Today’s recipe is brought to you by easy and inexpensive cooking (it requires zero pricey or exotic ingredients, unless an off-the-shelf curry powder is your idea of such), but it compromises nothing in terms of richness or flavor. The main ‘luxury’ ingredient here is time – but it is time spent not doing anything in the kitchen, so it’s slow food without the effort commonly associated with such.
The Great Unpackening is proceeding apace, and our kitchen is beginning to resemble a kitchen in the sense that you can see across it without having the large pile of boxes stacked two-high in the middle. Which means that, while I am beginning to enjoy cooking in a well-organized space which is becoming more functional by the day (I found my stack of stainless steel mixing bowls which I had missed sorely for weeks!), I am also exhausted because we are unpacking, and my to-do list for the immediate future is significantly longer than my arm. Granted, my arms are pretty short, but the list is longer even written as it is in fairly small handwriting on (multiple pages of) lined paper, so there’s that. Moreover, we’ve had heavy snow dumped on us yet again, and we’ve had to shovel out the walk, front of the house, and driveway (and the balcony) yet again (ow my sore shoulders, arms and diagonal abdominals!).
In meantime, as I’ve mentioned in last post, we’ve now paid the massive bills for the renovations, and are on a shortish budget this month, so I am working to inventory and use up the accumulation of food in my freezer and pantry, rather than buying more (other than fresh produce and dairy). It’s also good to make sure that older spices and the like get used up before they go stale and lose flavor, so it serves that purpose as well. The combination of being busy, exhausted, and on a short budget, means that I don’t want to cook anything too complicated, nor anything which involves me standing by the stove for hours, but none of the above precludes a little advanced thinking. The recipe I am going to share with you today is an ideal meal for when you are busy and tired, and since none of the ingredients are particularly pricey (and a lot of them are pantry staples), is reasonably frugal even if you, unlike me, don’t have some frozen chicken legs stashed in the freezer from a chicken you’d bought on sale and jointed up a couple of months ago. The only trick is that it needs to be started (with very minimal effort) the evening of the day before you want to have it for dinner.
It’s pretty well-known that marinating chicken in fermented dairy products (be it buttermilk, yogurt, or Nordic-style sourmilk) makes it incredibly succulent and tender. It is also well-known that it takes a while. A couple of days ago I pulled a freezer bag with 2 chicken legs I’d cut off a chicken and froze some weeks before the move, and defrosted it in the fridge overnight. All it took last night is five minutes to slash the skin of the legs, mix up the super-simple marinade, dump the legs into it and into the fridge overnight. This evening I put a sheet of baking paper in my awesome vintage Soviet-made cast iron roasting pan, peeled some vegetables, and roasted it all for just under an hour and a half, requiring no kitchen attendance for the vast majority of that time.
A note on prepared curry powders – I tend to keep several different ones around for variety’s sake. Most of them are not particularly authentic (shock horror, I am not a purist!), but they are made by a couple of good Indian brands that export to the West (I like Rajah and TRS), and if bought reasonably fresh, will last a couple of years in an airtight container. They are salt-free and incredibly versatile (also great in a variety of soups, as well as for making a really nice, if unauthentic, curry). For this specific dish, I used all of my remaining hot Madras curry powder which needed to be used up (a couple of tablespoons’ worth), and a tablespoon of Southeast Indian curry powder that I’d picked up from a Danish chain store. The main difference between the two, as best I could tell, was that the latter is heavier on the turmeric and cinnamon, and lighter on the cumin than the Madras.
So what do you actually need for this? (serves 2 – or 4 if a chicken thigh or drumstick is sufficient, and you use more vegetables)
- 2 chicken legs, skin-on (I left mine whole because they weren’t very large, but especially if yours are on the bigger side, you could joint them further if you want to make this go further).
- 1-1.5dl Greek or Turkish (strained full-fat, 10%) yogurt and 1dl sourmilk (aka filmjölk, piima, or kulturmelk, depending on which country you are in) OR 2-3dl full-fat natural non-strained yogurt.
- 2-3 heaping tablespoons of curry powder of your choice and preferred heat level.
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Potatoes, carrots, and onions, or other root vegetables you prefer, sufficient for two or four people, peeled and cut into large chunks or spears.
- 2 tbsp neutral vegetable oil such as refined rapeseed, peanut, olive, or similar.
- Black or long pepper in a grinder. (If you haven’t tried long pepper yet, it’s a hotter and more aromatic cousin of black pepper, and really, really worth trying, especially if you like black pepper. It’s used exactly like black pepper and can be substituted for it in most places you’d use black pepper, but the long pods need to be bashed into peppercorn-sized pieces in a mortar before it can be easily ground in a standard grinder.)
- A couple of cloves of garlic, a pinch of salt, and 1dl Greek or Turkish yogurt (for garlic yogurt, to serve).
- A simple undressed green salad to add freshness and crunch.
- Mix the yogurt, sourmilk (if using), half teaspoon of salt, and the curry powder in a non-reactive mixing bowl. You can also add a bit of grated ginger and/or crushed garlic if you feel like those.
- Slash the chicken legs across, cutting through the skin and into the meat. Dump the chicken legs into the marinade, turn to coat, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
- A couple of hours before dinner, preheat oven to 175°C, and line a roasting pan with a large surface area (or a sheet pan) with baking paper (baking parchment).
- Remove the chicken from the marinade. Add 2 tbsp neutral vegetable oil of your choice (I used refined rapeseed/canola) to the marinade, and mix to combine. Add your vegetables into the marinade-oil mix, and mix until well-coated.
- Arrange the vegetables on the baking sheet, and nestle the chicken legs or leg pieces in between those. Grind a little black or long pepper over all of it. Roast for an hour if you have jointed the legs, or an hour and fifteen or twenty minutes if the legs were left whole.
- While the meat roasts, mix the yogurt, a bit of salt, and the crushed garlic, and chop up some fresh vegetables for a green salad.
- If the dish looks paler than you’d like at the end of roasting time, turn the top grill on for five or ten minutes to brown the meat and vegetables. Test potato doneness with a fork or toothpick.
- Serve with garlic yogurt and a green salad on the side.
As I have mentioned, long marinating and roasting times aside, this requires very little active time in the kitchen, and the low roasting temperature ensures that five minutes extra don’t matter one way or another. This is very low-stress cooking, and the result is very, very good to eat when you are exhausted, the snow is hip-deep outside, and the winter is only halfway through, and that is if we’re being optimistic.
That said, this is also an excellent dinner party dish, since it’s very easy to scale up and make in quantity – simply increase the amounts of chicken and vegetables if you want a sheet pan or two of food to feed a crowd. You don’t need to multiply the marinade amount by the same amount as the chicken, but make sure you have enough to fully coat each piece, and cover the chicken when it’s packed into the bowl with the marinade.