatoes and Leek and Mushroom Quiche
Buttermilk Roast Chicken
This recipe was inspired by Nigella Lawson’s version. I fiddled a lot, changing the spices and sweetener, though my biggest changes were to increase the salt, garlic and marinating time. If you wish to use Kosher salt instead of table salt use 2 tablespoons if using Diamond kosher salt and 1 1/4 tablespoons if using Morton kosher. (Here’s why). I imagine that going forward I’ll be using this technque as a springboard for a lot of different recipes and spice combinations. However, even when using the simplest recipe below, the chicken was unbelievably tender and flavorful.
2 cups buttermilk
5 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 tablespoon table salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika, plus extra for sprinkling (I used Hungarian, a smoked one would also be delicious)
Lots of freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 to 3 pounds chicken parts (we used all legs)
Drizzle of olive oil
Flaked or coarse sea salt, to finish
Whisk buttermilk with garlic, table salt, sugar, paprika and lots of freshly ground black pepper in a bowl. Place chicken parts in a gallon-sized freezer bag (or lidded container) and pour buttermilk brine over them, then swish it around so that all parts are covered. Refrigerate for at least 2 but preferably 24 and up to 48 hours.
When ready to roast, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking dish with foil (not absolutely necessary, but Nigella suggested it and I never minded having dish that cleaned up easily). Remove chicken from buttermilk brine and arrange in dish. Drizzle lightly with olive oil, then sprinkle with additional paprika and sea salt to taste. Roast for 30 minutes (for legs; approximately 35 to 40 for breasts), until brown and a bit scorched in spots. Serve immediately. We enjoyed it with wild rice and green beans one night; roasted potatoes and, uh, more green beans another. (Yes, I have a habit.)