Grab your gardening shears. Grab a basket, a bag, a sack, anything with handles. Feel the weight and the cool metal of the shears rest against the warm embrace of your palm. Make the most of this auspicious occasion. You don’t garden. You’d like to. But you don’t.
Call out to your shadows. Announce you are off to forage. You don’t forage either. But you hear it’s the thing to do, the word du jour to throw around. So you try it out. It makes you feel current, in the know, in the now.
From your neighbors.
With your children in tow.
You have been given permission to do so. So your conscience sleeps easy.
Make the marinade. Combine the yogurt, shio koji or salt, and honey. Yogurt tenderizes, shio koji for umami, and a drizzle of honey to balance out the acids but more importantly to sweeten your taste buds and your life. Marvel at the instant color transformation as the saffron water drip-drops into the yogurt mix. It just never gets old. The beauty of saffron. Refrain from dipping your finger in for a taste. There’s more goodness to come.
Take your children by the hand and walk them across the street. Show them how to look left – right and then left – right again before crossing. Such a simple gesture holding such weight. Will they ever get it? Have you repeated yourself enough? Will your heart ever grant you permission to let them go?
Across the street.
Across the ocean.
What if they look left but then get distracted by the rolly polly bug they have entrapped in the fold of their skirt and forget to look right?
Watch them run towards the overflowing, bountiful rosemary bush standing guard at your neighbor’s front yard.
Put the neglected shears to work and snip away as the girls run their hands along the spindly branches and stick their noses in as far as they can and take a long, deep inhale. Mmmm’s and ahhhs abound. Mostly for their own pleasure but also to please you. To let you know that they’re old enough, sophisticated enough to appreciate the sharp, woodsy aroma that permeates the air as they brush against each and every branch. The scent that carries with it a promise. A promise of something good and tasty to come. They want you to know that they get it. They’re in the know, in the now.
Cut a lemon in half and squeeze with one hand as the other hand catches the seeds before they hit the yogurt mixture. Inevitably a couple always sneak through. Fish them out with a spoon, a fork, your fingers. Balance the microplane over the bowl and zest an orange, rhythmically tapping on the side of the bowl as you release all the brilliant flecks. Magical fairy dust your girls would proclaim. Flip the microplane over and run your finger along the back of the cool grates. Inevitably some of the magic gets stuck back there. Refrain from dipping your finger in for a taste. There’s more goodness to come.
Move on to your next heist. The next house. The next yard. The lemon tree. The very same one that serves as the official ambassador for the girls’ lemonade stands. The very same one that brightens up every stew, sauce, dip, and dressing with a burst of flavor. If it needs fixing squeeze a little lemon on it (a little more salt wouldn’t hurt either).
Fill the basket, the bag, the sack with as much citrus as you and your shadows can carry back. Haul your loot back home.
Take the top off the orange blossom water. Bahar narenj – spring orange. Bring it close and take a long deep inhale. You do this every time. Even though by now you are fully versed with its mesmerizing scent. The scent of spring, of love, of poetry. Mmmm and ahhhh to no one in particular. Mostly for your own pleasure but also to please your sense of memory. Memory of a land, a time, a childhood that you can now only recall in fragments, in splinters and in the alchemy of bahar narenj. Carefully, very carefully add a few drops to the yogurt mixture. You don’t want to go overboard with orange blossom water.
Spread your loot out on the backyard table.
Lay down a few rosemary sprigs on a small roasting pan. Set the chicken on top. Gently run your fingers under the skin of the breast, creating some space without tearing the skin. Work your way around the bird as much as you can. Lifting the skin off the meat. Gently. Gently.
Take a moment and look up. Look up and beyond. That’s where true beauty reveals itself. Up and beyond your shared fence. Up and beyond where your next door neighbor’s orange tree weeps down over your fence. It’s not oranges that you spot but orange blossoms. Uncapped. Un-bottled. Fragments and splinters of memory permeate the air and swirl all around you at a dizzying speed.
