Sunday, November 15, 2009

Recipe: Vaguely Asian Roast Chicken

Chicken breasts have vanished from Dushanbe’s grocery stores. I’ve roasted a lot of chicken as a result, and this is the recipe I’ve come to rely on. It takes a little extra work, but it’s well worth it for the deep flavor (not easy to achieve in a frozen broiler chicken produced in Brazil), crispy skin, and dark brown color. It's still delicious even if you make every substitute in the recipe.

1) You can't make gravy from these pan drippings. It just tastes wrong. It’s a very moist chicken, though, so it doesn’t really need the gravy.

2) If you like brown rice, this recipe can go in the oven simultaneously with Alanna Kellogg’s foolproof oven-baked rice and in our house it usually does. (Yes, I found that site by googling my own name. What of it? It’s a great recipe resource.) You can also whomp a head of cauliflower in half, drizzle any random kind of marinade on it (I like a mix of olive oil, salt, mustard, and cider vinegar), and put that in the oven for the last 30 minutes of baking time to produce an entirely no-stovetop meal.)

3) There are so many parentheticals and substitutions in this recipe that it’s barely a recipe at all. I don’t know if that’s good or bad.


  • 1 whole frying chicken – I use the one kilo broiler chickens you can get here
  • 1 Tbl soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp Chinese five-spice powder (substitute cinnamon if you don't have it)
  • 8 thin slices of ginger (if you don't have fresh ginger, put a half teaspoon of ginger in with the salt)
  • 2 garlic cloves sliced thinly
  • 1 persimmon, cut in quarters (optional, and you can use an apple, pear, or skin-on orange instead)
  • 1 1/2 Tbl soy sauce
  • 1 Tbl hoisin sauce (if you don’t have it, substitute half honey and half soy)
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp sesame oil (substitute sunflower oil and ½ tsp paprika if you don't have it.)

Tools: Pan to roast the chicken in – I usually use an old aluminum brownie pan.


1. Preheat oven to 375.

2. If you’re using a Tajikistan-purchased chicken, examine it for pinfeathers, and burn off any you find using a match. Then use kitchen scissors to cut off any random bits of skin or fat that seem like they don’t belong on your roasting chicken.

3. Mix soy sauce, salt, and spice powder together to make a wet paste.

4. Run your hand around under the chicken’s skin to loosen it.

5. Rub the soy paste on the flesh of the chicken under its skin. Make sure to get the drumsticks. (This part always makes me feel like I ought to be estimating a dowry payment and meeting the bird’s parents, not popping it in the oven.)

6. Tuck the slices of garlic and ginger against the chicken flesh under the skin. Again, don’t forget the legs.

7. Put the quartered persimmon into the chicken’s cavity. (Cavity is a very weird word in this context, I must admit.)

8. Pull all the skin back over the exposed chicken flesh, and put the chicken in the oven.

9. Mix together the soy, hoisin, honey, and sesame oil to make a glaze.

10. After the chicken has been in the oven for 50 minutes, pull it out. (leave the oven on, the chicken will go back in shortly) Paint the glaze all over the chicken skin, and on any chicken meat that has become exposed while cooking.

11. Put it back in the oven straight on the rack (not in its pan) with the pan on the shelf underneath so it doesn’t completely mess up your oven. Tongs will help with this. (This will make the skin crispy. Sometimes I do this, and sometimes I put it back still in its pan to save the difficulty of putting a hot chicken back into the oven without a pan. Depends on how badly I want the crispy skin, or, honestly, whether I am making this for guests.)

12. After ten minutes, pull the chicken out. Let it rest for five minutes, and carve it. (That’s how it works for the scrawny chickens you get here. Those of you cooking plumper chickens will need to test for doneness by examining the juices or using your meat thermometer or whatever.)

Final note: You can eat the persimmon if you want to. I don’t really like the flavor, but everyone else in my house does, even the toddler. I just put it in there to keep the chicken from drying out. I am wondering if soaking the persimmon in some kind of juice – orange or apple, maybe – would be tasty.

Middle Eastern Lentil Soup

This is my version of a soup I loved to eat when I lived in Cairo. I'd get it at the university cafeteria along with a small bowl of deep-fried croutons.


2 cups red lentils
2 medium tomatoes
1 small onion
1 large bay leaf
1 teaspoon chili powder
7 cups chicken stock
1 small cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Plain yogurt, cilantro, for garnish

Tools: Heavy pot, stove


1. Finely dice onion. Fry it until golden in the olive oil, in a heavy-bottomed pot big enough to hold ten or eleven cups of soup.
2. Add the chili powder, and cook for about two minutes, until the onion is coated in spice and you can smell the chili powder.
3. Dice the tomatoes. Add them to the onion and chili and turn heat down to low.
4. Rinse the lentils carefully, checking for stones.
5. Add the lentils, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, and chicken stock. Turn heat up to medium-high.
6. Cook until lentils have dissolved and it looks like soup – will take 20-30 minutes, but cook it as long as you want until it’s the right texture.
7. Just after you remove from heat, stir in the lemon juice.
8. Serve with a dollop of yogurt in the center of each bowl, and a spring of cilantro.