A cooked chicken says many things while saying nothing at all.
A cooked chicken speaks to something primal within us. It reminds us that while so many things in life are not guaranteed, what is guaranteed is that seasoning and citrussing a chicken, frying it for a short while and then roasting it for just a slightly longer while is phenomenal.
I like that kind of security. It’s a promise that will never let you down. Juicy meat and crispy skin not a hope but a vow, a chicken does more than speak. It serenades. If you think I have romanticised this a little too much you’re half right, but you’re also half wrong because I could go on.
But to know me is to know my adoration for chicken and I wouldn’t, and couldn’t, have opened my Food Talk newsletter without a recipe for it.
It shall be the Helen of Troy of Food Talk.
Lemon and mint is not an innovative flavour pairing, I admit, but innovation is never my primary goal with cooking. All I want is tender chicken with maximum flavour, so I have added ground cumin in to the mix.
There’s something about the pairing of cumin and mint – an insane combination to rub into lamb, I must also add – that seems to give a nutty, earthiness to the floral, menthol coolness of the mint, sharpened and brought into technicolour by the lemon. And we use juice, zest AND whole lemon rounds here. So the lemon presence is thrice the effect.
I’ve referenced a skillet in the name of this recipe because this is my preferred tool. I find it’s heat retention incredibly useful for this kind of cooking where you have to transfer safely from hob to oven, and as someone who has accidentally misused and exploded a Le Creuset pot to shards on the hob, this gives me sufficient security.
However, any pan which you can fit the chicken pieces snuggly and transfer from hob to oven with ease will do fine, just be mindful that if it is metal, the chicken will brown quicker so keep your eye on it and perhaps keep on a gentler flame. If you don’t have such a vessel handy, begin the recipe in a frying pan and put a roasting tin in the oven while it preheats and at the part where you put the chicken in the oven, just carefully transfer the chicken and lemons from your frying pan to the warmed roasting tin and continue as instructed.
I’ve used three plump chicken legs here (so to say, the thigh and drumstick connected with the skin intact) but there is absolutely nothing stopping you from doing this recipe with just thighs with no need to tweak the recipe below, but if you use just drumsticks I’d start checking the chicken around the 30 minute mark once it’s in the oven.
FYI, when we did the photo session for this chicken, my wonderful photographer Lowri watched me cook. She hates cooking and she asked me if she could prepare the chicken – i.e. everything up to point 4 in the below instructions – and then take it to her boyfriend to cook. And my answer, in case anybody else is as culinary challenged as she, is yes.
Yes you can.
1kg chicken legs
1 teaspoon dried mint
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons olive oil
A handful of fresh mint
1/4 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
- Place your chicken legs in a large bowl and then scatter in the mint and cumin.
- Grate the zest of 1 of the lemons over the chicken and then halve the lemon. Squeeze the juice all over the chicken – mind the pips.
- Empty in 2 tablespoons of the oil and sprinkle in some salt and black pepper. Now using your hands, or a spoon if your squeamish, move the chicken legs around as much as you can, giving them a slight massage as you go, ensuring they are evenly covered in the mint, cumin and lemon mix.
- Cover the bowl and leave to marinade. You could leave it on the countertop for 30 minutes – 1 hour and then continue cooking or leave it in the fridge – the longer the better – but before you start cooking, your chicken should be at room temperature.
- When you’re ready to cook, preheat the oven to 200C and place a skillet (or other vessel – see intro) on a medium heat with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil in it.
- Once the oil is hot, place your chicken legs in the pan skin side down. You’ll hear a big sizzle and that’s exactly what you want to hear.
- Cook the legs – without moving – until they are golden brown, which should take roughly 5 minutes. Don’t feel inclined to peek. Nothing exciting will happen before 5 minutes so leave them alone, they’ll be fine.
- In this 5 minutes, grab the remaining 1 lemon and cut into thin slices, removing pips as you go.
- After the 5 minutes, turn your chicken over revealing the golden, bronzed skins. Drop the lemon slices into the pan, in and around the chicken, gently salt and pepper the skins of the chicken and then carefully transfer the pan to the now hot oven and leave to cook for 35 – 40 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and wonderfully tender.
- Carefully transfer the skillet or pan to a heat resistant mat or wherever you tend to put your hot pots and pans to cool down and allow to rest, just for a short while, so you can finely chop up your fresh mint.
- Scatter the fresh mint over the pan along with the sprinkle of dried chilli flakes.
- Serve the chicken – I go for a leg per person which is often just 2 for this – with 1 spare for me the next day – and don’t forget to use a spoon to scoop up the savoury, lemon soused chickeny juices that are still in the skillet, and spoon over the chicken on your plate.
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