RUNNING A-FOWL WITH LILI AND JOAN

Eastern Shore brined chicken in cast-iron

We are often asked how we personally use our cast iron. We do the occasional steak routine that we learned from John Tesar, the chef at Knife in Dallas. My wife and I both are from South Carolina so cast iron cornbread is often on our menu. We use Geechie Boy Mill Jimmy Red cornmeal from Greg Johnsman out on Edisto Island. The recipe in Sean Brock’s cookbook “Heritage” is easy to find and traditional.

But for us the weekly use of cast iron is as a pan for the oven; roasting vegetables, baking apples, pizza, and most often: chicken roaster.

We live on the Eastern Shore of Maryland where chicken is king, and nothing suits our goal of crispy skin better than the combination of cast iron and this magic brining/drying recipe. The original method comes from the British chef Fergus Henderson but is adapted for our preference to use buttermilk and a little Baltimore fish pepper in the brine.

Cast Iron Shore Bird

This recipe requires two days advance prep. Plan ahead!

Whole chicken, backbone removed, and breast broken (spatchcock)

BRINE

  • 4 cups water

  • 4 cups buttermilk

  • 1/2 cup kosher salt

  • 2 bay leaves

  • 1⁄2 teaspoon thyme

  • 1⁄2 teaspoon oregano

  • 1⁄4 teaspoon pepper flakes, optional

  • 1 Tablespoon Snake Oil fish pepper sauce or equivalent, optional

HERB BUTTER
  • 3 garlic cloves minced

  • 1⁄4 teaspoon thyme

  • 1⁄4 teaspoon oregano

  • 3 tablespoons butter

  • Onion halved Instructions

    1. To brine the bird. Bring water, salt bay leaves, thyme, oregano and pepper flakes to a boil to dissolve salt. Allow brine to cool to room temperature before adding buttermilk and fish pepper or equivalent hot sauce. Place poultry and brine in a large Zip Lock bag. Remove air from bag. Place poultry in refrigerator for 4 hours and up to 8. The longer the poultry is in the brine the saltier the bird will be.

    2. To get a crispy skin this next step is important. Remove the bird from the brine and dry completely with paper towels. DO NOT RINSE. Place the bird UNCOVERED back in the refrigerator on a cookie sheet or drying rack. Leave UNCOVERED for 12-24 hours. This step will only dry the skin. The meat will remain juicy.

    3. Prepare your herb butter. Mince garlic. Add garlic, thyme and oregano to melted butter. Place in refrigerator to solidify.

    4. To cook. Remove the bird. Pepper to taste on all sides. With your fingers scoop small gobs of the herb butter and place BETWEEN the skin and the meat in as many places as possible. You will have some leftover. Melt and retain this butter for the cooking baste. Leave the bird at room temperature while preheat the oven to 500°. Place 14” Lili or 12” Joan cast iron pan into the oven to preheat.

    5. Once the oven has reached 500°, remove cast iron pan from the oven and place onion halves in center of pan. Open the bird and place bird upside down - chest cavity side up - over the onions.

    6. Roast the bird 10 minutes chest-side up at 500°.

    7. Remove, turn the bird breast-side up. Baste the breast with reserved butter.

    8. Return to 500° oven for an additional 10 minutes.

    9. Remove the bird and lower the oven to 350°. Allow oven to cool (door open) to 350°.

    10. Return the bird to the oven to roast for 20-30 minutes or more. Internal temperature of thigh should be between 155°F to 165°F or until the juices run clear. Use your judgement here based on the weight of the bird and your personal preferences.

    11. Remove the bird from the oven. Tent the bird with tin-foil. Allow to rest 10 to 15 minutes. This is a critical step as the bird will continue to cook during the rest. If you skip this step the juices will run out when you cut the bird. Wait for perfection.

There are many ways to vary this recipe and we use it with any poultry or wild game birds that tend to dry out in cooking; guinea hen, grouse, pheasant etc. Just remember to vary your brine and cooking times to compensate for the weight of the bird.

We often roast vegetables along with the bird; parsnips, potatoes, onions, and other root vegetables. You can roast mushrooms under the bird or apples. The method provides crispy skin on a juicy bird. The cast iron, in contact with the vegetables, caramelizes the sugars.