Murgh Musallam: Whole Chicken Baked in Aluminum Foil

This is a wonderful way to roast a chicken. A little more complicated than Mireille Guiliano’s 4 ingredients (chicken, shallot, champagne, herb of choice), but oh so very much worth it. As huge as the ingredient list is, though, I didn’t have to buy a single thing, except the chicken. Everything else was already in my fridge, since the main sauce ingredients are onion, ginger, garlic, yogurt, lemon juice and almonds. Well, I did go out of my way and buy blanched, slivered almonds for convenience, but I intended to first use them for a Jerusalem Artichoke Soup. Just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean that it wasn’t my purchase’s original intention.

The whole idea of this roast chicken is to make a thick marinade for the chicken, leave it for 2 hours, then make another paste to coat the bird, wrap it in foil and stick it in the oven for an hour and a half. Voila! No basting, no gravy-making, no problem. Just make sure you get the right size bird (3 1/2 lbs or 1.5kg) or you’ll be sitting around twiddling your thumbs like Thanksgiving when your bird isn’t done on time. Thank God there’s no holiday stress around to make it more difficult, as long as you don’t invite family.

Marinade:
An inch of ginger
garlic
yogurt
turmeric
salt
cayenne
black pepper

A chicken, all skin removed except the wings. Dont’ worry, you’re not losing anything, though. The skin won’t get crispy because it’s inside the foil. It will just be slimy. Sure, you could let it brown by opening up the foil near the end of the roasting time, but then it’s Thanksgiving and the bird becomes high maintenance, like the people you celebrate such holidays with.

Paste:
onions
garlic
a bigger piece of ginger
blanched slivered almonds
ground cumin
ground coriander
paprika
turmeric
cayenne
salt
oil
lemon juice
black pepper
garam masala

Notice how the second paste is the same as the first paste plus a few extra things? You basically make the paste again but with larger quantities of ginger and garlic, add some onions to make it more substantial, and some new fun spices. Make sure you use good quality spices or your chicken will taste like nothing, since there’s so little else to carry the flavour. For example, I ended up grinding coriander (mostly because I didn’t have any ground coriander), so 5 minutes later I had almost-respectably-ground spice. Apparently every type of mortar and pestle is different so I don’t feel bad that my marble one is difficult to grind with. A panel of Indian ladies agreed it was not as good as granite. I saw it on TV. These ladies were, unfortunately, not in my house eating my chicken or instructing me on how to grind coriander.

Oh, the other lovely thing about the recipe is since you’re making pastes of spices, you don’t really need to chop very precisely. The recipe says put the ginger, garlic and a tbsp. of yogurt in the blender or food processor, and process until smooth, pushing down with a rubber spatula. Then add more yogurt and the rest of the marinade spices. Don’t do this. This is stupid. This is how you end up with rubber spatula bits in your marinade. I no longer have a full spatula. I also screamed a little when garlic flew at my eyes. My roommate was worried about me. I may not have a spatula any more, but at least I have my eyes, I suppose.

Add more yogurt from the start so there’s more liquid in the blender or food processor. Then it can do its job correctly without you coaxing it along. Whether you toss the rest of the spices in for the initial blending or after, I don’t think it matters either.

Get a large plate ready for the skinned bird and rub the marinade all over and inside. Also rub the giblets and place them alongside the chicken. The recipe says don’t put this in the fridge…but again, not such a good idea. Cover it and stick it in the fridge. Sorry.

Then stick some roughly chopped onions, garlic and ginger in the blender with the almonds (maybe a handful or so of almonds) and blend. This one’s tricky because there’s really not very much liquid at all. You’ll be frustrated to no end if your blender doesn’t want to blend it properly. All I can suggest is find something you don’t mind sticking in the blender and be very, very, very, very careful until the paste is all blended. Again, you could add all the other spices (except the black pepper and garam masala) in the initial mix or stir or blend them in after everything else is combined. The onion gets pretty liquidy, so it will be okay in the end, so long as you have your eyes.

In Thai cooking this paste is called a “pulse”, I believe, though “pulse” also refers to Indian lentil curries. Often it has tomatoes, but its point is to thicken a sauce or gravy without adding any real thickening agent, like flour or eggs. All you do is heat a tbsp or so of oil in a big frying pan over medium-high heat, and when it’s hot you put in the paste. Stir and cook for 8 minutes or so. Then add the lemon juice, black pepper and garam masala. Turn off the heat and let it cool. Between the salt in the marinade and the paste, there’s almost a tbsp. worth of sodium in this recipe, so don’t worry about it not being flavourful enough and add more salt because you think it will help. Trust me, Indian people figured out the salt for flavour trick a long time before you did, or I did, or any mediocre chef did. Normally you season a bird before you roast it anyway, so this really isn’t an obscene amount of salt.

After 2 hours of marinating, set the chicken and giblets on a huge piece of aluminum foil on a rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan, and spread the 2nd paste all over and inside it. Place the chicken breast-side up on the foil after you’ve rubbed it. Now you’re supposed to bring the sides of the foil together like a package, but if you can get all four sides of foil to touch, you’re a god of chicken-wrapping. You’ll have to settle with getting the sides of the foil up as high as possible (preferably more than 2 inches from the bottom of the pan so the juices don’t spill when you move the pan after roasting, but again, this is often not possible. Maybe India has better foil that comes in a big square), and folding enough foil over on top so minimum air can escape.

Bake at 350 degrees for an hour and a half. No peeking. check to make sure the chicken is cooked only after the hour and a half. If it is, wrap it up again and leave for at least 20 minutes on top of the stove so all the bird stays juicy. Really, this is overkill. You’ll be absolutely happy if you eat it right away. Geez, you marinated it for 2 hours just so you wouldn’t have to wait any longer. That marinade, plus a sauce, and you’re going to be fine eating right away. BUT if you REALLY want it to be incredibly tender, hold you horses, eat a salad slowly, and be patient.

Mmm…this was so good. Definitely good dinner party food. It feeds a lot of people, looks kind of sloppy when you unpeel it, but no one will complain when they take their 1st bite…or their 20th. If you want to keep the rest of the meal simple, make plain basmati rice or stick some potatoes in more aluminum foil and roast them along with the bird. You don’t use any more energy that way. The whole rest of the oven is waiting to be filled. A really nice touch would be to wilt some kale or chard and let the extra paste (especially the paste that cooks inside the bird…mmm, like stuffing) coat it. The colour is incredible.

Enjoy.

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