Ana Sortun's Flatbreads with Spiced Chicken and Pistachios
Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger's Green Corn Tamales

Madhur Jaffrey's Curried Roast Chicken, Durban Style


I don't know what's come over me, but I can't seem to stop cooking exotic meals lately. I wonder if it's the chill in the air, and the sadness over summer ending that has me craving spicy food. Strong spices and forceful flavors promise a different kind of warmth these days. Soon, I'm sure, this will give way to a spate of bread-baking and long-cooked stews. And I am looking forward to those crisp days. But for now, I mourn the end of our hot and sultry summer. Wasn't it over in a flash?

In the fall and winter, Ben and I cooked many a chicken for our Sunday night dinners, and somehow it seemed fitting to go back to that trusty stand-by last night, jazzed up substantially, when we returned to the city from our last summer weekend in Beacon. The jazzing-up of the standard roast chicken comes thanks to Madhur Jaffrey, whose recipe was excerpted from her Curries and Kebabs book in Florence Fabricant's Pairings column (apparently, this chicken tastes great with a nice, cool Beaujolais).

You take a whole, raw chicken and skin it - which sounds fussy, but really isn't that bad. More annoying is the fact that Balducci's ran out of raw, whole chickens (how? Exactly how does a fancy food store run out of raw, whole chickens?), which condemned me to the questionable fate of having to buy our chicken from the dubious spot that is D'Agostino's poultry case.

To make the spice paste that would be slathered all over the skinned and slashed bird, I blended together the juice of two lemons, chopped jalapenos, garlic, and ginger, coriander and curry powder (in place of cumin), salt and oil. Madhur says that the resulting puree should be a "thick paste", though mine was more of a wet sauce. If you make this, I'd only use the juice of one lemon and perhaps just one spoonful of oil.

I slathered the greenish sauce all over my naked and rather undignified chicken and let the incendiary juices impregnate the meat for a half hour. I, meanwhile, nursed the pain of jalapeno puree smeared all over the rather delicate skin of my recently dermatitis-afflicted palms. All I can say is, OW.

The chicken, after an hour of foil-covered roasting, and then basting, and then 15 minutes of uncovered roasting, came out incredibly fragrant and still juicy. The sauce had dried up into spicy little pockets of flavor here and there along the chicken's contours. It was intensely lemony, almost too much so, which further proves my point that less lemon juice in the spice paste would be fine. We ate our chicken with the coconut rice that blew my mind back in January and provided a cooling counterpart to the spicy heat.

I liked this a lot, but I'm not sure I'd make it again. Perhaps because it feels like more of a fleeting-fancy dinner than the kind of thing to keep for posterity. Still, it's worth at least one meal. One that will warm you to the bone while the breeze outside picks up momentum and chill, and the first leaves start falling, brittle and faded, to the ground.

Curried Roast Chicken, Durban Style
Serves 3 to 4

1 3 1/4-pound whole chicken, skinned
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 2-inch piece peeled ginger, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 small fresh green chilies, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin (I subbed 1/2 teaspoon curry powder)
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Cut two deep diagonal slits, down to the bone, in each chicken breast and one in each leg and thigh. Place chicken, breast side up, on a sheet of heavy-duty foil large enough to enclose it. Place in a roasting pan.

2. Place lemon juice, ginger, garlic, chilies, salt, oil, cumin and coriander in a blender and process to a thick puree. Rub puree over chicken, inside and out, and into slits. Set chicken aside for 30 minutes.

3. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Dust chicken with chili powder and black pepper, enclose in foil and crimp to seal. Roast for 1 hour.

4. Open foil and baste chicken. Return, uncovered, to oven for 15 minutes, basting twice more. Transfer chicken to serving platter. Pour juices from foil into a small dish and serve alongside chicken.