There are certain qualities about cookbooks that have always annoyed me. For example, saying a recipe is only three ingredients when in fact it's, like, fifteen ingredients. Or telling readers to save scraps in the freezer to make stock from scratch (ha!). And, to my mind, the most egregious offense: unusual, esoteric spices. The only spice I ever use is cinnamon (oatmeal, hot chocolate), yet somehow I have amassed a collection of SIXTY-FREAKIN-FOUR spices. I just counted, and it's absurd. Now the question is, why do I have all these spices? Some were given to me as gifts, but mostly I purchased them because of blind obedience to cookbooks.
As I am sure you know, cookbooks have a habit of peddling various spices in their intros, and I fall for it every time. They promise things like, "You'll LOVE this spice! You'll use it on everything! It'll elevate the flavor of whatever you're cooking into a new realm!" To date, the biggest spice offense came from a cookbook by a celebrity who shall remain nameless that instructed me to buy a jar of Chinese five-spice powder.
I couldn't find it at my regular market, so I had to go to a specialty store. At the time, I had no problem going on a spice hunt because the cookbook promised the Chinese five-spice powder would absolutely change my cooking life. In reality, I have yet to find a recipe that uses it IN THE COOKBOOK ITSELF. If you're cooking a lot of Chinese recipes, I'm sure the spice is very useful (and I am jealous, because I have yet to master the art of Chinese cooking). But to my Italian-raised palate, the flavor combinations in the five-spice powder — cinnamon, star anise, fennel, ginger, cloves, white pepper, and licorice root — are totally baffling. I mean, what the hell am I supposed to do with that? That said, I guess that same question extends to many spices in my pantry, including juniper berry, cream of tartar, Herbamare, dried parsley, and dried chives. I also never think to myself that any given dish is screaming for bay leaf, yet I have three containers of them. I don't know why.
Why do I have all these spices? Some were given to me as gifts, but mostly I purchased them because of blind obedience to cookbooks.
I kept the "Useless (to me) Spice" front and center of my pantry for four years as a reminder not to buy any more spices, EVER. But as I was writing my own cookbook and testing recipes, I began to wonder how many other people fell into this same trap: Was Useless Spice sitting in thousands of pantries across the country, collecting dust and resentment? Could there be a way to use Useless Spice that wasn't overly complicated? Could I impatiently just dump it on something and come up with a fabulous meal?! The answer: Well, not quite. But you can combine it with a few other easy-to-find ingredients to make an unexpected, succulent, delectable roast chicken.
And I promise the other easy-to-find ingredients are not annoying! In fact, they're likely things you already have in your fridge or pantry, like Sriracha, olive oil, soy sauce, and cayenne pepper. If you don't have the Chinese five-spice powder, but you have ground cinnamon, ground cloves, crushed anise seed, crushed fennel seed, and ground pepper, you can make your own.
This is the kind of roast chicken that you pull out of the oven and people are super-impressed because it looks beautiful and smells fantastic. And look, since you've already roasted an entire chicken, why would you want to cook more? I say don't. Serve it with a side of spicy mustard greens or even mesclun greens. If you need a carb with your dinner (I get it), cube a sweet potato, toss it in a little olive oil, and throw it in the oven for the last twenty minutes of your chicken roasting. It'll be a winning combo.
Useless-Spice Split Roast Chicken
Serves 2 to 4
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce
1⁄2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 garlic clove, grated
1⁄2 lime, juiced
2 tablespoons five-spice powder
1⁄4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 whole chicken (about 4 pounds), spatchcocked (ask your butcher to do this)
1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Grease a 12-inch ovenproof pan or cast-iron skillet with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil.
2. Make a wet rub by combining the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the soy sauce, Sriracha, ginger, garlic, lime juice, five-spice powder, and cayenne.
3. Pat the chicken down with paper towels until it is very dry. The drier the skin, the crispier it will become in the oven!
4. Lay the chicken in the skillet, breast-side up. Season generously with salt, and massage the wet rub all over the chicken to coat evenly. Tuck the wings under the body so they don't burn.
5. Roast for 45 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh registers 165°F. (Don't let the thermometer touch the bone, or you might get an inaccurate reading.) When the chicken is done roasting, allow it to rest for 10 minutes — this will make the chicken even juicier!
6. Serve the chicken with the pan juices on the side.
Excerpted from Impatient Foodie: 100 Delicious Recipes for a Hectic, Time-Starved World, by Elettra Wiedemann. Copyright © 2017 by Elettra Wiedemann. Published by Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Reprinted with permission.
Elettra Wiedemann is founder of Impatient Foodie, and a writer and editor.