Spoon half the the marinade under skin of the chicken. Get in there with your hands. Rub it all around. Gently. Gently. Try not to tear that skin. Pour the rest of the marinade on top of the chicken, and inside the chicken. Front and back.
Grab a stool.
Stuff the cavity with lemon, orange, a shallot, a sprig of rosemary.
Grab your shears.
Place the chicken in the oven.
Climb on top of the stool. Reach your arm out and grab a branch.
While the chicken roasts prepare the barberries and caramelized onion.
Ignore the concerned calls from your shadows.
Scatter the barberries over the orange blossom chicken and serve.
It’s a quick clean cut. A single click of the shears and there you stand with an orange blossom branch in your hands.
Set aside a plate. Place a few chicken pieces on the plate and spoon the fragrant juices all over.
Walk over to your next door neighbor’s house. With your shadows in tow and a plate of chicken in hand.
Make sure you have some crusty bread to dip into the pan juices.
Ease your conscience and tell the neighbors about the shears, the orange blossom, the thieving. Hand over the chicken plate.
AN ORANGE BLOSSOM, YOGURT, SAFFRON, SHIO KOJI ROAST CHICKEN
- If I’m going to roast chicken I usually roast 2 chickens. I use the bones for chicken stock and any remaining meat can be used in sandwiches, soups, stews. This recipe can easily be doubled.
- If you use only one chicken make sure you don’t use a large roasting pan. You don’t want the juices to disperse and burn.
- Orange blossom water and barberries can be found online and at Middle Eastern grocery stores. Check here for a more detailed post on how to clean barberries.
- Shio Koji adds a great depth of flavor and helps in tenderizing the chicken but you can easily use sea salt instead. Amounts for both given in the recipe below.
- You can also use a small onion wedge to stuff the cavity if you don’t have any shallots on hand.
1 4-lb. chicken
1 cup plain yogurt
1/3 cup shio koji OR 1 heaping tablespoon sea salt
1 tablespoon honey
1 large lemon, half of it juiced, the other half quartered
zest of one orange, save 1/4 wedge for stuffing cavity
1/4 teaspoon ground saffron steeped in 1 tbs hot water
1 1/4 teaspoon orange blossom water
3 large rosemary sprigs
olive oil, for drizzling
caramelized onion with barberries (recipe below)
1- Combine the yogurt, shio koji or salt, honey, lemon juice, orange zest, saffron water, and orange blossom water in a small bowl.
2- Place 2 rosemary sprigs on a small roasting pan. Place chicken on top. Starting at the neck of the chicken, very gently lift the skin off the breast. Run your fingers down the chicken gently lifting the skin off the meat as far as you can. Try not to tear the skin. Spoon half of the marinade under the skin of the chicken. Rub the rest of the marinade all over the outside of the chicken and inside the cavity. Marinade in the fridge for at least 2 hours or preferably overnight.
3- Preheat the oven to 350F. Take the chicken out of the fridge and allow to come to room temperature for 30 mins. Stuff the cavity with 1 shallot, 1 rosemary sprig, 1/4 wedge of a lemon, and 1/4 wedge of an orange. If you have any citrus left over you can slice into rounds and place on top of the chicken. Drizzle the top of the chicken with olive oil, about 1 tablespoon.
4- Roast chicken for 1 1/2 – 2 1/2 hours. Basting with pan juices every 20 minutes. You want the skin to get crisp and golden but if it starts burning loosely cover. Roast until a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh reads at 165F degrees.
5- Allow the chicken to rest for 15 minutes. Spoon the pan juices and the barberries over the chicken and serve with plenty of crusty bread to dip into the pan juices.
CARAMELIZED ONION AND BARBERRIES
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 cup barberries, picked through and soaked
1- In a small pan heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, sprinkle with a little salt and cook, stirring frequently until gently caramelized, about 20 minutes. Turn down the heat if necessary. Add the barberries and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and set aside until needed.