Roasted Chicken with Pancetta, Rosemary & Garlic
I was thumbing through one of my cookbooks written by a restaurant chef and noticed there wasn’t one recipe for chicken. I wasn’t that surprised since chicken isn’t considered very glamorous by most chefs. When you mull over the competition—Alaskan black cod, baby octopus, Santa Barbara spot prawns or quail, just to name a few—the humble chicken doesn’t stand much of a chance.
But let’s be real, most Americans cook a lot of chicken at home and save those dishes made with hard-to-find, hard-to-work-with ingredients for rare occasions or dining out. (I know I do.) Well, I’m here to tell you there’s no reason why chicken can’t get a little chef-like treatment every now and then.
Combining chicken with pancetta (the gamy Italian cousin of bacon), rosemary, lemon, garlic, wine and butter is definitely a good start on raising the bar, but it’s really only half the battle. The serious chef treatment shows up in the technique in this recipe. I’ll walk you through the execution (don’t be afraid, I promise it’s not that bad):
Use the right pan. A heavy bottom pan is a must for this recipe, otherwise you’ll end up with burnt chicken and burnt sauce.
Take your time. What you’re aiming for is to melt the fat slowly (the technical term is rendering). So, as you cook the pancetta it will become beautifully crisp and the flavorful pork fat will be left behind in the pan. The chicken pieces then get the same treatment (albeit at a higher temperature) to render the fat from under the skin and produce the super crispy skin that makes this dish such a standout.
Three’s not a crowd. This recipe calls for three pounds of chicken parts. No worries if the chicken parts fill up the pan…in this case, its actually a good thing.
Use your senses. Be mindful as you cook the chicken because you can’t be a wimp about cranking up the heat. The temperature of the skillet needs to be high enough for you to hear some sizzle, see some fat splatter (someone else can clean-up later) and smell a bit of smoke (turn on the fan or open a window).
Stove tip. Every stove is different—on my stove medium-high heat does the trick. On your stove it may need to be full-on high. On the other hand, you don’t want the chicken or the browned bits on the bottom of the pan to burn. (Get what I mean’t about being mindful?…Namaste.)
Be fond of the fond. All the beautiful browned bits of chicken skin on the bottom of the pan (the technical term is fond) are the flavor base of the sauce. The liquid added to the pan (in this case white wine and chicken stock) will loosen the bits and incorporate all their delicious goodness.
It’s better with butter. A well-balanced, full-flavored and complex pan sauce begins with the fond and ends with some butter. In many restaurants one small serving of a dish like this might be made with two tablespoons of butter. (Yes, that’s right). This recipe calls for a total of only three tablespoons of butter for four portions. (Hmm. Not so bad.) When adding the butter, stir it in quickly and make sure it melts enough to be incorporated into the base but doesn’t get so hot that it begins to separate.
Chicken for dinner isn’t always met with major enthusiasm by my boys. I get comments like “oh, no… not chicken again” or “maybe we should go out for dinner tonight”. This roasted chicken had my minions singing a different tune. When you wield your chef skills, the super crispy skinned chicken sauced with the pancetta, tangy lemon, garlic and rosemary is anything but ordinary. In fact, it elevates the every-day, home-cooked chicken dinner into a meal fit for a king…or a chef…maybe even a kid.