People sometimes look at this recipe and misjudge it, saying “this is lemon chicken.” Oh, but it’s not. Try it and see. With this recipe there is a certain alchemy in the combination of the marinade ingredients, the chicken, and the marinating time, that lets magic unfold. This leads us to its name: Heroine Chicken. Without a doubt, you are a hero every time you make it. It is as good the next day cold as it was coming out of the oven. Why this list of ingredients, in just these proportions, cooked just this way? I don’t know, but it’s a little piece of magic that I’m not going to question.
Making the Marinade
Butterfly the chicken or have the butcher do it for you. Salt the chicken extraordinarily well with kosher salt – make sure every crevice is covered.
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons peppercorns, crushed but in good-sized pieces
1/3 cup olive oil
6 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
A couple of handfuls of chopped flat-leaf parsley
In a bowl mix lemon, peppercorn, olive oil and garlic. (Important: make sure the peppercorns are crushed into large pieces. You can use a spice mill, or mortar and pestle.)
I place my chicken in a shallow, 24-cup container with lid. It’s about 3.5 inches high and 15 inches wide. The size is important. If it’s too big, you will lose marinade. If it’s too small, the chicken won’t lay flat. This recipe is all about the marinade.
Pour half of the marinade evenly over the bird. Sprinkle with half of the parsley, about a handful. Flip the chicken over and evenly cover the other side of the chicken with the rest of the marinade. Then sprinkle the remaining parsley.
Cooking the Chicken
Simple directions: The long and short of it is this – you can read everything I am about to say, or simply know that it cooks in about an hour at 350. You want it to nicely brown. If it starts to brown too much too soon (before an hour), you can cover it loosely with foil. If it doesn’t brown enough, you can turn it up. Feel free to throw it on the grill.
Roast the chicken skin-side up in a roasting pan at 375 to start. After 20 or so minutes, when it has begun to brown, turn it down to 350. You can stick it in the oven and leave it, but I like to watch it a bit. If you have a convection oven, I would suggest you use it for 15 or 20 minutes when you turn the oven down to 350 and then at the end for 5 minutes.
You want it to be nicely browned, and you will develop a sense for yourself about what that looks like, as you learn to cook from instinct, smell and sound rather than merely reading a recipe. Recipes are wonderful guides, but in becoming a cook, you will have to learn to listen to your own inner voice.
Heroine Chicken takes about an hour, but you will know when it’s done because the legs wiggle and it’s really brown and crispy. If you don’t have a convection oven and it’s not very brown at the end, you can turn up the heat to 375 or so for the last 5 minutes or until you can see it’s the perfect color.
This marinade is so wonderful with any bird–but as a change up from the whole large bird, I’ve done it here with baby chickens. It’s also nice with other small birds.
I used six baby chickens, small boiling potatoes, and carrots. Wash and dry the birds and place in the marinade (as described above) in a cozy container. I doubled the marinade on a whim because of the volume. I don’t butterfly these chickens because they are very small, but I marinated for 48 hours and flipped several times, and if you skip that they won’t be the same.
Peel the carrots, cut them into halves the long way and then two more cuts to shorten into equal sticks. Place the chickens in a roasting pan. Toss the potatoes and the carrots in olive oil, then place them all in the pan with the chickens. I added some lemon slices. Cook uncovered at 325 until done. It’s usually about 2 hours, but in this case it took 2.5. Make sure to cook low and slow. Every 30 minutes, baste anything you can from the bottom. If you feel like they’re not making enough of their own juice, add some wine or chicken stock, but you don’t want it to be soupy. (If you have a convection oven, it’s nice to use on and off for 10 minutes every half hour, but it’s not necessary if you don’t.) Make sure the birds are nicely browned on top. If you feel like the vegetables are done sooner, take them out and place in a warm bowl, slightly covered, until birds are done. I left them in this time.