buttermilk roast chicken; or, how i learned to stop worrying and love roast chicken

AMONG THE VARIOUS MEATS, chicken is generally glorified by the health-conscious and the not-vegetarian vegetarians whose food proclivities are accompanied by subtitles (e.g., “I’m a vegetarian, but I eat fish and chicken”).  Because of this, I am convinced that chicken, particularly white meat chicken breasts, have become the meat equivalent of brussels sprouts: foods perceived as bland but good for you.  In short, boring food.

(Two side notes:  (1) I know now that brussels sprouts can be amazing if you cook them right (more on that late-in-life discovery, another time, another place).  (2) My blasé perception of chicken breasts was further encouraged by a dieting college friend whose weekday dinners consisted of a grilled chicken breast, a steamed vegetable, and brown rice.  Every.  Night.  This may work for people who eat to live.  But for those who live to eat, it is a stifling approach to dinner.)

Of course chicken breasts can be similarly delicious if you do enough stuff to them so that they are no longer really chicken breasts: you can marinate them and cut them up with peppers for fajitas, you can bake them and slice them and insert them into pasta, and of course if you throw healthy thinking out the window you can fry them.  But I was on a mission to make a good weekday meal centered on chicken breasts that doesn’t involve frying or heavy cream-based sauces or surrounding pieces of the chicken breasts with things to make it taste better.  And that’s where Deb at smitten kitchen changed my chicken breast outlook with buttermilk roast chicken.

She used chicken parts generally and chicken legs, specifically.  The first time I tried the recipe, I used thighs.  The second time, I thought I’d see if the magic could be worked on chicken breasts.  Wonder of all wonders, it does.  It’s a simple marinade that encourages the tenderness and the moistness of the chicken.  And, yes, it says buttermilk, but that’s the marinade.  There’s no sauce that is being poured on the chicken, it’s just a happy bath of spices and buttermilk before the chicken is roasted.  Think of it as a trip to the spa for your chicken.

BUTTERMILK ROAST CHICKEN, adapted slightly from smitten kitchen

2 cups buttermilk
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon table salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika, plus extra to sprinkle on top of roasted chicken
6-8 chicken breasts (or other pieces of chicken)
freshly ground black pepper
olive oil
sea salt

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk buttermilk, minced garlic, salt, sugar, paprika, and pepper.

Place chicken breasts in ziplock-style bag and pour buttermilk mixture into bag.  Massage bag to ensure buttermilk is surrounding all of the chicken, then remove air and seal.  Refrigerate at least two hours, and preferably 24 to 48 hours.  For chicken breasts in particular, longer is better.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees when ready to roast.

Line a small baking dish with aluminum foil.  Place chicken breasts in foil-lined dish, letting the buttermilk mixture drip off before arranging the chicken in the dish.  Drizzle olive oil over the chicken then sprinkle with additional paprika and sea salt.

Roast the chicken breasts for 20 to 30 minutes.  This, as always, depends on the size of the chicken, the size of the baking dish and nearness of the pieces of chicken, and, of course, the temperament of your oven.  If you are making chicken legs or thighs, this is a delicious browned look.  For chicken breasts, you want them cooked through; if you wait until they brown they will lose their tenderness.

Serve immediately.

If you are looking for a good side dish that isn’t monochromatic, I would recommend (at least in springtime) artichokes.  Rinse them, cut off most of the stem and trim the leaves.

Fill a saucepan with one inch or less of water and bring it to a boil.  Place the artichokes upside down in the boiling water, cover and reduce to a simmer.  Simmer/steam for approximately 20 minutes, until the outer leaves pull off easily.  (Don’t test this too much — each leaf you remove is a leaf you don’t get to eat!)

Remove the artichokes from the saucepan with tongs and place on a cutting board.  Let cool for a few minutes, then slice off the remainder of the stem and place right side up on plates.  Serve with your preferred dipping sauce; my two suggestions are melted butter or worcestershire sauce and mayonnaise.  (It sounds disgusting but melds well with the vegetable).

Like the garlic in last week’s gazpacho, the garlic in this week’s buttermilk marinade can be sliced and mashed or can be sufficiently demolished in a food processor.  My kitchen acquired a new garlic press, but I’m fearful its lifespan will be significantly less than the last one.

The chicken is fairly welcoming to most side dishes.  My favorites so far have been the artichokes mentioned above, warm crusty bread, and fresh fruit (kiwi today) for dessert.

Best of all, this can be turned into multiple meals by only removing the amount of chicken from the buttermilk mixture that you will be cooking in a night and letting the rest soak it up for another day.