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Ovenly Chicken–simple food, simply delicious


In retirement my in-laws used to go back to Italy for a couple months at a time. When they came home, for a week or two my wife’s father would go on an oven-roasted chicken binge. Asked why, he said chicken in the US just tasted better.

I thought of him not long ago. My wife and I, now in retirement, spend a couple months each year in Italy. One day we were having lunch at Trattoria Mulazzani, just outside San Marino. If we go for lunch, we get there early. It’s a worker joint. The parking lot fills with cars and vans and trucks. Inside is a rowdy atmosphere of guys in overalls and jeans and suits and ties—yes, mostly guys—who know (and require) good food, lots of it.

If I want tagliatelle al ragu at Mulazzani, a half order will easily suffice. Si mangia bene, paga poco. You eat well at a good price.

That day pollo alla diavola (the devil’s grilled chicken) was on the menu, and it was terrific. A week later, we went back and had it again. This recipe gets close to what we had. What makes it good, I’m convinced, is the lemon, garlic, rosemary combination. That and the fact that the chicken is ben cotta, thoroughly cooked.

Once a week we have oven-roasted chicken. I think of it as ovenly chicken. I can’t say this is my mother-in-law’s recipe.  It’s close.

I oven roast whole legs, using an 8 x 4 x 2  1/2 cake pan, lined with parchment. The legs are washed and dried. I squeeze a lemon over them, generously apply garlic salt and pepper and sprinkle them with rosemary. (For roasting I am not averse to using dried rosemary. If someone can tell me how to get a rosemary plant through a Michigan winter, I’m all ears.)

Into the oven they go, heated to 350.

I want them skin side down the first 30-35 minutes. Then I’ll turn them so they finish skin side up. (The image above shows them just turned.)

Total cooking time, two hours minimum. Yes, that’s a long time. The chicken fat—thighs are loaded with it—melts and mixes with the lemon juice. You could baste the legs if you wanted to. I like to just hang around the kitchen and employ my nose.

At the end of two hours you’ll have beautiful, brown crispy skin and meat that falls off the bones. Simple food.  Simply delicious.

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