Publican chicken: A signature dish of modern Chicago
I can’t be surprised that the roast chicken we make at the Publican is our most famous dish, because it’s “crazy good,” said Paul Kahan in Cheers to the Publican (Lorena Jones Books). “It’s what I’m eating when I’m in the restaurant and it’s what I’m making at home, whether people are coming over or it’s just me and my wife.”
The idea for the dish arose before my partners and I even talked about creating a modern beer hall in Chicago. Donnie Madia and I visited a Portuguese restaurant in Montreal that roasted butterflied chicken over charcoal, then served it over fries, and I knew someday we’d do something like it.
In our interpretation, we cook the chicken over wood and season it with Mexican oregano and a non-AOC version of piment d’Espelette, a smoky ground pepper that’s “one of our absolute favorite ingredients.” Still, “the real secret” is pre-salting and then marinating the chicken, a two-step process that makes the flesh “tender, juicy, and zingy.”
Recipe of the week
1 whole chicken (about 3 lbs)
2½ tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp piment d’Espelette (Espelette pepper)
1 tbsp dried oregano
1½ tbsp brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, sliced
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon, cut in half
Rinse chicken in cold water, dry with a paper towel, then butterfly: Turn breast side down and remove backbone, using a sharp knife or poultry shears, so that it will lie flat. Season on both sides, using slightly less salt than you would if you were cooking the bird right away. Place on a plate, cover with plastic, and refrigerate overnight.
The next morning, combine all marinade ingredients in a large bowl. Toss chicken in and gently rub marinade into both the skin and flesh. Let chicken sit for at least 1 hour and, if refrigerated, as many as 12.
Build a fire on one side of a charcoal grill and let it burn down to embers. Cook chicken skin side down over indirect heat and positioned so legs are just touching the direct heat. Cover grill, with air holes open, so you get good high heat. Cook for 6 minutes, then turn chicken so breasts are over direct heat. Cook another 6 minutes. Flip bird over and repeat cycle. Chicken is done when the middle of breast and thigh reach 160 on a meat thermometer. Let chicken rest 5 minutes.
Transfer chicken to a carving board and cleave into 8 pieces, cutting it in half from neck to tail, removing each breast from the leg and thigh, and cutting each breast on the diagonal. Cut thighs from the legs at the knee joint. Squeeze lemon juice over chicken on the cutting board and save the juices to pour over chicken at the last moment. Serves 2 to 4. ■