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Peruvian Roast Chicken

A SPIT-ROASTED BIRD CAN BE REORIENTED FOR THE OVEN

Peruvian chicken joints have developed something of a cult following in the United States, and for good reason. The rotisserie bird that they serve is deeply bronzed from its slow rotation in a wood-fired oven and impressively seasoned with garlic, spices, lime juice, chiles, and a paste made with huacatay, or black mint. Off the spit, the chicken is carved and served with a garlicky, faintly spicy mayonnaise-like sauce.

There are two challenges in translating this dish for the American home kitchen. The first issue is about the technique. What’s the best substitute for spit roasting—something that still yields a bird infused with smoky flavor and covered with bronzed skin? The second challenge is about ingredients. How do you replicate the hard-to-find black mint paste, along with the Peruvian aji peppers that give both the chicken and the dipping sauce their signature heat?

A vertical poultry roaster is the best tool for replacing the rotisserie. It allows the heat of a conventional electric (or gas) oven to sweep evenly over the bird, promoting far better browning than the usual V-rack. In addition, a vertical roaster encourages fat to drip freely out of the bird, resulting in rendered, crisp skin.

An interesting mix of smart substitutes addresses the flavor issue, but time and salt are equally important factors. In order for the seasonings to imbue the meat with the smoky, garlicky, and citrusy notes that are the hallmark of this dish, you must add a lot of salt to the herb paste. And you must rub that paste under the skin and then wait—at least 6 hours. The salt will eventually carry the flavors of the paste into the meat so that every bite is perfectly seasoned.

WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS

Build a Paste with Smart Substitutes

Start with a basic paste of salt, garlic, oil, lime juice, and cumin and add fresh mint (the best replacement for the earthy black mint paste), dried oregano, grated lime zest (for more citrus flavor without too much acidity), black pepper, sugar, and just a teaspoon of minced habanero chile.

Get Smoke from a Bottle of Paprika

The smoked version of this brick-red powder is a powerhouse of smoky flavor. Just a couple of teaspoons added to the paste approximates the subtle flavor of a wood-fire rotisserie.

Season Thoroughly

Apply the paste directly to the meat (underneath the skin) as well as to the exterior of the bird for chicken that is thoroughly seasoned from skin to bone. We recommend wearing gloves when working with the habanero—and wearing gloves while applying the paste to the bird will keep your hands clean. To further contain the mess, marinate the coated chicken in a zipper-lock bag.

Cook at Two Heat Levels

A vertical roaster takes the place of a rotisserie but you’ll need to make some adjustments to the oven’s heat to prevent the white meat from drying out. Start the chicken at 325 degrees and cook until partially done, let the chicken rest briefly at room temperature, and then crank up the heat to finish the bird at 500 degrees for a crisp, golden brown exterior.

Serve with a Sauce

The spicy sauce should be thinner than traditional mayo but still viscous enough to cling to the meat when dunked. To make the sauce, whip a whole egg and vegetable oil in a food processor with a little water, onion, lime juice, cilantro, yellow mustard, and garlic. Add jarred jalapeños to contribute the punch traditionally provided by the elusive aji chiles.

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A potent puree and novel roasting method create a memorable roast chicken.

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Peruvian Roast Chicken with Garlic and Lime

SERVES 3 TO 4

RECIPE DETAILS

Timeline

  • 15 minutes to make marinade (paste)
  • 6 to 24 hours to marinate chicken
  • 45 to 55 minutes to roast chicken at 325 degrees (make Spicy Mayonnaise while chicken roasts)
  • 10 minutes to increase heat in oven (remove chicken from oven while doing this)
  • 20 minutes to roast chicken at 500 degrees
  • 30 minutes to rest and carve chicken

Essential Tools

  • Latex gloves for protecting hands while working with chile
  • Blender for making marinade
  • Vertical poultry roaster (If you don’t have one, substitute a 12-ounce can of beer. Open the beer and pour out or drink about half of the liquid. Spray the can lightly with vegetable oil spray and proceed with the recipe.)
  • Rimmed baking sheet for holding vertical roaster
  • Food processor for making Spicy Mayonnaise

Substitutions & Variations

  • If habanero chiles are unavailable, 1 tablespoon of minced serrano chile can be substituted.
  • If you have concerns about consuming raw eggs, replace the egg in the Spicy Mayonnaise with ¼ cup of an egg substitute.

Wear gloves when working with the habanero. Serve with Spicy Mayonnaise (recipe follows).

  • ¼ cup fresh mint leaves
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 garlic cloves, chopped coarse
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lime zest plus ¼ cup juice (2 limes)
  • 1 teaspoon minced habanero chile
  • 1 (3½- to 4-pound) whole chicken, giblets discarded
  1. Process mint, oil, garlic, salt, pepper, cumin, sugar, paprika, oregano, lime zest and juice, and habanero in blender until smooth paste forms, 10 to 20 seconds. Use your fingers to gently loosen skin covering breast and thighs; place half of paste under skin, directly on meat of breast and thighs. Gently press on skin to distribute paste over meat. Spread entire exterior surface of chicken with remaining paste. Tuck wings behind back. Place chicken in 1-gallon zipper-lock bag and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours.
  2. Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Place vertical roaster on rimmed baking sheet. Slide chicken onto vertical roaster so drumsticks reach down to bottom of roaster, chicken stands upright, and breast is perpendicular to bottom of pan. Roast chicken until skin just begins to turn golden and breast registers 140 degrees, 45 to 55 minutes. Carefully remove chicken and pan from oven and increase oven temperature to 500 degrees.
  3. Once oven has come to temperature, place 1 cup water in bottom of baking sheet and continue to roast until entire chicken skin is browned and crisp, breast registers 160 degrees, and thighs register 175 degrees, about 20 minutes, rotating sheet halfway through roasting. Check chicken halfway through roasting; if top is becoming too dark, place 7-inch square piece of aluminum foil over neck and wingtips of chicken and continue to roast. (If pan begins to smoke and sizzle, add additional water to pan.)
  4. Carefully remove chicken from oven and let rest, still on vertical roaster, for 20 minutes. Using 2 large wads of paper towels, carefully lift chicken off roaster and onto carving board. Carve chicken and serve.

SPICY MAYONNAISE MAKES ABOUT 1 CUP

  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon minced onion
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon minced jarred jalapeños
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 teaspoon yellow mustard
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup vegetable oil

Process all ingredients except oil in food processor until combined, about 5 seconds. With machine running, slowly drizzle in oil in steady stream until mayonnaise-like consistency is reached, scraping down bowl as necessary.

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