I don’t cook meat all that often. It’s not my favorite thing to eat, and handling raw meat has always struck me as being more hassle than fun. So when I’m in the mood to do something meaty, I like simple, relatively hands-off preparations. Overnight marinades are nice for this kind of cooking–if you plan ahead for it, you can prep in five minutes and then forget about it for a good long while.
This particular recipe is inspired by the traditional pre-treatment for fried chicken: an overnight soak in a buttermilk bath. The acid and milk enzymes in the marinade help break down the chicken, making it silky and chin-dribblingly juicy. As it turns out, the chicken doesn’t have to be fried for a buttermilk marinade to work; you can roast the chicken parts instead, adjusting the proportions of sugar and salt in the marinade so that it functions more like a brine. The skin doesn’t get as crisp as it does on unmarinated roast chicken, but the tradeoff is rich, tooth-tender meat that’s so juicy it glistens. Any combination of chicken parts will do–use what you like best.
The base marinade is buttermilk, salt, honey, garlic cloves, and black pepper. Just as-is, it’s delicious; the honey adds a light sweet-savory note, and the garlic is there but not pungent. But you can customize it any which way you please. When I made this, my inspiration was medieval–I was brining drumsticks to take to Audrey’s Game of Thrones season finale party–so I added a touch of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. It sounds like an odd combination, but I encourage you to try it at least once–the combination of ancient sweet spices and honey might be the best flavor I’ve ever tasted on roast chicken.
Having tested this as potential party food, I can say it was a big hit–with one caveat. I wanted something meaty that people could pick up and eat greedily with their hands, like medieval lords. The drumsticks were definitely pick-up-able, but also so juicy that we had to either use plates or stand over the sink. This is not quite finger food–I’d call it plate-fork-and-finger food. Not that that’s a problem.
Buttermilk Roast Chicken (serves 6-8)
2 1/2 – 3 lbs bone-in, skin-on chicken parts (I used drumsticks)
2 cups buttermilk
5-6 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 tbsp salt (I used this), plus more for sprinkling
1 tbsp honey
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
1/8 tsp ground cloves (optional)
Pinch of ground nutmeg (optional)
Fresh-ground black pepper to taste
Olive oil for drizzling
Place the chicken parts in a gallon-sized zip-top freezer bag. Pour the buttermilk over the chicken, then add garlic, salt, honey, cinnamon (if using), cloves (if using), nutmeg (if using), and black pepper. Seal the bag, pressing out as much air as possible, then use your hands to squish the chicken parts around until the marinade ingredients are thoroughly mixed and everything is evenly coated. Place the bag in a bowl or other large rimmed container (just in case there are leaks), and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, and up to 2 days–the longer this sits, the better it’ll be.
When you’re ready to roast, preheat the oven to 425º F and position a rack in the middle of the oven. Line a rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan with aluminum foil, and grease the foil. Remove the chicken parts from the marinade, and rinse off any lingering buttermilk. Use paper towels to pat the chicken as dry as you can, then lay the pieces out in the foil-lined pan skin side up, making sure to leave space between them.
Drizzle the chicken with olive oil and sprinkle with a little more salt, using your hands if necessary to evenly coat each piece of chicken. Roast skin side up for 30-40 minutes (depending on the chicken parts), or until the juices run clear and the skin is browned.
Remove the pan from the oven and let the chicken rest for 5 to 10 minutes, then serve with whatever sauce and/or side dishes you fancy.