Guys, you have got to try this chicken.
I recently noticed this rather odd recipe on Jamie Oliver's site. It calls for roasting a chicken in a big pot with a pint of milk, a lot of lemon zest, a cinnamon stick, and unpeeled garlic cloves. Odd, right? Milk, cinnamon, and chicken were three things I really wouldn't ever think to combine. And yet it had a irresistible appeal.
So, last night I brought home a bird and gave it a go. The first thing in its favor was the speed and ease of preparation. It's great for a last minute roast chicken dish; you don't need to salt it two days ahead or brine it at all. Just brown it well in a big pot with butter and oil.
Oliver then says to throw away all that extra fat; you won't need it. (I recommend saving it for cooking potatoes or vegetables.) Put the chicken back in the pot, add the milk, garlic (no need to peel the cloves or smash them), lemon, and cinnamon stick, along with a handful of sage leaves. Put in the oven and roast for an hour and a half.
Now, here is where things get interesting. I had a spacey moment and just glibly assumed that since I was cooking a chicken in a pot that that meant the lid should go on. I banged on a lid and put it in the oven. An hour later it hit me: was that even called for in the recipe? I doublechecked. No. So I ran down and took off the lid for the last half hour of cooking. Tonight I am going to make this again with the lid off the whole time; I'll let you know if it turns out differently.
Regardless of cooking method, this dish smells absolutely divine. My husband groaned when he walked into the house. What IS that? he asked. When I took it out to get it ready for dinner, the chicken was sitting in a pool of creamy pan liquids, the milk having dissolved into small bits of curd and juice. It isn't the most appetizing looking sauce, but who cares. It was like liquid lemon gold.
We pulled the chicken off the bone and my face about fell into my plate; the meat was incredibly, mouthwateringly succulent and tender; far more so than my best Zuni chicken ever. It was completely infused with lemon and a deeper musky flavor from the cinnamon. The cloves of garlic were perfectly cooked too; we fished them out and squeezed their sweet innards onto the chicken and slices of thick country bread. We couldn't stop eating it, drenched in savory lemon sauce.
I know I'm going out on a limb with this one, but it is the truth: this is the best chicken I have ever had. It's definitely the best chicken I've ever cooked, and it was so easy I still can't believe it.
You've got to try this chicken.
ETA: Tonight I tried it a second time with the pot lid off the whole time (as specified in the recipe). And all things being equal, I think that the first way was better. I must have inadvertantly stumbled across an improvement to this already stellar recipe.
Last night I cooked the chicken for an hour in milk in a big Dutch oven, with the lid on for an hour. In the last half hour I took the lid off. This chicken was incredible - steamed and melting in the mouth.
Tonight I cooked an identical chicken, but this time I cooked it with the lid off the entire time. While it was still an incredibly good dish, it tasted more like a traditional roast chicken. It was less tender, and I felt like the flavor really didn't permeate the chicken the way that it did the first time. So, this is just to say that I recommend the first method.
Also, to all of you rather grossed out by the milk aspect - I totally understand. It was so odd and "curdled" sounding in the recipe that I nearly didn't try it. But the finished dish doesn't taste like milk at all, and my advice would be to disregard the squick factor at least once and try it!
• Get the recipe: Chicken in Milk at Jamie Oliver's website
Related: How To Roast a Chicken, Zuni-Style