Breakaway Cook

Cumin Chicken with a Rice Crust


We interrupt this matcha vegetarian lovefest with a one-dish wonder of a supper, the mighty cumin chicken/roasted yukon gold combo.

I like buying whole chicken legs — Falletti’s in SF sells the amazing Mary’s chicken, which is far and away the tastiest/most flavorful chicken that’s readily available (one-off “artisanal” birds are another story).

I’ve cooked them a million ways over the years, on the holy grail for ever-crispier skin and meat that completely falls off the bone, and I think I’ve finally settleD on a truly great method that results in juicy, intensely flavorful meat and skin with a texture similar to potato chips. The secret? Rice! Here is how I do it:

  1. Rinse and dry the legs, and set them on a cutting board skin-side up. Drizzle on some olive oil, and rub them thoroughly with it. Preheat oven 375.
  2. The next step is decide what kind of crispy crust to create. The latest and greatest favorite is about a tablespoon of finely ground very fresh cumin (I buy mine at the SF Herb Co) and another heaping tablespoon of finely pulverized rice, usually basmati or japonica, it doesn’t really matter. You then simply combine the cumin and the rice in the spice grinder, and liberally dust it over the skin-side of the chicken. Use your fingers to lay it on fairly thick. If you need to make more of the cumin-rice mixture, do so. (you could even make a little extra for later inspirations, and store it in a small lidded jar near your stove, where you can see it).
  3. Spray the rice-cumin coating with olive oil (to make it adhere), then dust with freshly ground peppercorns and plenty of kosher salt. Spray it again (to make it stick).
  4. Heat up a cast-iron pan (it really should be cast iron — here’s a video why) over high heat, add a small drizzle of olive oil, and swirl it around to cover the whole pan, adding more if needed, and being careful not to add TOO much, since the chicken will render plenty of schmaltz.
  5. Place the chicken, spice side down, into the pan, and sprinkle on a good amount of salt and pepper onto the meat. Turn down the heat to medium-high, and let the spiced skin get deeply browned. Don’t shake the pan or stir or anything, just leave it alone for a good five minutes at least. Add a bunch of yukon gold potatoes, as many as will comfortably fit into the pan without crowding.
  6. Using tongs, lift one of the legs up to check the brownness. Once you’re happy with how it looks, flip them over, cook for a minute or two on the other side, and transfer to the oven. Set the timer for 40 minutes while you cleanup, set the table, make a simple salad, open the wine,  and smother your beloved with kisses.
  7. Remove the pan from the oven, heat up your plates (very important — it’s one easy and simple step that makes a huge difference), plate up the dinner, and prepare for addiction.

When dinner’s over, if I’m feeling lazy I toss the bones into a freezer bag and freeze, to be used for stock whenever I next get around to it, but just as often I’ll toss them into a pot of water, along with a carrot, some bay leaves, some leek tops, or whatever veggies need to be used up, bring to a boil, and cook it over low heat till it’s time to go to bed. A gorgeous and healthful soup stock will then be there, on the stove, for lunch the next day.

If you’ve got a good method for juicy, crispy chicken legs, let us know!