Hot Vinegar Chicken

Overhead shot of a roast chicken on a skillet with hot sauce.

It’s time for the chapter on roast chicken- a dish that has given me trouble since the day I took my first whole bird home.

The story starts with the time the chicken smelled weird but I brined, basted, and cooked it anyway, then immediately threw it out after the first bite.

Later on I attempted roast chicken on a weeknight because the recipe promised it could be done in 45 minutes. An hour and a half later (with 5-10 minute frustrating intervals of checking on the bird), it was finally overdone, dry, and I was too tired to enjoy it.

Up close view of a roast chicken leg on a skillet.

Roasting chicken is not culinary 101 or the entry point to the yellow brick road of cooking. It’s more like the smug Wizard in Emerald City, sitting on a throne glazed with hot chicken fat and crowned with crispy, crackling skin.

I will not add to the noise of every roast chicken recipe that declares to finally solve the home cook’s problem with flabby skin, dryness, or lack of flavor (I’m still talking about the chicken).

I won’t tell you how to perfectly roast a chicken, because there are far better minds out there with all kinds of theories on the issue (check out NYT Cooking’s guide here).

So what’s the twist?

I will say that it’s possible to create an incredible, easy, “foolproof” pan sauce from a roast chicken.

Roasted chicken thigh on a white plate covered in hot sauce.

I say this with confidence because it’s one of the first things I ever did as a fledgling, teenage cook; my chicken on its own practically scratched your throat on the way down, but it always had a damn good sauce to go with it.

If the sauce was good enough, my dinner companions wouldn’t even notice the terrible chicken.

There it is! The secret to perfect roast chicken!

Roast chicken on a skillet with a hot sauce.

No matter how you roast your chicken*, you will be left with a hefty amount of shmaltz: glorious, flavor-packed, glistening chicken fat.

To the shmaltz- add 2 tablespoons of hot chili paste, such as gochujang or harissa, and 2 tablespoons of vinegar, preferably sherry vinegar. Two and two, easy enough to remember, right?

After a bit of whisking, some adjusting for flavor and spice, and a lot of smothering the sauce onto the bird, you’re left with something like a fancy, hot-sauced roast chicken, with extra hot sauce on the side.

Please excuse me while I grab a snack, because I am officially hungry.

Roasted chicken thigh on a white plate covered in hot sauce.

Once the sauce cools, you can put it in a mason jar and shake it up until it emulsifies into the consistency of a thick Frank’s RedHot Buffalo Sauce. Then you can keep it in the fridge and put that sauce on everything for the rest of the week (if it lasts that long).

Moral of the story on roast chicken?

Save the shmaltz, make a pan sauce, guaranteed happy ending.

*I suggest using a spatchcocked (here’s how to do that) bird, preferably an air-chilled, organic chicken. If you want more information on roasting a spatchcocked chicken, I love Samin Nosrat’s method in Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat.

Hot Vinegar Chicken

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Serves: 6
Prep Time: 15 minutes Cooking Time: 1 hour

Roast chicken smothered in an easy, crazy-delicious, spicy pan sauce.

Ingredients

  • 4-5 lb whole chicken, spatchcocked
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons hot chili paste (such as gochujang or harissa)
  • 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter

Instructions

1

Generously season the chicken with salt on both sides. You'll need about 1/2 teaspoon of salt per pound. Do this as far in advance as possible, up to one day. You can leave the chicken, uncovered, in the refrigerator overnight for the best chance at crispy skin. However, I have made this recipe many times by salting the chicken just before it's ready to cook and it's still delicious.

2

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

3

Heat a cast iron skillet (big enough to fit the chicken) over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil. You'll know the oil is hot enough when you splash a drop of water into the skillet and it immediately sizzles.

4

Place the chicken in the pan, skin side down, and brown for 6-8 minutes, until the skin is deeply golden.

5

Flip the chicken over and transfer the skillet into the oven. Cook 40 minutes-1 hour until the internal temperature of the chicken is 165F, rotating the pan after 20 minutes. Remove the chicken from the skillet and transfer to a cutting board. Pour the fat from the skillet into a heat-safe bowl.

6

While the chicken rests (let it rest at least 10 minutes), add 2 tablespoons of fat back to the skillet (save the rest and store at room temperature, then make chicken-fat hash browns tomorrow morning) and heat the skillet over medium-low. Add 1/2 cup of water and whisk to dissolve any stuck on bits.

7

Whisk in the hot chili paste and vinegar until smooth. Simmer 3-5 minutes until sauce is reduced and has thickened slightly. It should look slightly more viscous and not watery. Add the cold butter and whisk until the sauce is smooth and glimmers like it's begging to be tasted, about 1 minute. Taste and add more salt if needed.

8

Carve the chicken and use a big spoon to distribute the sauce all over. Serve with extra sauce on the side.

Nutrition

  • 560 Calories

Notes

A glass of cold rosé would subdue the lingering heat in this dish, or a bright, acidic sparkling wine will cut through the rich, crispy skin.

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    Boyd R Dee
    February 1, 2019 at 9:25 am

    Love your evocative writing! I’d be too scared to try this but I could fill up on you words easily.

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