Spring chicken? Yes!
I can remember sitting in front of the television set with my dad when Shirley Temple, the famous, cute little dimpled and curly-haired child star of the 1930s and '40s appeared on the screen. By this time, she was very adult and had moved from acting to politics.
"She's no spring chicken, anymore, but she still has that sparkle," my dad commented, meaning she was no longer young and still looked good. I've always wondered why the phrase "no spring chicken" was used in reference to someone who was no longer young.
After a bit of research in some old cookbooks and Julia Child's famous "To Roast a Chicken" episode in "The French Chef" series, I made some interesting discoveries. Julia praises the "roaster," which in her day was 5 1/2 to 9 months old and weighed 4-7 pounds, as the most flavorful chicken, and the term "spring chicken" is a British usage which means a young chicken that weighs 1 1/2 to 2 pounds and is 2-3 months old.
With the rise of factory farming, the use of antibiotics and selective breeding in the poultry industry, chickens are growing faster and being slaughtered at a younger age than they were in Julia Child's time. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has revised chicken classifications.
These days, when shopping for chicken at the supermarket, one labeled broiler-fryer will be a modern day "spring chicken," slaughtered at less than 13 weeks old, but weighing up to 3½ pounds. It's not easy to find the kind of "roaster" Julia Child spoke of unless you buy chicken locally, raised free range on pasture with time outdoors to peck around for bugs, worms and natural greens. Chances are these chickens will reach the size and offer the flavor that Child refers to.
When you purchase your whole chicken from the grocery store, it will most likely be a "spring chicken" according to today's USDA standard. And it will look picturesque and deliver fresh flavor after soaking in the juice and zest of citrus for hours.
The day before spring arrived, I asked my husband to fire up the grill so that we could grill a chicken. It was a cloudy, foggy, damp day and I needed some zip. I needed some Three-Citrus Spring Chicken.
Strong, spicy flavors of juices and zest from lemons, limes and oranges are balanced with sweet honey. Plain yogurt and lemony fresh ginger put their meat-tenderizing powers to work as they offer a slight murmur of flavor to the cooked chicken.
A paste made of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and oregano is massaged under the skin, the Mediterranean flavors permeating the meat as it roasts on the grill over an aromatic liquid Perfume that keeps the meat moist as it cooks.
Voluptuous Three-Citrus Spring Chicken, with skin the color of molasses and succulent meat delicately infused with enhancing flavors, looks gorgeous and will brighten any day with its sparkling taste.
Three-Citrus Spring Chicken
1 (3 1/2- to 4-pound) whole chicken
1 (6-ounce) carton plain yogurt
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup honey
Grated zest of 2 lemons
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Grated zest of 1 orange
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
Grated zest of 1 lime
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger root
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1 red onion, divided
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup water
1/2 cup white wine or citrus juice
1 carrot, cut into chunks
1 rib celery, cut into chunks
Remove giblets and neck from chicken. Reserve for another use. Rinse chicken thoroughly under cold water. Pat dry with paper towels and set aside.
Make marinade by whisking all of the ingredients, except red onion, together in a mixing bowl. Cut the red onion in half. Slice one half of the onion and reserve other half to stuff into cavity of chicken. Place chicken in a very large zip-top plastic bag or roasting bag. Pour marinade into the cavity of the bird. Add onion slices to the bag. Seal bag securely. Turn bag to allow marinade to flow out of cavity and coat chicken. Place the bag in a dish and marinate in refrigerator for 8 hours, or overnight, turning the bag occasionally.
Just before it's time to grill the chicken, make Infusion Paste by combining ingredients in a mini-food processor or a blender and whirl until a coarse-textured paste forms.
At grilling time, remove chicken from marinade. Loosen the skin of the chicken over the breast by slipping your hand between the skin and the meat to create a pocket, being careful not to tear the skin. Rub paste onto the meat under skin. Smear remaining paste all over the outside of the chicken.
Stuff chicken with chunks of carrot and celery and remaining half of red onion.
Mix water and lime for Perfume. Pour into an 8-inch disposable pan and position on grill so that it will be directly below the grilling chicken.
Place chicken on grill rack above pan, and cook in covered grill over indirect medium-hot coals (350 to 400 degrees), until thermometer inserted into thigh reads 170 degrees. Allow chicken to sit for 10 to 15 minutes before carving.
Tip from the cook
--When your herb garden is lush, toss a few sprigs of just-picked oregano or thyme into the cavity of the bird and into the Perfume.