Thursday Dinner: Buttermilk Roasted Chicken Legs

So, what is one to do when the (other) woman of his dreams says one thing and the food blogger he trusts the most says the other? Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen heavily tweaked one of Nigella Lawson’s recipes, yet both looked damn good. There were shared basics: buttermilk, garlic, salt, chicken, and the preparation method of roasting. Nigella went sweet and savory with maple syrup and cumin. Deb at Smitten used paprika, extra garlic, and granulated sugar. While my love for Nigella is undying and we are destined to be together someday on this or some other plane, I set her’s aside and opted for the Smitten variation.

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I like the idea of using a smoked paprika to complement the sour buttermilk and sugar, as opposed to the funky fragrance and flavor of cumin. I really don’t enjoy cumin, but understand and appreciate its role. Cumin is a lot like Nirvana to me in that regard. I’m not a fan, but I understand the group’s place in the music stratosphere.

So, a good 24-hour soak in buttermilk does a couple of things. First, the lactic acid from the dairy gets into the meat and tenderizes it. It also relaxes the muscle and tissue so it can absorb the other flavors around it, like the paprika, garlic and salt. That’s why you see a lot of fried chicken soaked in buttermilk before it’s breaded and fried. I’m told that this also works wonders on tougher cuts of pork. Those acids also work their magic in the flavor game. When one marinate meats, it’s typically done with spices, oil and an acid, like vinegar or fruit juice. In addition to tenderizing the meat, the acid enhances the flavor of the meat along with the other flavors. I didn’t really pay much attention during my high school science courses, and I took astronomy in college, so the process itself escapes me. I do know that this tastes good, so I’ll take that as a win.

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WHAT WORKED: The buttermilk brine, for all of the reasons mentioned above.

WHAT DIDN’T: I feel torn between the writer I trust and the (other) woman I love.

EASE OF PREPARATION: Pretty easy.

BEST FOR: Weeknight dinner.

SERVE WITH: Rice or a simple pasta side, and some roasted veggies that you make on the top shelf of the oven.

Thursday Dinner: Buttermilk Roasted Chicken Legs
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled, smashed and not chopped
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. kosher salt (I use Morton's)
  • 1 tbsp. granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. plus more paprika (I use Spanish-Style Smoked, but I suppose one with mild heat would work)
  • Freshly-ground black pepper
  • 2 to 3 lbs. bone-in chicken legs (I used legs and would stay to legs and thighs)
  • Olive oil

Pour buttermilk into a medium-sized mixing bowl and add garlic, sugar, salt, paprika and 10 to 12 cranks of your black pepper grinder. Whisk vigorously to combine until the sugar and salt is dissolved.

Place the chicken pieces in an appropriately-sized resealable plastic bag then pour in the buttermilk marinade. Seal the bag and swish around in the bag. Refrigerate. Ideally, you should do this for 24 hours. At a minimum do it overnight; at maximum 48 hours.

Line a baking dish with foil, per Nigella and Deb's suggestion, and preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

Transfer the chicken pieces to your baking dish and arrange so it is not crowded. Sprinkle with paprika then drizzle with olive oil. Roast for 30 minutes, so that the skin is well browned.

Adapted from the original at Smitten Kitchen

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