I'm a great fan of thick natural white yoghurt, especially in savoury dishes, not only because it has a lovely texture and taste but also because of its amazing tenderising qualities.
It's taken me several tries to get this new recipe right, because yoghurt is a tricky ingredient. It tends to curdle at heat, and even more so when combined with one of the great loves of its life, namely lemon juice. I can't promise you won't have some degree of curdliness (I know that isn't a word, although it should be) but if you roast the chicken in a moderate oven it should turn out perfectly.
This recipe is based on my marinade for butter chicken, described here, although I've added saffron to the mix. The reason some people have an aversion to saffron is, I think, because restaurant chefs have a somewhat heavy hand with it, even though it's such an expensive spice. The trick with saffron is to use just a tiny pinch of threads - and by that I mean a smidgen; perhaps 8 to 10 threads, depending on the quality of the saffron you've bought. Those delicate filaments may look as if they won't add much flavour to your dish, but just a whisper of saffron packs a powerful punch. If you don't like - or don't have, or can't afford - saffron, leave it out, and use one to two teaspoons of turmeric instead.
Don't be tempted to add more than one slice of lemon to the roasting pan, or it will make the pan juices bitter.
If you can't find a butterflied chicken - what is charmingly called a 'flattie' in South Africa - ask your butcher to butterfly it for you. Or buy a whole chicken and do it yourself: it's very easy. Here are some good written instructions.
This is delicious with boiled new potatoes and a simple salad of dark leaves dressed with the hot pan juices (the ones in the picture are red-vein sorrel, which I grow in pots).
Spiced Butterflied Chicken with Saffron and Yoghurt
1 large free-range chicken, fat trimmed, and butterflied
a thin slice of lemon, peel and all
3 bay leaves
a large sprig of fresh thyme
1 cup (250 ml) thick white yoghurt
2 fat cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated
2 T (30 ml) grated fresh ginger
the juice of a large lemon
1 tsp (5 ml) chilli powder (or more, to taste)
2 tsp (10 ml) cumin
1 tsp (5 ml) garam masala
1 tsp (5 ml) coriander
½ tsp (2.5 ml) cinnamon
a pinch of saffron threads (or 1½ tsp [7.5 ml] turmeric]
salt and freshly milled black pepper
a little melted butter, for basting
chopped fresh coriander [cilantro]
Using a sharp knife, make deep slashes in the thighs, breasts and drumsticks of the butterflied chicken. Lay it in a roasting pan and tuck the lemon slice, bay leaves and fresh thyme sprig underneath. In a bowl, mix together the yoghurt, garlic, ginger, lemon juice and all the spices. Season with salt and pepper.
Pour the mixture over the chicken and rub it into the skin, pressing it deeply into the cuts. For even more flavour, gently separate the breast skin from the meat and spread some of the marinade into the 'pocket' you've made. Cover the pan with clingfilm, place it in the fridge and allow to marinate for two hours, or longer (but no more than four).
Sprinkle a few pinches of extra chilli powder, cumin, black pepper and sea salt over the top of the chicken. Roast at 160ºC for an hour and fifteen minutes, or until cooked through. (Check by inserting the point of a sharp knife into the deepest part of the thigh: if the juices run clear and there's no sign of pinkness next to the bone, the chicken is cooked). Every twenty minutes, baste the chicken, using a pastry brush or a big spoon, with the pan juices and a little melted butter.
Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Cut into portions, scatter with some freshly chopped coriander and serve hot, with lemon wedges.
Cook's note: Line the bottom of the dish with good baking paper, which will make it easier to clean. Print Friendly