Since watching Samin Nosrat's ebullient Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat show on Netflix, I had been obsessed with getting my hands on her similarly named cookbook, especially after watching the final scene from the fourth episode, when she tied her culinary experiences and food lessons together with an epic dinner featuring her buttermilk-marinated chicken and Persian rice (both recipes are also featured in the book).
The book actually came out before the show, however, I hadn't thought of purchasing the former until lockdown began in March, when I was thinking of ways to pass the time at home. Samin's down to earth personality was prevalent in both the book and show; she's a joy to watch and read. I've tried making Samin's chicken recipe twice, and it was always so gratifying to make and eat, whether I was feeding two or six.
Lately, I've been emboldened to tweak the chicken recipe to suit my mood. Between the time of test cooking it and writing this post, I have been awash in a sort of nostalgia for the familial and familiar. A whole chicken wrapping a surprise, the waft of rosemary-rubbed meat, watching the insides of an oven turn a warm orange...
Two major things I've changed in Samin's original recipe was to replace the buttermilk with plain milk, as well as fill the chicken insides with vegetables and aromatics to give that element of surprise when serving the meat. Sure, milk can turn into buttermilk by squeezing lemon juice in a cup of whole milk. I've used this hack a couple of times, because it's a challenge to procure a box or bottle of buttermilk from the grocery during a pandemic. However, I gave whole milk a chance to work its acidic magic into the chicken -- calcium breaks down the chicken protein and tenderises the meat, right after rubbing the chicken with salt. Think of it like a full on body scrub followed by a milk soak.
For the stuffing, you can also cook the ingredients before preparing this chicken dish, if you want softer vegetables, or if you want to mix it with ground beef or pork -- now, isn't that just decadent, carving a whole chicken and finding meat and vegetable stuffing inside? You can also use mashed potatoes and mix it with peas. For this version, I just sliced carrots and potatoes into small cubes, and used whole garlic cloves, along with onions and tomatoes.
Baking time: 1 hour and 10 minutes
Serves: 5- 6
1 whole chicken, cleaned
1 tablespoon sea salt or pink Himalayan salt
300 ml or 1 1/4 cups milk
1 whole garlic, skin cloves
1/2 onion, thinly sliced
1/2 carrot, cubed
1 potato, peeled and cubed
2 small local tomatoes, diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon rosemary leaves
1. The night before cooking, take chicken out from freezer, or if freshly bought, run filtered water on it from the faucet. Cut out the neck and wings of chicken. Set aside for chicken stock later on.
For homemade chicken stock, boil 4 to 5 litres of water in a large stock pot. Put in chicken neck and wings, 2 bay leaves, a tablespoon of black peppercorn, slices from a small onion, cubed carrots and chilli flakes, and 1-2 sprigs of oregano. Boil in low heat for 3-4 hours.
2. Rub whole chicken with salt and let it rest for 20 minutes for salt to absorb into chicken skin. Place chicken inside a large zip-loc bag or clean plastic bag. Pour milk into chicken. Seal bag with another clean plastic bag to prevent leaks. Bathe chicken by squishing milk around it then placing the sealed bag inside the refrigerator, to take out the next day.
3. The next day, put chicken in a shallow baking container. Pour remaining milk on it. You can opt to tie the legs with baking twine or thread. Or, spread them out like butterfly wings. Fill chicken insides with garlic, onions, tomatoes, carrots and potatoes, or any vegetable you like. If the vegetables are spilling out, arrange them around the chicken. Pour olive oil all over chicken and vegetables. Rub chicken with rosemary leaves.
4. Preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Bake for 1 hour. Turn chicken every 25 minutes on each side and back to ensure it’s baked and browned on both sides, front and rear. Check by piercing chicken meat with a cooking prong or the sharp end of a knife. If it comes out white, the chicken is ready. Otherwise, leave chicken to roast for another 10 to 15 minutes. Carefully remove container and allow to cool slightly, before slicing chicken into different pieces for serving.
Make sure chicken has been sufficiently cooked, including the back part.