I had every intention of sharing a different recipe with you this week: a jam & almond crumb bar that was a big hit at a party a few weeks ago, or a Thai green curry udon noodle dish that I keep meaning to make again. But some recipes are simply too good not to share right now: saffron & Meyer lemon roasted chicken is definitely on that list.
I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to roast a chicken with a simple lemon and saffron rub. After all, saffron and chicken is a pretty classic combination, as is saffron and lemon, and if you pop a quick search into Google, it’ll return plenty of examples. I’m also not sure how I ended up with two unopened jars of saffron from Penzey’s in the pantry, but I’m glad I did, because it let me take a somewhat devil-may-care approach with a precious ingredient normally doled out with a parsimonious hand.
The rub was as simple as simple can be: Meyer lemon salt, put up last winter, cayenne pepper and a throw-caution-to-the-winds pinch of saffron threads. There seems little doubt that grinding the saffron & salt together would produce more saffron flavor (and allow you to use less), but I wanted the gorgeous red strands: it makes the final dish look that much more decadent, no? Besides, I was too lazy to haul out the spice grinder (a.k.a, Tai’s ancient Krups coffee grinder, not to be confused with my ancient Krups coffee grinder, which we still use to grind coffee). So, grind or not: your choice.
I chose to roast this one low-and-slow, to keep the saffron threads from scorching and to allow maximum time for the flavor to penetrate the meat. Because my bird was fairly massive (nearly 5 lbs) it was definitely slow: nearly 2 hours. I basted both the chicken and the potatoes with the glorious pan juices a few times near the end, while I was checking the internal temp, but other than that, it just sizzled away, warming the stubbornly chilly October house and filling the kitchen with the most tantalizing citrusy saffron aroma. The final product was definitely worth the wait: tender, dripping with juices, incredibly flavorful. The saffron manages to be both subtle and powerful at the same time, and the floral Meyer lemon was a perfect counterpoint to the earthy, rich saffron. This is a show-stopper chicken: one that I would proudly serve to anyone who came to my home.
As excellent as the chicken was, the roasted potatoes almost stole the show: slow-roasted for 2 hours in the saffron & Meyer-scented schmaltz that dripped off the chicken, then finally crisped in the cast iron skillet just before serving, they were a wonder all their own. Amazingly enough, recrisped today for lunch, they were (if possible) even better than the night before. I’m hoping the magic continues and I’ll find my refrigerator has turned into a Hogwart’s dining table, with saffron-lemon roasted potatoes magically reappearing night after night after glorious night.
Make this one: it’s worth it.
- 1 roaster chicken, about 4 lbs (I bought a GourmAvian roaster from Holbrook Farm: spendy, but worth every penny)
- 2 tsp Meyer lemon salt (or 1 ½ tsp flaky sea salt + ½ tsp dried grated Meyer lemon zest)
- ¼ tsp ground cayenne pepper
- 1 large pinch saffron threads (about ¼ gram)
- 1 fresh lemon (Meyer or regular), or frozen Meyer citrus peels
- 2 lbs Yukon Gold potatoes, cut to 2-inch dice (optional)
- If so inclined, rinse your chicken inside & out (or not. Up to you.). Either way, dry the skin thoroughly and transfer to a clean plate.
- In a small bowl, combine Meyer salt, cayenne pepper and saffron threads: crunch thoroughly with your fingers to infuse salt with saffron flavor (or, give a quick grind in a spice grinder or mortar & pestle). Sprinkle liberally over the outside of the chicken, tossing a bit into the cavity as well. If time allows, let chicken rest in the refrigerator, uncovered, anywhere from 2 to 24 hours, to air-dry the skin and allow flavors to penetrate.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (350 degrees F convection). Slice the fresh lemon in half, squeeze a bit of juice into the cavity of the bird, and tuck both halves of the lemon in there. Alternatively, this is a great time to break out those frozen Meyer peels. Tuck the wingtips under and truss the legs. Allow the bird to come to room temperature prior to roasting.
- In a large skillet or roasting pan, toss your chopped potatoes in a small amount of olive oil (just to prevent initial sticking, before the roasting bird produces fat), salt & pepper. Spread evenly over the pan, then position the chicken on top. Roast in the preheated oven, basting both chicken and potatoes occasionally (if you think of it) until the chicken is done, about 1 to 1 ½ hours, depending on the size of your bird (internal temperature in the thickest part of the breast or thigh is at least 165 degrees F). Remove from the oven; transfer the chicken to a clean cutting board and allow to rest for at least 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, drain off excess schmaltz from the skillet (save for another recipe) and crisp up the potatoes a bit over medium-high heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Serve with simple green veg, like green beans, sugar snap peas or a green salad.
Serves 4 – 6.
- People feel strongly about this rinsing chicken thing: I’m well aware that food safety experts have long argued against the habit of rinsing raw poultry, in that it may spread any bacteria present on the bird. But the advice not to rinse seems to come from a place where people are solely rinsing the bird because they think it makes it safer; which is ridiculous to me. If you could rinse bacteria off with only water, we wouldn’t need soap to clean our hands, would we? I rinse whole raw chickens, because my chickens often have specks of blood, stray feathers, a bit of slime: I’m under no illusions that rinsing makes the bird “safer:” only cooking to the appropriate internal temperature (165 degrees F) can do that. I like to rinse them inside & out, then dry thoroughly. I do it carefully and I’m careful about cross-contamination: but you should do what you think is best.
- This chicken was so juicy and falling-off-the-bone tender that there was no need to serve with pan juices right away; but the next day, once the chicken had dried out slightly in the fridge overnight, re-heated pan juices were amazing over the chicken. Definitely save the schmaltz/juices, for chicken sandwiches and then mashed potatoes, saffron rice, sautéed veg, whatever.
- Even when Meyer lemons are not in season, you get a lot of Meyer flavor from the salt rub. Reason enough to put up some Meyer salt this winter.
- Of course you don’t have to make this with potatoes; couscous, mashed or some other soak-up-the-juices grain would work beautifully. But, oh: these potatoes are so good. Really. Cross my heart.
Refrigerated, for up to 5 days. Make sure to freeze the carcass for saffron & lemon-infused chicken stock.
Year round, but fall through winter especially.