RECIPE: A roast chicken to make the dead dance

By Dana Zia, The Golightly Gourmet

“Don’t fear dying, fear not having lived.” Old Mexican saying

Signs of the summer’s death are all around us with the falling leaves, bare flower stalks and the decent of the rains. Our thoughts turn from the fertile garden beds, inwards towards the hearth. It seems like a fitting time to celebrate the dead.
Day of the Dead or “el Dia de los Muertos” is celebrated throughout Mexico roughly the weekend after Halloween. The week before this event, Mexico transforms. Suddenly the fresh flower stalls on the street are awash with marigolds, windows are dressed in brightly colored flags with skeletons dancing on them and sugar skulls are everywhere.
Families build alters to honor their departed beloveds, decorated with pictures, flowers, candles and smiling skeletons. Then the families lovingly prepare a feast filled with the favorite foods of their dead loved ones. Soon they pour out onto the streets, parading to the graveyards with food and drink in hand, to have a party with those in the ground.

I simply am in love with this holiday and have adopted it as a tradition in our household. It is a wonderful way to celebrate the lives of those we have lost. Often, we invited friends over and ask them to bring a picture of their lost loved one to add to the alter with their loved one’s favorite dish. During dinner, we each talk about the person or fur person that is being remembered and toast to their spirits and memories. When you are gone, you are not truly gone if someone remembers you and celebrates your life.
I have been working on the perfect roast chicken recipe for a while now. I love to eat chicken so perfecting the right roast chicken has been a passion of mine. Start with an organic chicken, preferably local. This is a basic recipe that you can use over and over just change the spices to your liking. I used a Mexican theme here since we are celebrating Day of the Dead, but the classic way to roast chicken is to use rosemary, sage, thyme and lemon instead. Viva el dia de los muertos!

Mexican Spiced Roast Chicken
You can choose to roast the chicken whole or cut it in half.
The brine:
3 cloves of garlic crushed
8 cups of cold water
4 tablespoons of kosher salt
1 tablespoon of chili powder
1 tablespoon of whole cumin seeds
1 teaspoon of whole black peppercorns
1 lime, halved and squeezed into the brine

Spice blend:
1 tablespoon of ground cumin
1 tablespoon of smoked paprika
1 tablespoon of chili powder
2 teaspoons of oregano
2 teaspoons of fresh cracked black pepper
1 teaspoon of kosher salt
3 tablespoon of olive oil
A lime
3 cloves of garlic, minced

The rest
1, 4 to 5 pound fat pasture raised whole chicken
1 small onion cut into fourths.

For the brining: You will think this step is not necessary. You will, perhaps, find it too fussy. Ignore those feelings and put your chicken in the salty spa. Trust me. Mix all the brine ingredients into large pot and stir until the salt is dissolved. Add some ice to bring the brine temperature down then add your chicken to the brine, making sure the whole thing is submerged. (It is okay to add more water to the brine to get it to cover the chicken) Place the pot in the fridge and brine for 2-12 hours.

While the chicken is brining, mix up everything from the spice mix but the oil, lime and garlic, in a small bowl. Turn the oven on to 400 degrees. Remove the chicken from the brine, (discard the brine) and pat the chicken dry then place the bird breast side up in heavy dutch oven. (If you do not have a dutch oven investing in one will be the best thing you could possibly do for your taste buds.) Squeeze the lime into the spice mix then tuck the lime halves and onion quarters in the cavity. Add the oil to the spice mix as well and spread that spicy oil mix gently under the skin and all over the chicken. (Sorry gotta get messy here since the best way to do it is with your hands.)

Tuck the chicken in the oven and bake for 30 minutes with the lid off. Lower the temperature to 350 degrees and then put the lid on the dutch oven and bake for another 30 minutes till beginning to brown. Take off the lid and baste with the delicious juices in the pot then let roast for 10-20 minutes more till the temperature at the deepest part of the thigh is 165-175 degrees and the skin is golden brown. It is about 20 minutes per pound cooking time. Don’t over bake it or you will have dried ole chicken that Lilly wouldn’t even eat. VERY IMPORTANT! Take out of the oven and let sit for 15 minutes to let the juices distribute into the meat. Serve with the pan juices on Mexican style rice sprinkled with cilantro and salsa. Meow.