“I guess it’s a compliment that imitators of Peru’s famous rotisserie chicken are everywhere these days. Problem is, unless you happen to have a rotisserie grill, it can be difficult to mimic the slowly rotating spit that gives the chicken that almost black, fantastically charred crust that seals in the natural juices so the chicken doesn’t dry out. Those oversize chickens sold at most supermarkets don’t help, as the meat closest to the grill usually dries out before the chicken is cooked all the way through. These are the kinds of cooking challenges I get really excited about.
First, for best results, forget the idea of preparing and presenting a whole chicken like they do in the restaurants and split the chickens in half so they cook evenly. Easy enough—the hardest part is making sure the meat doesn’t dry out. To keep it moist, I let the chicken halves sit in a spicy ají panca paste– soy sauce marinade for a good while, and then poach them slowly in plastic bags to mimic the French method of sous-vide cooking. The meat stays moist, and you lock in all of those marinade flavors. Once the chicken is cooked, a quick sear on the grill gives the skin that char that makes rotisserie chicken so tasty.
The recipe may look long, but the technique is more time-consuming than complicated (and most of that time is for marinating the chicken or poaching it, when you can be less attentive). For a party, you can marinate and poach the chickens ahead and toss them on the grill when everyone shows up with the beer and whatever else you’re serving. These are also really good picnic chickens.” – Ricardo Zarate
Recipe courtesy of Lima-born Los Angeles based chef and restaurateur Chef Ricardo Zarate. Click here to purchase your own copy of Ricardo Zarate’s cookbook: The Fire of Peru: Recipes and Stories from My Peruvian Kitchen reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
- 2 small chickens, preferably 3 1/2 pounds each but up to 5 pounds if that’s all you can find
- Pollo a la Brasa marinade (recipe follows)
- canola or other vegetable oil, for grilling
Pollo A La Brasa Marinade (makes about 1 1/4 cups)
- 2 tablespoons aji panca paste
- 1/4 cup pureed garlic
- 1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup soy sauce, preferably Yamasa
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- For the marinade, whisk together the ají panca paste, garlic, rosemary, cumin, and pepper in a medium bowl, then add the soy sauce, vinegar, and olive oil. Use right away, or cover and refrigerate the marinade for up to 5 days.
- Remove the giblets and neck from the chickens and trim any excess fat around the neck cavity. Use kitchen shears or a sharp knife to cut each chicken in half alongside both sides of the backbone (save the backbone and neck for stock), flip the chicken over, and cut down the center of the breast to separate the chicken halves.
- Put the chickens in a large bowl and rub the marinade all over them, and place each chicken half in the middle of a large sheet of plastic wrap (a good foot long). Drizzle any marinade still in the bowl over the chicken halves, and wrap each up securely in the plastic wrap so the marinade doesn’t leak out. Place two chicken halves in a large, resealable food storage bag (a good-quality bag is key, or it will break when simmered). Press as much air out of the bag as possible, seal, and do the same with the remaining two chicken halves. Refrigerate both bags for 12 hours or overnight
- When ready to cook, open each bagged chicken, press out any air, and seal the bags again securely. In each bag, arrange the two chicken halves so they lay flat next to each other. Build a 1-inch-tall pedestal for the chickens along the bottom of a large Dutch oven or stockpot with 3 or 4 round or other-shaped metal cookie cutters. (If you have two large Dutch ovens or wide-bottomed pots, make a stand in each so you can cook both bags of chicken at once; otherwise cook one bag at a time.)
- Place one bag on top of the cutters so the chickens lay as flat as possible and fill the pot with enough water to cover the bag. Place a smaller, heavy saucepan on top of the chicken to weigh it down and top the saucepan with a can of food, if needed, to submerge the chicken fully. (The water may be very close to the top of the pot, which is fine.)
- Bring the water to a low simmer, reduce the heat to low, and very slowly poach the chicken over low heat until the flesh is no longer pink between the legs and thighs, about 1 hour and 15 minutes for 3½-pound chickens, or 1 hour and 30 to 40 minutes if they are more than 4 pounds. The heat should be as low as possible so the chickens cook very slowly. If the water ever begins to simmer again, turn off the heat for 5 minutes.
- With tongs, transfer the bagged chicken to a large bowl, let cool for 15 minutes, then open the bag to release the steam (be careful—it is very hot). It’s fine if some of the marinade leaked out into the bags. Transfer the chicken to a bowl, pour the marinade over the top, and discard the bags and plastic wrap. If making the chicken ahead, let cool to room temperature, cover, and refrigerate in the marinade overnight. Let the chickens rest for at least 1 hour at room temperature before grilling.
- Prepare a regular or hibachi grill for direct, high-heat cooking and lightly oil the grate with vegetable oil. When the grill is very hot, place the chicken halves on the grill, breast side down (reserve the marinade in the bowl). Sear each chicken half until the skin is blackened all over, usually a solid 5 minutes. Cook the chicken a little longer, if necessary; you want a nice dark color. Brush the chicken with the marinade, flip, and brush the skin (now facing up) with marinade. If the juices do not run clear when the thigh is pierced, grill the chicken several minutes longer, flipping and basting regularly, until they do.
- Transfer the chickens to a serving plate and serve them right away, or let cool to room temperature before serving.