Food and Drink

How to Make Life-Changing Rotisserie Chicken at Home

Leave the store-bought stuff behind with some tips from the chefs at Kismet Rotisserie and 'What's Eating America' host, Andrew Zimmern.

Larisa Blinova/Shutterstock
Larisa Blinova/Shutterstock
Larisa Blinova/Shutterstock

People are not roasting enough chickens at home. Are we afraid of the commitment? Or the process itself? Maybe it’s simply because we are living in a Grubhub world. Par cooked, microwavable meals are being sent to your door via the postal service. I suppose the concept of coming home to roast a whole chicken might be less desirable, considering it’s significantly more time consuming than neuking a Lean Cuisine.

Two facts to contextualize the following poultry insight:
1. I have previously worked in restaurant kitchens for five years… And yet…
2. The first roasted chicken I ever prepared in my own home was in fact, this past Saturday.Maybe that’s a “me problem.” I realize that is a pretty bizarre personal shortcoming, considering I was literally a cook, by profession. I do suspect however, that I’m not alone in this late blooming. But, after having explored a couple simple and truly fulfilling recipes this weekend, I want you to believe in the bird, too. 

Roasting your first chicken is extremely wholesome content. Trust me, the memory is fresh. There is a unique and special intimacy associated with cooking an animal in its whole, intact form. You are working with a chicken not just, chicken. The goal is to buy your meat products from a real farm, raised by real persons and, locally sourcing chickens from smaller butcher shops will get you better quality, sustainable poultry. If approaching your first bird includes its head and feet, I salute and respect you. Save the neck and gizzards, baby! Those are special bits, and your gravy and chicken stock options increase significantly with these spare parts. They will add a richer, more unctuous quality. This is what the professionals like to call, “Flavortown.” 

That said, it’s more likely that you will come across a chicken that has been somewhat butchered for the sake of convenience. Is it easier to buy one of those precooked rotisserie birds in a hot plastic purse from the grocery store? Absolutely. But here’s the thing: DIY is sexy, and vastly more rewarding. Wholesome and sexy – a dichotomous energy, I’m aware. Oven mitts and rustic aromatics are cute, but a plump and golden brown bird with savory juices and pan drippings is… hot. The end.

Pulling off a holiday meal shouldn’t be intimidating — not if you have the right help, anyway. The Yummly Smart Thermometer sets you up for cooking success, thanks to app-based cooking assistance, handy timers, and alerts that make it easier to multitask, without overcooking the main course. With it, even newbie hosts can feel confident about what they put on the table this year.Sara Kramer and Sarah Hymanson of Kismet Rotisserie in Los Angeles are known for their perfectly crispy, golden-skinned chicken, so I reached out for their pro tips on what it takes to roast the perfect bird.

According to the duo, spatchocking (also known as cutting out the backbone and laying the bird flat for roasting), is the way to go,”and and save the backbone for stock!).” Youtube will teach you how this is done if a visual is needed, but you are quite literally just taking a pair of shears and cutting along each side of the spine, removing it, and flattening the bird out by pressing on its body with your hands. 
 
When it comes to seasoning, they advise doing so the day before you plan on roasting.”We like a dry cure, as opposed to a brine. Leave it uncovered to dry out the skin a bit, which helps with crisping.” I used a touch of olive oil, a generous amount of salt, coarse ground black pepper and a sprinkling of dried parsley, rosemary and thyme.
 
When it comes to roasting, the duo recommends “a hot, hot oven. It’s the best way to get the (very highly prized) crispy skin and to get the light and dark meat to cook to the right temperatures at the same rate. Plus, it’s quick, which you can’t argue with!” I roasted a four pound bird at 450 degrees for about 45 minutes. Check with a meat thermometer to make sure it’s reached 165, internally at the deepest part of the leg meat.This chicken was sublime. The skin was very crispy and the meat was quite juicy. This is the recipe to use if you want great success, with less of a time commitment. But, I was curious what a brine might do for the moisture levels. Andrew Zimmern, host of his own show What’s Eating America, and four-time James Beard Award winner, gave his hot take with a recipe that changed my life.

I repeat, the following roasted chicken recipe changed me. With a few more ingredients and a day and half of preparation, you can also alter your life for the better. It requires a 24-hour brining process, and another six hours (at least) to dry out. This sounds intensive. It’s not. Just mentally prepare to start your dinner two days in advance and you will be rewarded with a chicken so saturated with flavor, so incredibly succulent, it’s mind bending. Upon probing it with a fork, its juices poured out of it, even after resting it for 15 minutes. What the heck. I fed this to three people in my household who all said, in slight variation but with the same sentiment, “this is the best chicken I’ve ever eaten in my life.”Zimmern’s other very noteworthy poultry musings:

  • “Room temperature meats cook more evenly. 
  • Don’t baste! It dries out and overcooks the part of the bird you are doing your darndest to keep moist.
  • Brining can work for all chicken recipes except whole stuffed birds… It makes the stuffing too wet.
  • Roast the necks, gizzards, livers, hearts in the pan with the onions. It makes the gravy taste better.
  • Buy real chicken that was raised by real human beings.”

