It was our second holiday as a couple. We’d intended to celebrate Christmas away from the crowds and so we decided to have a simple meal in our serviced apartment. I’d never cooked for him before and had no idea what we were going to cook together. A short walk to a supermarket in Bukit Bintang didn’t leave us much options except for a good bottle of Riesling, a whole chicken and some rosemary; nothing else appealed as everything else had been snapped up for the holidays. “A generous slather of butter, seasoning and a few sprigs of rosemary stuffed into the chicken cavity.. that should be pretty good,” I reassured myself but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Being a novice cook, I decided to roast it at 200 degrees celsius for far too long! This was pre-smartphone era and so I didn’t have Google to desperately run to. We still had a decent dinner because the Riesling and some baked potatoes saved the day.
Ironically, roast chicken is our go-to meal, especially on Friday nights but I’ve since become a much better cook. I’m constantly on the look out for a good roast chicken recipe for weeknights because it delivers maximum flavour for very little effort. I like to use my Le Creuset skillet when making a quick roast as the even conduction in the cast iron cooks the chicken perfectly, especially the breast meat. Another reason I use my skillet instead of my roasting tray is because I don’t need to soak and scrap the charred juices from the tray. Instead, I transfer the cooked chicken to the carving board and the vegetables to the serving tray. I return the skillet to the stove and over a low medium flame, I add about 1/2 to 1 cup of chicken stock into the skillet and using a wooden spoon, I scrap all the flavoursome bits from the skillet. Within minutes, I’m left with a delicious gravy. The compact Le Creuset skillet retains all the juices in the pan and so the gravy made from the pan juices is out-of-this-world scrumptious! However for the recipe below, I’ve made it even simpler by adding the chicken stock to the skillet at the last cooking stage. The gravy is much thinner than the method of scraping the pan juices from the skillet but hassle-free and still delicious. It’s totally up to you which gravy you’d like.
Also, the butterflied chicken cooks quickly without drying out the breast meat. Get your butcher to butterfly the chicken or use good kitchen shears to remove the backbone. I’ve added coarsely crushed spices to add more crunch and texture to the chicken and I think it elevates a simple roast just a touch. Inspired by several Sri Lankan cookbooks I’ve been reading, I wanted a roast chicken using the flavours of a Singhalese roasted curry powder. The flavours are punchy without overwhelming the palate and the juicy chicken remains the star of the meal. The addition of knotted pandan leaf and curry leaves gives a wonderful aroma that is sure to entice anyone. I adore this recipe because of its simplicity, crispy skin, fragrance, subtle spices and utterly delicious flavours. I was expecting some leftovers but the both of us polished off the entire bird every time I’ve made it. Our favourite vegetables to add are whole shallots and baby potatoes because they get slightly crisp and also soak up some of the chicken juices. The addition of soy sor worcestershire sauce is unusual but it adds a good dose of umami and depth that complements the spices.
Have I already mentioned how succulent and mouthwatering this dish is?
Sri Lankan Skillet Roast Chicken
- 1.3 kg whole chicken, butterflied
- 1 inch ceylon cinnamon / 1 small indian bay leaf
- 1/2 tablespoon cumin seeds
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1 or 2 small grain cardamom pods
- 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 3 inch pandan leaf, washed and wiped dry
- 1 medium red onion / shallots , about 70g, roughly chopped
- 2 1/2 tablespoons ginger-garlic paste or 4-5 garlic cloves + 0.5 inch ginger
- 1 tablespoon chilli powder
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon low sodium light soy sauce / 1/2 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1-2 pandan leaves, knotted (optional)
- curry leaves from a sprig (optional)
- 1/2 cup thin chicken stock
Spice Crust Masala (makes more than needed)
- 1/2 tablespoon cumin seeds
- 1/2 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon chilli flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
- handful of baby potatoes, halved
- whole shallots, peeled
- squeeze of lime juice
- To prepare the chicken, get your butcher to butterfly the chicken. Wash and thoroughly dry chicken. Press down hard on the breast bone and you’ll hear a ‘crack’.
- In a dry pan, toast the spices for the crust. Once cooled, coarsely grind using a mortar and pestle or pulse setting on your grinder.
- In the same dry pan, toast cinnamon/ indian bay leaf, cumin , coriander, cardamom, black peppercorns and pandan leaf till fragrant. Pour into another dry container and let cool. In your spice grinder, blend all toasted spices till finely ground. Add the rest of the ingredients and blend till a smooth paste forms.
- Liberally spread the spice paste all over the butterflied chicken. Using your fingers, carefully ‘tear’ the skin joint on the left and right side breast meat area and stuff a little spice paste and using your fingers spread the spice paste all over the breast meat. I like to keep the skin joint in the middle of the breast meat intact so that the skin doesn’t shrink while roasting. Gently massage the chicken with the spice paste. If not using gloves, be careful not to touch your eyes with your fingers after washing your hands! The remnant chilli powder will sting. Place in a food safe container and leave chicken to marinate for 2-4 hours or at least 3o minutes.
- Remove marinated chicken from fridge about 45 minutes before cooking. Preheat oven to 200°C. When chicken is at room temperature, place your Le Creuset skillet on low heat. Add a drizzle of oil or ghee and top with pandan leaf, curry leaves and baby potatoes or shallots (if using) on a skillet. Heat skillet on low with extras for 15 minutes, switch off the stove and then place marinated chicken on top of the vegetables. Make sure that there aren’t too many vegetables crowding the skillet and that the chicken lays flat. Sprinkle some spice crust mixture and a pinch of flaky sea salt. Roast in middle rack of preheated oven for 20 minutes.
- After 20 minutes, pour in chicken stock (read notes above) without touching the chicken, reduce oven temperature to 180°C and cover chicken with parchment paper or foil to prevent over browning. Cook for another 20-30 minutes or until meat thermometer reads about 75°C or insert a small knife/ skewer at the thickest part of the thigh and the juices should run clear.
- Let chicken rest for 20 minutes before cutting and serving. Squeeze some fresh lime and serve with gravy and vegetables.