My grandmother Perle taught me many important life lessons, but most of all, she taught me how to cook. My earliest memories with Grandma are watching her move around in a confident flurry, whipping up dishes for us to devour. She showed me how to use a gentle hand when making matzah balls so they don’t become dense. We put together crackers topped with Kosher salami and cheddar cheese and broiled to perfection in the toaster oven. Sometimes, we busted out the food processor and whipped up the ever polarizing chopped liver, which I decided to stop eating at age seven after my Uncle Jan told me what the liver actually did… It took me a while to get over that, and during that time, Grandma concocted a vegetarian version that included eggs, fried onions, and peas and while it sounds bizarre, it was actually pretty delicious.
But, the classic Grandma dish is what we affectionately call Grandma Chicken. We ate this chicken almost every Friday night for Shabbat, and all of the matriarchs in my family make this recipe (and a brisket, just in case there isn’t enough food) for the Jewish holidays. If you’re used to roasting a chicken whole, it’s a simple dish. If roasting a whole chicken sounds scary, you can also just use chicken parts and it will still come out delicious.
The real star of this recipe is the paprika. Grandma used a sweet Hungarian paprika but I prefer the smoked hot paprika, because well, some like it hot. It doesn’t matter if it’s from Hungary or Spain but I recommend getting a nicer paprika. My favorite spice shop is Whole Spice at Oxbow Market in Napa, but if you’re not planning a day of drinking in Northern California (which you should be), you can also order from them online: https://wholespice.com/.
My twist on her recipe is to salt the chicken one to two days before you pop it in the oven. This helps for optimal juiciness. Whether you remember to add the salt in advance or not, it’s delicious. But with a little planning, it will be next level.
1 3 ½ – 4 pound chicken, ideally from the butcher, or farmers market. I always buy chicken that is organic, air chilled and antibiotic free. The better chicken you buy, the less you have to do to make it delicious. Here’s a great article from Bon Appetit about the best chicken to buy and why: https://www.bonappetit.com/story/best-chicken-to-buy
½ tablespoon each paprika, black pepper, and garlic powder
A couple tablespoons of water.
¾ teaspoon per pound of kosher salt. For a 3 ½ pound chicken, you will need 2 ¼ teaspoons of salt, and for a 4 pound chicken, you will need 3 teaspoons of kosher salt.
1-2 days before you want to roast the chicken: pat the chicken dry and rub kosher salt all over the skin and in the cavity (amount of salt depends on the size of your bird – see above for guidance)
Put the chicken on a plate, and leave uncovered in the fridge for 1-2 days.
When you are ready to roast the chicken, take it out of the fridge. Combine paprika, black pepper and garlic powder in a small bowl, and gradually add water one tablespoon at a time until it forms a paste.
You want to add just enough water so the spices combine, but not so much that the paste becomes runny.
Rub the paste all over the whole chicken, including inside the cavity.
Transfer the chicken to a roasting pan or large ovenproof skillet. My favorite is to use a 12 inch cast iron. Or I use my 15 inch cast iron and snuggle the chicken amongst large cubes of sweet potatoes.
Roast the chicken at 425 degrees for 1 hour, or until the juices run clear when you pierce the thigh. If you have a meat thermometer, chicken is done at 165F. If you don’t, just make sure those juices really run clear – you don’t want to serve salmonella with undercooked poultry.
Let chicken rest for a minimum of ten minutes and up to 1 hour. The longer time it has to rest, the better chance the juices have to reincorporate into the meat and not end up all over your cutting board.
Carve the chicken into pieces and serve. I usually pair the chicken with roasted sweet potatoes and a mixed green salad.