October 8, 2018
A Greener, Spicier Roast Chicken
Hot_green_chutney_roasted_chicken_hero_V31

Leftover greens make an okay salad, but they make an even better roast chicken.

There I was again, staring at the arugula and kale, which, just like bad house guests, were close to overstaying their welcome in the back space of the drawer in my refrigerator. Visions of wilt-y leaves drizzled with vinaigrette filled my mind, but I was hungry for something warm and savory and a little bit spicy.

In India, where I grew up, bright-green herb-based condiments called chutneys are common. A typical setup involved a bunch of fresh cilantro, maybe a bit of mint on occasion, fresh peppers for heat, and a generous squirt of lime juice to brighten things up, all blended to create a chutney. We’d eat this as a dipping sauce for samosas or folded into yogurt to make a green raita or smear it generously between layers of buttered bread to make sandwiches. When I moved to Cincinnati some 15 years ago, I ate out a lot, as a way to experience America, my new home. I’d visit the Italian restaurant near my school, where I tried pesto, which was similar to the chutney I was familiar with but rich with olive oil, pine nuts, and Parmesan and notably absent of heat.

I tend to pick up arugula and kale on my trips to the farmers’ market or the grocery store for their flavor—arugula’s mild pepperiness and kale’s gentle bitterness. And unlike some herbs, they don’t blacken easily when bruised and hold on to their verdant nature. If anything, these leftover greens in my refrigerator were ideal candidates for some sort of condiment consideration. So off they went into my blender, with a few serrano chiles, a bit of onion, lime juice, and olive oil along with a bit of whole seed spices, caraway, coriander and cumin and blended gently just enough to shatter the seeds and to get a mixture with a thick and coarse texture.

This hot green chutney made a good dip, it made a good spread, and I even smeared it over a bit of pita and threw some shredded cheese on top, which melted away. I drizzled a little over warm roasted potatoes. I snuck some into the space between the skin and the flesh of a whole chicken and let it marinate before sticking it into a hot oven. The fat dripped away to create a dark amber-colored crispy skin that encased a bird, seasoned with the flavors of the greens, the peppers, the spices, and the acidity of the lime, all of which had permeated the meat. I cut it apart with a knife and excitedly tore some of the flesh away, dunking it into a bit of the extra chutney that sat aside in a bowl.

Here was a hot and herb-y condiment born out of a need to adapt to not only what was available and out of necessity to reduce waste but also out of experiences that I now remembered and stored in the back of my mind from living in my two homes, India and America, techniques and ingredients that I learned in each of these countries. They were now together—one in my bowl of hot green chutney and lathered inside my now golden-brown, crispy roasted chicken, and it tasted good.

RECIPE: Hot Green Chutney-Roasted Chicken

Nik Sharma

Nik Sharma is an award-winning freelance food writer and photographer. He also writes a recipe-based food column for the San Francisco Chronicle called A Brown Kitchen and is also the author of the blog A Brown Table. His first cookbook, Season (Chronicle Books), was published in October 2018. He lives in Oakland, California.

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