Roasted Chicken Love Letter: Pollo Con Oregano

pollo con oregano - vert

It is unconscionably hot this week in in SoCal… especially for the middle of October. I was craving a really great roast chicken, but there was no way I was cranking the oven up to +400°F (I was also feeling a little too lazy from the heat to set up the rotisserie). This recipe is a bit of a roasted chicken love letter to two of my greatest culinary heroes – chefs Thomas Keller (Bouchon) and the late Judy Rodgers (Zuni Cafe), both of whom perfected the art of the roasted chicken.

Both chefs roast their chicken in a cast iron skillet in a very hot oven (very French). Chef Keller’s technique for crispy skinned, moist chicken is to make sure that the chicken is very dry before going into the hot oven (425°F to 450°F). The thinking is that moisture creates steam and steam will not allow the skin to crisp. He also generously salts prior to the chicken going into the oven by allowing the salt to “rain down” over the skin to dry it further. Once the bird goes into the oven, it is left untouched until it emerges cooked with skin that super crisp and salty like the best potato chip ever.

Chef Rodgers also cooks in a very hot oven only about 50°F hotter. Her technique is a little more involved requiring preheating the pan and flipping the chicken halfway through cooking. Our take-away here is dry-bring. I have written before about the virtues of dry-brining and the deeply seasoned, moist meat that it produces. Chef Rodgers was it’s apostle and I have followed the gospel.

I employed a little of both techniques here, but was looking for something a little more zippy than salt and pepper. I have made pollo con oregano using various methods over the years, but given the heat (and my laziness), this is the easiest and, I have to say, one of the best ways yet! The skin was super crispy and the chicken was moist and really well seasoned from breast to drumstick. I swear I ate half the chicken at the cutting board!

Pollo Con Oregano

serves four to six

4 to 5 pound roasting chicken
4 teaspoons Mexican oregano (can substitute oregano)
1 tablespoon lemon pepper (I used Lawry’s)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
Kosher salt – 1/2 teaspoon per pound of chicken

Extras:
Butcher’s string
Cast iron skillet or small roasting pan

Remove giblets from the cavity of the chicken; discard or set aside for another use. Rinse chicken and pat completely dry (dry!) inside and out with paper towels. Stir together the remaining ingredients. Loosen the skin over the breast and rub a pinch or two of the seasoning over each breast below the skin – be careful not to tear the skin. Season the inside of the cavity and then use the remaining seasoning to completely season the bird top and bottom.

The chicken is ready to cook at this point. However, for deeper seasoning through dry brining, place the chicken on a plate and loosely cover with plastic wrap for 1 to 3 days. Remove chicken from fridge an hour before cooking and pat dry with paper towels.

brined chicken in skillet

Preheat grill for indirect cooking with high heat (400ºF+). Place chicken in a cast iron skillet just large enough to hold the bird or set in a small roasting pan. Place pan on grill away from the heat source. Close cover and cook until the internal temperature of reaches 160°F; from about 1 to 1 1/4 hours depending on the actual heat of your grill and the size of the bird. If the heat source is only on one side, rotate pan very 30 minutes for even cooking. NOTE: if you find that your grill isn’t maintaining a temperature over 400°F, turn on the flame under the skillet to it’s lowest setting.

finished chicken in skillet

Remove from grill and baste with pan juices. Let sit for 10 minutes before removing from the pan and carving; basting with pan juices every once in awhile.

Cheers and Happy Grilling!
~Jeff

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