Several years ago, around the time I moved to Cambridge, a new friend told me about a strange little technique for roasting chicken. One that completely sidesteps the whole breast side up-or-down debate, that the eternal battle between enjoying moist white meat OR crispy skin. Yep, this recipe threw all that away, because instead of cooking the chicken on its belly or back, you cook it sitting up right. My friend called it beer can chicken: you simple baste the meat in half a can of your favorite beer, then insert the open can in the cavity so the remaining liquids steams the chicken from the inside out, allowing for both a moist breast AND crackling skin. When it comes out of the oven, your chicken will look a bit like The Thinker.
I’m not much of a beer person, but I do love hard apple cider – particularly Downeast, a local Boston craft cider house that brews a beautifully sweet and almost pulpy alcoholic beverage that tastes like unfiltered, freshly-pressed apple juice. First, you spread a delicious garlic balsamic butter compound underneath the skin, then marinate the roast in a sweet and spicy cider-based paste. Finally, after setting your chicken upright over the cider can, rain down more dried spices on the surface for a flavorful finish.
- 1 4-6 lb chicken
- 1 TB butter, room temperature
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- Splash of balsamic vinegar
- 1 can of sweet alcoholic cider, such as Downeast or Angry Orchard
- 2 TSP Dijon mustard
- 3 TB brown sugar
- 1 TB chili powder
- 1 TB of your favorite spice mix, such as Montreal steak or Cajun seasoning
- 1 TB garlic powder
- 1 TSP onion powder
- 1 TSP regular or flavored salt
- Salt, to taste
- Pepper, to taste
- Chili powder, to taste
- Paprika, to taste
- Thyme, to taste
The night before cooking, prepare the marinade. Place the chicken in a large bowl and set aside. In a small dish, combine the softened butter, minced garlic, and balsamic vinegar. Using a butter knife, gently separate the skin of the chicken breast from the meat, being careful not to tear it – you want to create a pocket in which to deposit the garlic butter. With a spoon, gingerly scoop the butter and spread it underneath the skin. If need be, utilize your fingers to spread it around the top of the breast and toward the drum sticks.
In a mixing bowl, pour half a can of cider and add your mustard, sugar, and array of dried spices. The mix should be a rich reddish-brown, thick and slightly sweet. Pour the marinade over the chicken, making sure every nook and cranny is immersed. Cover and leave in the refrigerator.
An hour before cooking, take the chicken out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove the chicken from the marinade and use a paper towel to gently dab the moisture from the skin. (Do not wipe away the spice, but be careful to dry it as much as possible.)
Place the cider can with the remaining liquid upright in the middle of a roasting pan. With two hands, set the chicken upright over the can; it should fit neatly into the cavity. Maneuver the drumsticks so the the roast stays up on its own. (The posture does not need to be perfect, it can slouch a little.) Liberally salt and pepper the skin, then coat it in chili powder, paprika, and thyme until it’s a perfect burnt sienna color. Place the pan in the oven.
Blast heat the chicken for 20 minutes, then bring the temperate down to 400 degrees. Roast for about 20 minutes for every pound. (A large, nearly 6-pound chicken takes roughly an hour-and-a-half.) Remove from the oven and let it rest for an additional 20 minutes to allow the juices to settle. It will be a gorgeous dark brown, perhaps with some crispy blackened areas.
Enjoy it with roasted root vegetables or creamy mashed sweet potatoes!
The roast before it goes into the oven.
Err, only slightly suggestive.