Bob Hart’s recipe for Buttermilk Chicken
ROASTING THAT CHOOK
Of all the things we routinely cook on our favourite barbecue these days, an exquisitely roasted chook is possibly my favourite. And the methods that will deliver perfection are many and varied.
There are simply butterflied chooks – cooked in one piece, or separated into two – and there are beer-butt chickens for which a can of beer is inserted where the sun don’t shine.
The biggest challenge for the grill master is keeping that chicken breast moist and tender and, ideally, imparting a touch of wood smoke flavouring to go along with it. Which brings into play another ingenious technique: brining the chicken in a salt and sugar brine to ensure that the breast remains seductively moist and delicious.
But now, there is a brining refinement for barbecue enthusiasts which, in my view, delivers the best results of all. It involves brining the whole bird in salt and buttermilk, ideally for 24 or even 48 hours, and it is life-changing. Trust me…
You will need a very large resealable bag if you can lay your hands on one (or, more sensibly, a box of 12!). I use Hefty Jumbo bags which you will find on-line at large American retailers and which, because they are from the US marketplace, list their capacity as 2.5 gallons! Which is a lot, I can assure you. These will easily accommodate a medium turkey, let alone the 20 (2kg) chook I suggest you use for this recipe.
So, buy your chook – ensuring it is free-range, farm-raised if possible, and not one that is offered to you sealed in skin-tight plastic. Yeccch! Your farm-raised bird will actually deliver real flavour, wheras most supermarket chooks, which have lived sad lives, will do nothing of the sort.
Now, salt your chook very generously with crystalised sea salt (I use Maldons) – never table salt, which is nasty stuff. Place it in the resealable bag and add a 600ml carton of buttermilk – something you SHOULD buy at a supermarket. Ensure the bag is properly sealed after squeezing out as much air as possible, and place it in the bottom of your fridge overnight. Next day, and possibly the next, jiggle it to redistribute both the salt and the buttermilk, and return it to the fridge.
Roughly an hour before you are ready to roast it, remove the bag from the fridge and the bird from the bag. Scrape off as much of the buttermilk as you can with just your hands, and put the marinated chook to one side to return to room temperature.
Now, fire up your barbecue for roasting – i.e. to around 220C (lid down, or course). Gas barbecues will do the job but something with a hit of smoke – a Weber kettle, say, or a kamado barbecue – will do an even better job.
Place the chook on an adjustable roasting rack, something you can pick up in any kitchen shop very cheaply, which you have lightly oiled. Normally, these are designed to go into a large baking dish. But on this occasion, position it, chicken in place, flush on the grill.
Roast the bird for 20 minutes which, because of the sugars in the buttermilk which will caramelize beautifully, will brown up. Now, reduce the temp to around the 180C mark and continue to cook for at least 40 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked to your taste. You should serve it at an internal temp of 75C, but you should take it out of the barbie before it gets there as it will continue to cook if you loosely wrap it in foil and rest it in a warm (not hot!) place.
And then, the payoff: slice yourself a piece of breast meat and, if that is not the most deliciously succulent and tender piece of chicken you have ever tasted…