Sunday, January 15, 2012

TRADITIONAL GREEK ROAST CHICKEN WITH RIGANI AND POTATOES





First off, although it's easy to guess:  Rigani in Greek means oregano.  This recipe is representative of one of the most typical way Greeks prepare roast chicken.  It's fast to make and delicious.  It contains the holy trinity of Greek seasonings: olive oil, lemon and oregano, and believe me, the chicken here gets seasoned with a lot of oregano.  Don't be stingy with the stuff.  I 'm always surprised at how juicy the chicken is when it comes out of the oven.  I think the meat stays moist because of the way the chicken skin is prepared.  A large pot of boiling water is poured over the uncooked chicken.  The effect of this is to toughen the skin a bit.  Since the skin gets tougher, it protects moisture from escaping during baking, and so the roasted meat is juicier.  The classic accompaniment to this dish are roasted potatoes, which are baked alongside the bird.  Love it!  
To accompany this dish I usually serve vegetables such as string beans or carrots, and a green salad made up of arugula or Romaine lettuce.  Sometimes, if they are available, I'll serve boiled dandelion greens seasoned with olive oil and lemon. Also, one of my favorite things is to have feta cheese on the side.  That's a habit I acquired during childhood, when my mother would mash a bit of feta into my potatoes so that I would find them more palatable.  Thanks mom, it worked.  I no longer need this enticement.  Now I do it out of choice:  to me, roasted Greek potatoes and feta cheese go great together.  






Ingredients:


A 3 to 4 pound chicken, preferably organic
Salt and pepper 

dried oregano (Greek oregano if you can find it)
1 small onion, peeled

2 cloves garlic smashed and peeled
about 4 large baking potatoes, or use more if you want leftovers
1 large, juicy lemon, plus 1/2 lemon to sprinkle inside the bird
1/4 cup olive oil 





If you want to be really traditional, use a round baking pan.  Perhaps the choice of a round pan dates back to the days when round clay pots were used for baking.


Directions:


Preheat the oven to 450° F. Traditionally, before Greeks roast a chicken, they wash it well, then place it in a bowl in the sink and pour a kettleful of boiling water over it.  This will kill bacteria, but it will also toughen the skin, so that the chicken will be juicier when fully cooked.  So pour the hot water over the chicken then remove the bird from the sink and pat it dry with paper towels.  
Season it inside and out with salt and pepper, and sprinkle the lemon juice of half a lemon into the cavity. Place the peeled onion and the garlic into the cavity and tie the legs together with chicken twine.  Peel the potatoes, cut them in half lengthwise and then slice each half in four.  The slices should look like like wedges.  Place the chicken in a roasting pan  and surround it with the potato wedges.   Squeeze the lemon juice of one lemon all over the chicken and potatoes.  Then pour the olive oil over them and season them with salt and pepper.  Get your oregano and sprinkle that all over.  Don’t be stingy with it, but don’t be too liberal pouring it on either.  I have never measured how much I use.  This dish needs a strong oregano presence but if too much is used, the chicken and potatoes might come out tasting bitter.  So I keep that in mind. Pour 1/4 cup of water into the pan, taking care not to spill any of it on the chicken.  Place the pan in the preheated oven and cook for 30 minutes.  Lower the heat to 400° F and cook for another hour.  The end result:  a golden chicken, and potatoes deliciously saturated with the cooking juices. 





This picture triggers so many memories for me...  I remember winter Sundays trotting to my aunt's house for dinner, stopping to gaze up at the bare trees and grey sky, then picking up my walking pace so as to outrun the approaching dusk.  I was a pre-teen on a mission.  Skip over the streets and sidewalks, stop to see what goodies the candy shops had for sale, and what new comic books had arrived at the newsstands.  Then skip again over rocks and streets and sidewalks, till I reached the archway which led to my aunt's home.  My face and legs were red from the air that grazed my skin, and my toes needed the comfort of a warm fire.  Conditions which were easy to ignore as I anticipated the pleasure of spending time with my family.  When I reached my destination, a cousin waited at the door to envelop me in a hug. Wonderful sounds and smells would greet me.  Laughter, talk, the aroma of this familiar chicken and potatoes dish.