Andrew Zimmern’s Oven-Roasted Chicken in White Vermouth, Orange, and Fennel Seed Brine

Ingredients:

  • 1 naturally raised chicken, about 3 pounds
  • bouquet garnish of 2 sprigs rosemary, 2 sprigs thyme and one sprig sage
  • 1/2 lemon, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 tablespoons softened butter
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 peeled and quartered medium sized yellow onion
  • Brine:
  • 2 cups orange juice
  • ½ cup white vermouth
  • 3 tablespoons toasted fennel seed, ground
  • ¼ cup sea salt

Gravy:

  • 2 tablespoon flour mixed with 2 tablespoon butter
  • 2 cups rich chicken broth 

Instructions:
 

  • Brine the bird for 24 hours in the fridge in a snug, food-safe plastic tub with the orange juice, sea salt, white vermouth, ground fennel seed and water to cover. (I double bagged two large Ziplocks, and still felt confident.)
  • Take the bird out of brine and dry on a rack in the fridge for 6-12 hours. 
  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  • Place the herbs, lemon and garlic inside the cavity of the bird.
  • Rub the bird with the soft butter and sprinkle with the paprika.
  • Place the bird in a roasting cradle or in a roasting rack and place into a well-insulated pan to prevent scorching the drippings.
  • Place the onion quarters on the rack under/around the bird.
  • Once the bird has spent a total of 90 minutes outside of the fridge it will be at room temperature and ready to place into the oven on the center rack.
  • Start cooking!
  • Turn the temperature down to 325 Fahrenheit and roast for 90-100 minutes. DO NOT BASTE. Once the internal temperature of the deepest part of the thigh muscle reads 165 Fahrenheit on a meat thermometer, remove the bird from the oven.
  • Remove chicken and rack together from the pan, and place on a platter to rest. Lightly tent with foil.

 For the Gravy:

  • Drain away all the liquid from the roasting pan, reserve the fat for another use and separate out the reserved juices.
  • Add the butter/flour mixture to the roasting pan and place the pan over medium heat on a stove top burner.
  • Cook butter and flour for a minute or two. Add the stock to the pan, scraping to deglaze.
  • Bring the stock to a slow boil and place the liquid and solids into a saucepan over medium heat and simmer, season, and reduce to sauce consistency, adding the reserved juices that you separated from the fat.
  • Once the gravy is up to snuff, serve it with the carved chicken.

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Greer Glassman is a Thrillist contributor.

Food and Drink

What We Learned About Fish From Spending An Afternoon With Josh Niland

It’s time to stop putting your fish in water, you’re killing the flavour

fish in coolroom
Photo By Natasha Bazika

“How do you want your fish,” says a fishmonger dressed head to toe in black, to a customer ordering a kilo of Greenback Flounder from Coorong, SA. The customer is unsure of how he wants the fish but asks the fishmonger for advice after telling him what he plans to do with the fish. Immediately the fishmonger knows how to cut the flounder, wraps it in paper, and hands it off to the customer—but not before giving a tip or two on how to cook it. 

“This is how we sell trust and instil confidence,” says Josh Niland who appeared from around the counter, donning his chef whites and a crisp white apron. We’re in Fish Butchery, Niland’s fish shop in Paddington, 20-metres down the road from his two-hatted seafood restaurant, Saint Peter. It’s a humble fish shop that feels luxurious when you walk in. Perhaps, it’s the cased sausages hanging in the front window, or the glass cabinet with one of everything they’re selling that day on display. You won’t find piles of fish or large blue trays of ice with fish lying on top. Everything is in controlled cabinets, including the oysters.

The shop is long and narrow with exposed brick walls, which Niland explains had a previous life as a hair salon. “I never wanted the shop to be uptight, but I did want it to be beautiful, a place you could walk in, order fish and chips, or a piece of fish to cook at home,” says Niland. In the middle of the room, there is a slab of white-marble serving as the backbone. This is where the fish is descaled with what Niland likes to call a ‘beartrap on a stick’. Although some fishmongers wield the beartrap, flinging scales up their arms, others use a knife, slicing the scales in one long strip, resembling snakeskin. 

“The fish here will be used for sushi and sashimi,” Niland explains pointing at the fish being scaled by a knife. “What we’re trying to do here is to get between the scale and the fish, so we can control the texture of the fish and remove moisture from the fish.” 

