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!
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.
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.