In the market squares of Sicily and Calabria, street vendors douse thick swordfish chops with a brilliant mixture of lemon juice and olive oil, toast them over steaming coals and fill the air with ‘a seductive mix of char and sweet. The simple, old-fashioned combination is called salmoriglio, and it’s the main way fish is served in southern Italy.
At Milk Street, we knew the chicken would shine with a similar treat – a quick soak in a lemon marinade followed by a spin on the grill or in a high heat oven, plus a final touch of extra sauce.
For this baked version of our book “Milk Street Tuesday Nights, Mediterranean”, which limits recipes to 45 minutes or less, we first prepare a flavored base of grated lemon zest, garlic, oregano, of salt and pepper. We then use it to season the bone-in chicken thighs and the rest as a base for the salmoriglio that season the finished chicken.
Rather than using the juice of fresh lemons in the sauce, we squeeze lemon halves that have been roasted with the chicken. The heat of the oven softens the acidity so that the sauce has a subtle sweetness and a more restrained acidity.
A touch of honey helps brown the chicken under the grill, and the fresh oregano evokes the herbal aromas of these Sicilian squares.
Start to finish: 45 minutes
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest, plus 2 lemons cut in half crosswise
2 medium garlic cloves, finely grated
1 teaspoon of dried oregano, crumbled
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
3 pounds skin and bone chicken thighs, trimmed and patted dry
1 tablespoon of honey
1 bunch of watercress, trimmed, or a 5-ounce container of baby arugula
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano
Heat oven to 475 ° F with rack in low-middle position. Grate 1 tablespoon of lemon zest, then cut the lemons in half and cut off the pointed ends so that the halves rest stably with the cut sides facing up; set lemon halves aside. In a small bowl, combine the zest, garlic, dried oregano, 1 teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of pepper. Measure 1 tablespoon of the lemon-garlic mixture in a large bowl. Stir 4 tablespoons of oil into the remaining mixture; put aside.
In the large bowl, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil, honey, 1 teaspoon of salt and ½ teaspoon of pepper, then mix. Using a sharp knife, cut parallel notches about 1 inch apart to the bone on both sides of each chicken thigh. Add the thighs to the bowl and turn to coat on all sides, rubbing the seasoning mixture into the notches.
Arrange chicken skin side up and lemon halves, cut sides up, on rimmed baking sheet. Roast until chicken begins to brown and thickest part reaches 165 ° F to 170 ° F, about 20 minutes. With the chicken in the oven, turn on the grill. Continue to cook until the chicken is golden brown and the thickest part reaches about 175 ° F, about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven.
Place the watercress on a serving platter, creating a bed for the chicken. Using tongs, place the chicken on the watercress. Squeeze 3 tablespoons of juice from 1 or 2 of the lemon halves, then mix the juice with the fresh oregano in the lemon-garlic oil to make the salmoriglio. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve with the remaining lemon halves for squeezing.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more recipes, head over to Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street at 177milkstreet.com/ap