Removing moisture from the fish is something we don’t see often, but as Niland explains, it is the most important step in preparing the fish. “You know that fishy fish smell you get a waft of walking into a fish market or other fish shop,” Niland asks. I briefly pause to remember smelling nothing when I walked into Fish Butchery, except the faint smell of fries sizzling in the fryer. “Well that’s because moisture gets into the skin, and when that happens water rapidly breaks down into ammonia, resulting in a fishy smell.” It’s another reason Niland often gets lost when a customer asks for a fish that’s not too fishy.

As he explains, fishy fish are only “fishy” because of the way it’s stored and handled. Which explains why the fish scaled with the bear claw are immediately hung, away from moisture. 

descaling fish
Photo By Natasha Bazika

“When the scaler rips up the scale, it leaves an open pocket where the scale used to be. This pocket is quite deep and what usually happens is the fish is washed down then dipped in water. The water sits in that pocket, and after some time creates a fishy smell,” explains Niland. 

This is the core of Niland’s philosophy. Removing moisture from the fish opens up a realm of opportunities that exists beyond the conventional method, according to Niland.

Our next step takes us to the cool room, where rows of gutted fish are hung up on silver hooks as butchers do to meat. They’re not swimming in buckets of ice or water, instead, they are dangling a safe distance from each other, careful not to touch one another. The coolroom is set to an optimal temperature, there is no fan blowing in the room, and only when the fish is ready to be served, then it will be unhooked and dealt with accordingly. 

“Every step from the catching, killing, and preparing is important in achieving flavour,” says Niland who points out a row of garfish in a dry tray. “If you kill a fish properly, there shouldn’t be any lactic acid, which you can tell by the flesh—it looks cooked.” 

So what’s the best way to humanely and effectively kill a fish? According to Niland, brain spike or bleeding the fish keeps the fish from flopping around, building up chemicals that can affect the flavour later on. 

Bringing the attention back to the garfish, Niland explains there are moments when fish tastes better. This tray of Garfish is ready to go, but then Niland points to a hanging coral trout which has until Friday before it’s served on someone’s plate. 

chef showing fish in coolroom
Photo By Natasha Bazika

“This fish arrived today, it’s been scaled and gutted, but it won’t be ready until the end of the week. That’s not the case for all fish though, this tuna I would serve on day 8 or 9,” says Niland. “There’s a point where a fish’s fat is more prominent, which again comes back to removing as much moisture as we can and controlling the handling and environment from day one.”

Niland sources produce from fisherman around Australia and he takes only whatever he can get. 

“I go to the airport to pick up fish once or twice a week from my sources, and I’ll visit the Sydney Fish Market daily to see what they have, but at my shop, I serve whatever I can get my hands on,” explains Niland. “Our customers ask for recommendations so we tell them, King George Whiting is excellent today, and we might offer tips on storing it at home, how to cook it, and if I have a recipe card, I’m more than happy to share.”

As Niland explains it, not everyone knows how to cook a certain fish, and he wants more people to choose an unfamiliar fish, something they haven’t had before or cooked before. The best way to do so is by helping his customers understand the product. “The bottom line is we want people to have a better experience with fish,” says Niland. 

This stays true to his sustainable approach to fishing and his pioneering nose-to-tail eating method for fish. “The global standard is that half goes in the bin, which breaks down to about a 45% fillet yield,” says Niland who remains unaffected after 10-minutes of chatting in the cool room. “For every two fish, we only need one. I use about 95% of the fish.”

We finally leave the coolroom, to approach a small fridge, where fish are being dry-aged, but in a different control to the dry ageing fish in the coolroom. “It’s just another way to experiment with the flavour and natural method of prolonging shelf life,” says Niland. 

“I’m always thinking, how can I articulate the flavour of fish differences between coral trout and snapper.”

cuts of fish
Photo By Natasha Bazika

Niland’s experimentation finds him continually exploring low-temperature storage, probing which fish works best for it, and noting when a fish reaches its sweet spot. More like a mad scientist, Niland is far from a conventional fishmonger, as he dives deep to push boundaries on how seafood is caught, shopped, and cooked whether at home or at Saint Peter. 

One look at his book, The Whole Fish Cookbook, is enough to convince you of his outrageous, funny, and loopy suggestions on what to cook, including coaxing delicious dishes from fish eyeballs. liver and even fish blood. 

If there is anything we can take away from spending an afternoon with Josh Niland, it would be his pioneering penchant for demystifying fish, his care and attention to preparing fish, and his sustainable seafood philosophy, that we hope catches on around the world. 

Niland enjoys the complexity of fish, yet breaks it down for us so that we can enjoy and achieve a perfectly cooked piece of fish at home. His humble approach to seafood is nothing short of inspiring. He wants to change the world, but it’s not going to be easy and you get the sense he knows that, but he continues, one fish at a time, to change how we cook, eat, and look at fish.

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