6 comments:

  1. greek girl from queensJanuary 16, 2012 at 1:04 PM

    This looks so delicious, Ana, that I want to munch on just these photos alone! I love roast chicken - especially with lots of oregano. That's how my mother and my nuna both made it - and yes, lots of it, most definitely. While my mother didn't like putting lemon on it (I think that's because my dad didn't like that combination all that much), my nuna was the traditionalist, and always used lemon. Lots of garlic and onions, too, if memory serves.

    As for the potatoes, that's the next best thing to the chicken itself. I love, love, love roast potatoes. Sadly, as my hubby and I have embarked on a one-month 'experiment' with the Paleo diet, I can have the chicken, but no potatoes. As difficult as that is, it ain't nothing compared to having to give up bread! I've only committed to doing this for one month, just to see the results.

    Thanks for sharing this classic and supremely delicious dinner menu with us, Ana. Roast chicken and roast potatoes - it doesn't get much tastier or much hearth-and-home than this combination. Yum!

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  2. This looks like a great chicken Ana, I'm stealing the recipe for the next time I cook a chicken.

    Good luck today, you will be in my thoughts all week but especially today.

    xx

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  3. Hurry up and get back. Wish u well, Ana.

    Great post. Never thought about potatoes and feta, but I do like feta.

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  4. I'm gong to try this when i do my next chicken it sounds tasty and looks wonderful

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  5. Hi, 10 years ago i had Christmas with a Greek family . On Christmas Eve my friend's mother seemed to boil the chicken all day and served us a simple soup, the next day she went on to roast the chicken with piles of olive oil lemon and potatoes, with feta on the side. It was and is still the best chicken I ever had but noone else seems familiar with this method of cooking a chicken, (first boiing, then roasting)? Do you have any insights, your recipe is the closest I have come to it so far

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  6. Hello, Lizzie! First let me apologize for not answering promptly, but I have been away from blogging this month. I think to answer your question we have to talk about the soup first.
    Now: a chicken that takes a long time to cook is an older bird, one that’s been around the chicken coop for years. Its meat is tougher, so it needs a long cooking time before it becomes tender. However, it will give you a really unique and tasty result. These birds are hard to find today, because most of the chickens sold are young and bred for eating. Your friend’s mother might have been cooking a free range chicken, or perhaps she was able to find an older bird, from say a nearby farm.
    I am assuming she boiled the chicken to get broth for soup. It’s usual for Greeks to make “chicken soup avgolemono.” It’s eaten plain, without meat that is. However, it has a strong broth. Rice or small pasta is added to the broth, maybe a potato or two. Traditionally it’s made with rice. At the end of cooking an egg and lemon sauce is added. This is made by beating eggs and lemon juice and adding them to the broth. You need to be careful with this sauce so as not to have the eggs curdle. Sometimes eggs are not added for dietary reasons and the soup is flavored just with lemon juice. Remember however that the soup is traditionally eaten without the chicken meat.
    So what happens to the chicken meat? Your friend’s mother used it to make the traditional chicken with oregano and lemon and potatoes, and I bet she had saved some broth (minus the sauce), to add to the chicken while it was cooking. Her version would have cooked for a shorter time, just until the potatoes were soft, because the chicken was already done and just needed to get a little crispy.
    Therefore, two different recipes were used, even though the first recipe was used as a basis for the second. In my house we had the soup and saved the meat to eat as a second course, or saved it for next day’s dinner. It’s more expedient to eat the meat as is, boiled, with some boiled potatoes, or one can prepare it in a red sauce with vegetables, or bake it, as your friend’s mother did. Care must be taken so that the meat doesn’t dry out during the second cooking process, that’s why an older bird was ideal for these recipes.
    I hope my answer was helpful. Best wishes, Ana.

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