September 8, 2015

Buttermilk Roasted Chicken with Gravy

It turns out that pretty much every freshman at UW is jealous of my dorm this year. It's basically like living in a hotel, and the best part is that there's a kitchen on every floor. Yep, I just have to walk 30 feet and I'm at the stove, with the exception of having to walk uphill both ways to the bus stop and wait an hour to get on a bus to get groceries and then having to rent a bunch of kitchen equipment from the desk downstairs. In other words, it is actually possible to cook in my dorm this year, but I have to keep things really simple. That's good news for you guys because you get delicious recipes with minimal equipment and prep time, like this fantastic roasted chicken with gravy.

What makes this chicken so perfectly juicy and tender is the buttermilk, which is why it's first in the name of the dish. I found out the hard way this summer that buttermilk isn't exactly common outside of the south, but it's definitely worth searching for. The acidity breaks down the meat and imparts an incomparable tenderness to the cooked meat. You know how all good fried chicken starts with buttermilk? Well now all roasted chicken does, too.

I season the buttermilk with a variety of spices. Other than the gravy, this is what brings the flavor, so be generous and alter the proportions to fit your taste. I let the chicken sit for a few hours to make sure it soaks it all up; anywhere between 2 hours and overnight is fine but I find that 3-4 hours is best. It's long enough for the buttermilk to work its magic but fast enough that I can devour the chicken asap.

I know I called this dish roasted chicken, but I still like to dredge it in flour and sear it in a skillet first. This gives me an extra crispy skin and makes sure there are plenty of drippings to make the gravy. My two favorite parts of this dish are the skin and the gravy, so I think it's worth the extra step. The key to that extra crispy coating is patting the chicken dry after it sits in the marinade. I don't want a breaded and fried chicken thigh (even though those are equally tasty), just one with a thin, crackly coating.

Once the chicken is seared off and in the oven, it's time to make the gravy. I would eat salad all day if it were socially acceptable to use this stuff as salad dressing (can we please make that a thing?). I finally fulfilled a southern rite of passage this summer by figuring out how to make the perfect gravy, and I'm here to tell you all the tricks.

It starts with a roux, a mixture of fat and flour that works as a thickening agent. I use the chicken drippings since they have so much flavor and I already got that pan dirty, and I stir in about 1/4 cup of flour. You have to ballpark basically every ingredient here, but it's fairly forgiving and you'll get the hang of it soon. I try to use approximately the same amount of flour as drippings, and 1/4 cup is usually fairly accurate. I whisk the roux over medium-low heat for a few minutes until it's thick and bubbling, then I gradually whisk in chicken broth until it reaches a good consistency. It's usually around 2 cups, but that depends on how much roux there is, how long you cook it for, and how thick you want it. The key is to add the broth very slowly and whisk it constantly to avoid lumps. At some point--once the gravy is thin enough to permit it--I throw in some fresh herbs for flavor, since everything can always use a little rosemary.

To bring it all together, I top the crisp, juicy chicken with the savory gravy and serve it immediately. I love it over grits or mashed potatoes, but any neutral starch and/or roasted vegetable would go very nicely. Aside from the marinating time, this is ready in under half an hour and requires only a bowl, a skillet, and a baking sheet, making it a perfect weeknight meal for any kitchen, even crappy dorm ones.

8 Chicken Thighs
3 Cups Buttermilk
2 T Season Salt
2 T Garlic Powder
2 T Onion Powder
1 T Paprika
2 tsp Pepper
1 tsp Cayenne
1/2 + 1/4 Cup Flour
2 Cups Chicken Stock
1 Sprig Rosemary
2 Sprigs Thyme
2 T Butter

Trim the fat from the chicken thighs. Whisk the buttermilk, season salt, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, pepper, and cayenne together. Add the chicken, cover, and refrigerate for 3-4 hours.

Season 1/2 cup of flour with additional salt and pepper. Heat some oil in a large skillet. Heat oven to 375F.

Pat the chicken dry and dredge in the flour. Sear the chicken in batches in the hot pan until golden brown on each side; transfer to a baking sheet and roast in the oven until cooked through, about 14-16 minutes.

Meanwhile, add the remaining flour to the chicken drippings on low heat. Whisk constantly until darkened and thick, about 4 minutes. Toss in the rosemary and thyme. Gradually add the chicken stock, whisking constantly, until the gravy coats the back of a spoon. Season with salt and pepper, whisk in the butter, and serve over the chicken.

Serves 4-6

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