For better roasted chicken, slather spices under the skin

Garam Masala + Tamarind Roasted Chicken (Milk Street via AP)
Garam Masala + Tamarind Roasted Chicken (Milk Street via AP)

Slathering sauces or seasonings over a chicken before roasting can produce a beautiful bird, but it can also deliver lackluster flavor. That's why we prefer to season a chicken under the skin.

Sliding spices and aromatic seasonings under the skin increases flavor by putting the ingredients in direct contact with the meat. The skin also helps them stay put during cooking.

We also maximize flavor in this recipe from our book "COOKish," which limits recipes to just six ingredients without sacrificing flavor, by using two powerhouse pantry shortcuts.

The first is garam masala, an Indian spice blend with seven or more spices, including cumin, bay, fennel, cinnamon, dried chiles and black pepper. And the second is tamarind chutney (available online and from specialty stores), a sweet-tart punch of flavor that acts like several ingredients in one, balancing the richness of the chicken with bright acid and taming the spices. Blending both with butter makes the seasoning paste, which we supplement with extra cinnamon and black pepper to bring added warmth.

As the chicken roasts, the paste blends with the rendered fat from the skin and suffuses the meat with rich, complex flavors. We like serving it with mild-tasting lentils and warmed flatbread to sop up the juices.

Garam Masala and Tamarind Roasted Chicken

  • 4 tablespoons salted butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon tamarind chutney, plus more to serve
  • 1 tablespoon garam masala
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 (4-pound) whole chicken

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Set a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet.

Mix the butter, chutney, garam masala, cinnamon, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Using your fingers, loosen the skin from the meat on the chicken's breast and thigh areas, then smear the mixture evenly under the skin. Season all over with salt, then tuck the wings to the back and tie the legs. Set the bird breast up on the rack and roast until the thighs reach 175 degrees, 60 to 80 minutes. Let rest for about 30 minutes, then carve. Drizzle with additional chutney.

Makes 4 servings.

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