WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS: Peruvian chicken joints have recently developed something of a cult following in the United States, and for good reason. The rotisserie bird that they serve, known as pollo a la brasa, 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. We wanted to replicate this robustly flavored dish using an oven and supermarket staples.
Season Thoroughly: Applying a paste of salt, garlic, oil, lime juice, and cumin directly to the meat (underneath the skin) as well as to the exterior of the bird seasoned the chicken thoroughly from skin to bone.
Choose Smart Substitutes: To our basic paste we added fresh mint (the best replacement for the earthy black mint paste), some dried oregano, grated lime zest (for more citrus flavor without too much acidity), black pepper, sugar, and just a teaspoon of minced habanero chile. Finally, a little smoked paprika subtly approximated the smoky rotisserie flavor.
Use a Vertical Roaster: Cooking the bird on a vertical roaster—a tall cone which allows the chicken to stand upright—allowed heat to circulate freely around the bird for evenly cooked results. It also enabled fat to drip freely out of the bird, resulting in rendered and beautifully browned skin.
Use Two Heat Levels: Starting the chicken at 325 degrees prevented the delicate white meat from drying out; letting the chicken rest briefly at room temperature before finishing at 500 degrees gave it a crisp, golden brown exterior.
Finish with a Sauce: The ideal texture of the sauce for this dish is thinner than traditional mayonnaise; with that in mind, we whipped a whole egg and vegetable oil in the food processor with a little water, onion, lime juice, cilantro, yellow mustard, and garlic. Finally, jarred jalapeños contributed the punch traditionally provided by the elusive aji chiles.
Peruvian Roast Chicken with Garlic and Lime
Serves 3 to 4
If habanero chiles are unavailable, 1 tablespoon of minced serrano chile can be substituted. Wear gloves when working with hot chiles. This recipe calls for a 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. Serve with Spicy Mayonnaise (recipe follows).
1/4 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 grated lime zest plus 1/4 cup juice (2 limes)
1 teaspoon minced habanero chile
1 (3 1/2- 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 baking 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 vertical roaster and onto carving board to rest. Carve and serve.
Makes about 1 cup
If you have concerns about consuming raw eggs, ¼ cup of an egg substitute can be used in place of the egg.
1 large egg
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon minced fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon minced jarred jalapeños
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon yellow mustard
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup vegetable oil
Process egg, water, onion, lime juice, cilantro, jalapeños, garlic, mustard, and salt in food processor until finely chopped, about 5 seconds. With processor running, slowly drizzle in oil in steady stream until mixture reaches mayonnaise-like consistency, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.
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