I’ve never made a whole roast chicken. It’s one of those things that I’ve never attempted in the kitchen. I’m sure that I could figure it out though, and with enough attempts, I bet I could get pretty good at putting together a roast chicken dinner. But to be entirely honest, I think I’d prefer to simply roast (or bake) chicken pieces instead. And when chicken pieces (drumsticks, breasts, and thighs) are so readily available in the meat sections of most major grocery stores, I haven’t even had to learn to break down a whole chicken either.
And while learning to roast a whole chicken (and to break down a roasting chicken) is on my culinary to-do list, generally when I feel like making roast chicken for dinner, I usually end up making roasted chicken pieces instead. It’s not exactly the same thing, but it’s similar enough, and besides, it’s plenty more convenient and easy.
But simply roasting (or baking) this broken-down chicken with a sprinkling of salt and pepper isn’t often enough to impart big flavour to the chicken meat. So I quite often marinate the chicken pieces from anywhere between thirty to sixty minutes prior to placing them in the oven to cook. How long they sit to marinate depends on the kind of marinade I’ve put together, and just how strong I want the flavours to be in the chicken.
Working with the dark meat of a chicken (that is, the drumsticks and thighs) immediately helps to build a flavourful supper. I did a quick bit of research about the difference between the white and dark meat in chicken, and apparently besides the higher fat content of dark meat (which affects flavour considerably), dark meat has higher levels of myoglobin (a protein that supplies oxygen to muscles) than white meat does. This contributes a darker colour to the meat of a chicken’s legs and thighs, which makes sense since chickens are flightless birds, and rely on their leg muscles for mobility. The dark meat in a chicken has a stronger and more distinctive flavour than the white meat, but still works as an excellent base for building up even more flavours through a marinade.
Marinating meat helps to improve the flavour and tenderness of meats long before the cooking process even begins. Typically they include a base liquid made with oil (as a binding agent—one that pulls double duty helping marinade ingredients adhere together and also to marinating meat itself), salt and spices (which can be dried or fresh for a moderate or intensified flavour), and with an acidic ingredient (like citrus juice or vinegar) to help tenderize the meat proteins. The marinade I put together this weekend imparts some serious flavour to the chicken. This particular marinade has a serious base in garlic and oregano, but it isn’t overwhelming. The strong garlic flavour is tempered by the creamy tanginess of yogurt, and then it’s brightened up with the addition of a freshly grated and squeezed lemon.
This marinade recipe is evocative of Greek flavours, and the chicken thighs and drumsticks need only to marinate for forty-five minutes in order to reap the full flavour of the marinade’s ingredients. When it comes time to cook the chicken, arrange the thighs and drumsticks in a baking dish with the thickest ends of the meat settled near the edges of the baking dish. This way, the meat is sure to be thoroughly cooked during its time in the hot oven. Extra marinade can be added to the baking dish around the chicken pieces before the raw chicken is placed in the oven to cook. It will essentially act as a basting or braising liquid, and result in moist and tender meat, but it can affect how the chicken browns. If you choose to add extra marinade to your baking dish, it should only be added at the beginning of the cooking process as the marinade will have juices from the raw chicken still within it. Having less marinade in the cooking dish will help your chicken to brown up more uniformly as it roasts.
Try this marinade the next time you want a chicken dinner full of delicious, savoury, garlicky goodness, but be warned: mincing this many cloves of garlic can be quite … fragrant.
Garlic and Yogurt Marinated Chicken
- 1 cup plain yogurt
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 6 cloves garlic, minced finely
- ½ tbsp. dried oregano
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 fresh lemon
- 1 cup roughly chopped parsley (or cilantro)
- 3 ½ lbs dark meat chicken pieces (drumsticks and thighs)
In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt and olive oil. Add the minced garlic cloves, salt and pepper, dried oregano, and whisk again to combine. Zest the skin of a fresh lemon, and using a sieve to catch solids like the fruit’s seeds, squeeze the juice from one half of the lemon into the yogurt mixture. Mix the lemon zest and juice into the yogurt mixture quickly so that the lemon juice doesn’t curdle the yogurt. Roughly chop the parsley and stir into the yogurt mixture.
Place the chicken pieces in a large, leak-proof zip closure plastic bag. Pour the yogurt mixture into the bag, covering the chicken. Try to press out as much air from the bag as you can, and after sealing the bag, squish it all up so that the yogurt mixture is evenly distributed through the bag and around the chicken pieces.
Let the chicken marinate for at least 45 minutes (an hour at most) in the fridge. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
When you’re ready to roast your chicken, remove the drumsticks and thighs from the bag, and arrange them in a low sided baking dish. Bake your chicken in the middle of your preheated oven for 45-60 minutes, until the chicken is nicely browned and juices run clear.