Some weeks ago I got it in my head to try to find what used to be normal-sized chickens – those about 2 to 2½ pounds. An impossibility! You can find a chicken breast half that weighs almost that much but no delicate little birds are to be found anywhere. So, my best buddy Lynn and I cornered Chrissy Chiacchia from Gaia’s Breath Farm (for mail orders try firstname.lastname@example.org) at the Cooperstown Farmers Market and she agreed to produce 3 small chickens for me to try.
This past weekend the chickens came home to roost and, although by now I had forgotten exactly what I had planned to do with them, they found their way into a spur-of-the-moment on the grill dish. I had a container of Kalamata olives and a small jar of 3 preserved lemons from Kalustyan’s (www.kalustyans.com). The combination of the smoke from the grill (we only use hardwood charcoal) and the wonderful farm-fresh flavor of the chicken wedded to the punguent, salty lemons and olives made for a very memorable meal. It didn’t hurt that we had a chilled bottle of Veuve Clicquot to toast our good fortune.
This recipe should serve 6 people unless you are used to giant pieces of chicken – it would then feed 4 amply. And, if you don’t have a grill handy, it would work just fine in the oven.
Three 2 to 2½ pound chickens, rinsed and patted dry
3 small fresh spring onions
1 cup white wine
⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 preserved lemons with their preserving liquid
1 cup Kalamata olives
About 2 to 3 tablespoons torn fresh mint leaves
About 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
About 1 tablespoon torn fresh sage leaves
About 1 tablespoon torn fresh basil leaves
Whatever chicken giblets that came with the chickens except the livers
About 2 pounds small new potatoes, cut in half
Freshly ground pepper
Preheat the grill. If using charcoal as we do, build a hot fire on one side of the grill and place the grill racks on. I don’t have any real experience with gas grills but would imagine you could heat one side of a gas grill as well.
Place an onion in the cavity of each chicken.
Place the chickens in a large baking dish – I used my largest cast iron skillet. Pour in the wine and olive oil.
Slice the lemons, crosswise, and randomly place the slices around the chickens and into the liquid. Add the olives and herbs to the pan along with the giblets.
Nestle the potatoes around the chickens.
Pour whatever preserved lemon liquid that remains in the container over the chickens and then liberally sprinkle pepper over all.
Place the pan on the grill away from the fire. Cover and roast, adding coals to keep the fire at about 400ºF for the first hour. Continue to roast for about another 30 minutes or until the chickens are golden brown and cooked through. The fire can be less hot for the final 30 minutes.
Remove from the grill and let rest for a few minutes. Cut each chicken in half and serve with the potatoes, lemon slices, and olives and any pan juices.