On this very month approximately two years ago, I set off on a journey that, unknown to me then, would become one of the most memorable experiences of my life. My study abroad experience in Spain has undeniably instilled in me a greater appreciation for a culture that I have studied for so long and an even greater curiosity in discovering new cuisine to tantalize these tastebuddies.
In essence, to know Spanish culture is to know their food. Eating in Spain is certainly a culture in and of itself. But before I go into the details, I have to give credit where it is due. My roommates and I were truly blessed to be placed in a home with a host mom whom I believe was gifted in the art of cookery.
Among her other warm motherly attributes, this by far was our favorite. With varied meals like Paella, Meatballs, Baked Trout, Pork chops and the like, we couldn’t want for anything more (but always a little bit less!! She was always stuffing us) We didn’t realize how lucky we were until we had spoken to other students in the program whose dinners usually always consisted of tuna sandwiches and cold soup. Ay yay yay !!
A little later on, we found out that particular host mom had been spending the money to cook elaborate meals for her own family while skimping on the poor students. Mind you, this was a rarity and most of the kids in my program were very pleased with their homestay food experience. I might be a little biased, but I believe ours was the best.
The reason I chose this recipe is because during the cold winter months, roasted meats were a solid part of our scrumptious meals. Antonita, as we lovingly came to call her, roasted anything and everything. Everyday in the morning, she diligently went to the produce market to get the freshest ingredients and I think this is what made all the difference.
First she would start us off with a hearty bowl of creamed vegetable soup which she always made from scratch. This was then followed by the main course and a light dessert. The eating times in Spain are a little way different from what we are accustomed to here in the U.S.
While some of us enjoy a savory breakfast of sausage and eggs in the morning, breakfast there is not much more than a cup of espresso with a side of a small creamy pastry. In our home, it was more like milk with an array of goodies any mother would label appetite-ruining sweets: chocolate covered biscottis, nutella spread, cereals of all kinds, cookies, and toast. This was “supposed” to sustain you until lunch time which started no earlier than 2:30 or even 3:00 in the afternoon.
Lunch was usually the heaviest meal of the day and this was when we would get our roasted pork chops and chicken. It did take awhile to get used to and this meant putting up with hungry stomach noises all throughout my 12pm class. It was OK, every single American in that room shared the same sentiment. Our professor would just laugh and just shake her head when we all made a mad dash out the door to get home after class.
It is no wonder then that many succumb to the the pleasures of siesta time (usually food coma induced) after lunch where the hours between 3 and 6 pm don’t know the meaning of work. Children are off from school, businesses close down, and the streets are fairly empty.
Many enjoyed their siestas by taking naps in the park amongst strangers (incredible! I could never do that in my city). Nothing is to pick back up until the early hours of the evening and even then, some stores may decide to extend their siesta into the very next morning.
Children are allowed out until the late hours of the night, having had a nap for 4 hours or more. Finally, the last meal of the day is served no earlier than 9 or 10 pm in the evening. For these, we usually got anything from pizza to salad or hamburgers (which I must say is unlike any hamburger I have ever had in my life – but delicious nonetheless!!).
The dinner table definitely made for an intimate ambiance between us roommates. The table was just a little bigger than a coffee table and elbows touching elbows was inevitable while eating. It was a great way to catch up on the day or to lay out plans for that night’s debauchery.
As you can see, the role of food in Spain is front and center in everyday life – in so many other ways that I haven’t even touched on (ie Tapas, Churros con Chocolate) and it was interesting to experience how a slight change in schedule can bring about a distinct way of life. With that said, I think it’s pretty telling why I picked out this roasted chicken recipe.
To make this happen, you will need:
1 whole chicken, about 3lbs
olive oil for brushing onto the bird
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4oz. chorizo sausage, diced
4oz. lean ground pork (or ground chicken)
4 tbs chopped flat leaf parsley
4 garlic cloves crushed
pinch of nutmeg
2 tbs finely choppped onion
1 tbs chopped oregano leaves
finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1.5 tbs of salt
*when I made this, I used a 6 lb chicken and I just doubled the recipe for the stuffing.
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F
Step 2: Make the stuffing: put all the ingredients in a bowl and (using your hands), mix together all ingredients until they are evenly combined.
Step 3: Place the stuffing inside the chicken and tie the legs together with cooking string (if you don’t have this, don’t worry about it).
Step 4: Transfer the chicken into a roasting pan or a deep pan (I used a cake pan lined with foil) and lightly brush the chicken skin with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Make sure the chicken is evenly coated on all sides.
Step 5: Place the chicken in the oven and let it roast for 30 minutes at 400 degrees. After thirty minutes, lower the temperature to 325 degrees and roast for an additional hour or until the internal temperature of the thigh reads 180 degrees. *general rule of thumb: allow about 20-25 minutes per pound of chicken
Step 4: Remove from the oven and let the bird rest for 10 to 15 minutes before cutting and serving.
Don’t quite know how to carve from a whole chicken? Alton Brown keeps it simple and convincing that you too can tackle carving a bird yourself.
This chicken is quite easy to make and uses everyday ingredients which you can get at just about any grocery store. The first thing I noticed after the first bite into the stuffing was the lemony flavor and then the savory smokyness of the chorizo. The herbs were mild, but they were definitely there.
Meat from the chicken pretty much fell off the bone and the breast meat was so tender and juicy! For you skin lovers out there, the skin came out nice and crispy but it softened while we waited the extra 5 to 10 minutes before carving it. There was also a LOT of fat drippings at the bottom of the pan (about 2 cups worth) so if you DO have a roasting pan that catches the drippings underneath, I highly suggest you use it.
The recipe suggests pairing the chicken with sauteed mushrooms, roasted asparagus, and/or mashed potatoes. Imagine my pleasant surprise when my dinner guests came over with none other than, you guessed it, mashed potatoes (loaded mashed potatoes I might add) and roasted asparagus.
When surrounded with great food and great company, life slows down for awhile, and you get to enjoy the simple things and sometimes reminisce and about a moment that once existed thousands of miles away.
To Spain, to the sake of cooking for memories, to nostalgia and good company,