Chicken-Rub Laboratory, Mark I

The elusive perfect chicken rub.
The elusive perfect chicken rub.

We hear it all the time, “what’s good with chicken?” Some workers at the Spice House fear this question, and for good reason. The difficulty here is not that it is difficult to find a seasoning that pairs well with chicken, quite the opposite. As most folks already know chicken’s legendary culinary tagline: “good with everything”.  We have a great variety of seasonings we make in house that are wonderful with chicken. We have done the work for you, each blend may have as many as 33 ingredients, you just need to shake on or rub in. For those who like to experiment,  making your own rubs and seasonings from scratch  is both rewarding and a lot of fun. Mad scientist type of fun.  I have thereby taken it upon myself to test out my own personal spice mixtures and recipes, posting updates along the way.

Some folks don’t really give chicken its due, declaring it bland and boring. Here in the States, it is easy to see why the poor bored has garnered such a reputation. According to the National Chicken Council, chicken is the most consumed protein in the country, coming in at just under 84 pounds per capita. That’s a lot of chicken. There is no doubt that by the time most Americans have reached adulthood, we have consumed so much chicken that it would inevitably start to taste a bit bland and boring.

Well seasoned and prepared chicken is far from bland, and never need to be boring. This favorite fowl has a light but deep flavor of its own, although often overlooked or unnoticed. The majority of a chicken’s natural flavors concentrate in the fatty skin and dark meat sections of the bird, the lowest concentration being found in the breast meat. Many health conscious consumers avoid cooking whole birds, primarily cooking skinless breast meat. Do to the nature of these experiments, I recommend whole oven roasted birds, as they allow for the appreciation of all of the bird’s natural flavors. Although, I will be preparing the birds whole here, there is no reason that these recipes could not be adapted for use on any individual part of the bird. Although it wont be quite the best, these seasonings should even work for those who enjoy the ease of health-minded frozen skinless boneless chicken breasts.

For the first pursuit, I decided to try a variation on a South-East Asian classic, using a savory rub and complimenting it with a sweet Mae Ploy chile sauce glaze. Mae Ploy is a Thai sweet chile sauce, this is the classic condiment that many westerners dip spring rolls in. Thai style sweet chile sauces, be them Mae Ploy or not, are common place enough that most of my readers should be able to find one in their local grocer. If not, you can always buy some on Amazon, or easily make your own at home with this handy recipe.

As for the rub, I wanted to contrast the sweetness of the glaze and compliment the deep dark meat flavors naturally in the chicken. For this I turned to Urfa Biber chile flakes, a rich smokey and raisiny chile pepper from Turkey. This chile has a mild bite of heat to it, just enough to be noticeable but not hot enough that it would upset even the the most sensitive of pallets. I’ve then tempered the Urfa with the slightly sweeter Aleppo Pepper, one of my personal favorite chile peppers. Aleppo shares a number of similarities to the Urfa Biber, but the Aleppo is more tangy where the Urfa is raisiny. I then add some Half-Sharp Hungarian Paprika for color and balance,  Kosher Salt and a touch of plain sugar to aid in the penetration of the rub into the meat. Finally I added just a hint of ground white pepper, to further smooth out and amalgamate the flavors of the chili peppers.

The 3 pound chicken was generously covered and worked over with the rub, making sure to coat both the inside and outside of the bird. I then let the chicken rest in the refrigerator overnight, to really let the rub penetrate. The next day, I brushed off any excess rub and roasted the bird at 425 degrees F for about 60-70 minutes. Periodically basting with its own juices and checking the birds temp with a meat thermometer, I removed the bird when the thigh read 150 degrees F. At this point, I let the bird rest for about ten minutes and raised the oven to 450 degrees. After resting, I halved the whole chicken with a large chefs knife, cutting right through the bone. I returned the two halves to the pan, and coated each half with about a half cup of Mae Ploy chile sauce. I then returned the chicken to the oven, and roasted until the thigh read 165 and the skin was a crisp glazed brown (or if you like a crispy and slightly burnt skin, hit it with your oven broiler for a minute or two at this point).

I called the slightly burnt piece, I'm a sucker for burnt glazed chicken skin.
I called the slightly burnt piece, I’m a sucker for burnt glazed chicken skin.

The result, pretty fantastic, I would give it a 7.5 out of 10 on my personal chicken perfection scale. The sweet glaze works well with the earthy Urfa Biber, doing well to complement both the dark and light meat of the chicken. I think it needs more acid though, perhaps the next rub will see the addition of citrus of some kind. Let me know what you guys think if you try it at home.

Here’s the Rub:

Perfect Chicken Rub 1.0

2 tablespoons Urfa Biber

1 tablespoon Aleppo Pepper

1 tablespoon Half-Sharp Hungarian Paprika

2 tablespoons Kosher Salt

1/2 tablespoon white sugar

1 teaspoon ground white pepper

Mix together in a small bowl, store in an airtight container.


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