I am pretty sure that we eat far more chicken/poultry than pork in the Marketman household, despite the lechon business we are involved in and a personal love for almost all things porcine. Looking around, considering all of the fried chicken meals being consumed in fast food restaurants (which outstrips beef burgers I bet), I would also have guessed that chicken must be the most popular meat of choice. It isn’t. For Filipinos, the annual per capita consumption of pork meat and offal is roughly 20+ kilos per year; for poultry, roughly 9 kilos per annum, and for beef and veal, just 4 kilos per annum, based on various government statistics and other internet sites (it’s not my data). Of course these numbers would change dramatically if you limit the data to the top 10% income earners, who will probably consume 5x or more the national per capita average consumption figures for meat. Not to mention the data probably doesn’t include backyard raised and slaughtered hogs and chickens. But it was still a bit of a surprise that beef was just half of chicken which was just half of pork consumption. Funny how there aren’t any “Pork Joy Meals” or “Cheesepork sandwiches” or the like in popular fast food restaurants…
All that just a lenghty preamble to the fact that Marketman just got a new kitchen toy at work… a small gas rotisserie that can cook 16 chickens all at once. We love pork, but I think many folks love rotisserie chicken as well, so I have been experimenting with roasting chickens over the past few days. We have done many chickens over charcoal, but the rotisserie chickens seem to turn out juicier and more consistent, and frankly, use less energy. Again, as with all of these experiments, I buy many commercially available examples of rotisserie chicken, and weigh them, taste them and look at them inside and out. My initial views are that most of these chickens start out just shy of a kilo in weight, and cooked they are roughly 800 grams, plus or minus 10-15%. I have noticed that they are flavorful through and through, and that often means a long marination in a salty/sugary brine and/or being injected directly with the brine. The brining process adds some weight to the birds and helps to keep them moist and juicy. Many chickens are also basted with a soy/sugary sauce, to help them brown nicely. Most of the chickens I have tried seem heavily laced in MSG, and few seem to be stuffed with “real” ingredients rather than dried or concentrated versions of the same ingredients (onion, garlic powders, etc.). Overall, roasted chickens, whether purchased streetside or from a grocery purveyor are great value, and one chicken could easily feed four people… they are easy, tasty and relatively economical.
So not wanting to have a rotisserie chicken just like everyone else, I reverted to the basics. I started with a larger bird, say 1.4-1.5 kilos dressed weight chickens. I brined this in a solution of salt and a little sugar for 4 hours. Then we stuffed the birds with fresh lemongrass, fresh green onions, chopped onions, garlic, salt and pepper and for this version photographed, some ripe tamarind puree. The stuffing was very loose, not jampacked into the cavity. Many rotisserie manufacturers discourage stuffing as they fear they will not cook enough, but if you keep the stuffing light, it should be just fine. We rubbed the outside of the birds with a bit of homemade leaf lard, added salt and pepper inside and out, and put them into the rotisserie. The first novice mistake we made was not to sew up the cavity, so some of the stuffing just spilled out as they rotated in the oven. Another novice mistake was to leave the legs just hanging, and at first, they flopped around like boneless limbs, it looked quite horrifically amusing. Our chefs said not to worry, they would tense up, the fowl equivalent of rigor mortis, but it really would have been best to truss the legs to tidy the whole thing up. Also, it’s best to cook 16 birds at once, as the tightness keeps the birds compact and you make the best use of your gas expense.
We let these chickens cook for about 80 minutes (which was about 10 minutes too much I think) and as they roasted, we basted them with more pure lard. Onto the drip pan of the rotisserie a large pool of chicken and pork fat collected, along with stray pieces of lemongrass and green onion. The aroma the rotisserie was generating was just incredible. Without any sugary tricks on the skin of the bird, it browned unevenly, and just to a light golden color, not the deep dark almost caramel color of typical rotisserie chickens, I noted that this was the same thing for say commercial lechons that are painted with soy to yield that now very common deep dark brown finish. The chickens themselves were delicious, a lot more natural tasting, with no MSG of course, but I could have added a little more salt.
But what’s a roast chicken without some really nice gravy? Not that floury, cornstarchy, pale goop some places refer to as gravy… but a sauce made from the drippings, some broth and a bit of thickener. I took all of the sinfully rich drippings from the rotisserie drip pan, added lots of thick lechon broth and a little some cornstarch dissolved in broth and adjusted the seasoning to make this very light but flavorful sauce or gravy. If it is a bit pale, you may wish to add a teaspoon or two of Kikkoman soy sauce for color and flavor. The loose, fatty, tasty gravy was the clincher for me. The thing that made the chicken just really finger licking good. There was enough gravy so that everyone eating could have as much as half a cup of the stuff if they wanted. :)
I really liked this version of our rotisserie chicken. Again, back to basics, not many tricks (except the brining but that isn’t a shortcut). The crew all liked the chickens and we are just a few tweaks away from our own version for the restaurants… Some folks may find these chickens relatively bland, as a few have mentioned our lechons are bland. But I like them without MSG, and there are lots of other versions out there with tons of MSG, so eat them wherever you like them… :)