Sunday, 15 January 2012


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! 

Along with the potatoes 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 (plus oregano). Also, one of my favourite things is to have feta cheese on the side. That's a habit I acquired during childhood when my aunt would mash a bit of feta into my potatoes so that I would find them more palatable ...  Thanks, auntie, it worked! 


One 3 to 4-pound chicken (1.5 to 2 kilograms), organic is best
Salt and pepper 

dried Greek oregano
1 small onion, peeled and cut into quarters

2 cloves garlic smashed and peeled
4 large baking potatoes, or use more if you want leftovers
the juice of two lemons
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.
  • Preheat the oven to 450°F/230°C. 
  • 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 some 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. (When it's time for clean up, use a 10% bleach solution: that's a ratio of 10% beach and  90% water — on the surfaces that were exposed to the raw chicken). 
  • Sprinkle the juice of one lemon into its cavity and season it with salt and pepper. 
  • Place the onion pieces and the garlic into the cavity and tie the legs together with kitchen twine. 
  • Peel the potatoes, cut them in half lengthwise and then slice each half in four.  The slices should look like wedges. 
  • Place the chicken in a roasting pan and surround it with the potato wedges. 
  • Use the juice of the second lemon to season the potatoes and the outside of the chicken. 
  • Pour the olive oil over everything and season again with salt and pepper.  
  • Get your oregano and sprinkle it all over the chicken and potatoes. Don’t be stingy with it, but don’t pour it on too liberally, either. (I have never measured exactly how much I use). This dish requires a strong oregano flavour, but if too much is used, the chicken and potatoes might come out tasting bitter. 
  • 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/200°C 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 on the 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 across 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 had grazed my skin, and my toes needed the comfort of a warm fire. I anticipated the pleasure of spending time with 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, a fire, the aroma of this familiar chicken and potatoes dish. This description is idyllic, perhaps it may even give the impression of being a daydream; it was real, however, real and ephemeral ...