Some dishes just stick with you.
For Paul Kahan, it was a whole grilled chicken served over a bed of fries from a hole-in-the-wall Portuguese joint in Montreal.
“The Publican wasn’t even a twinkle in my eye,” says Kahan in his first cookbook Cheers to the Publican, “but I knew we had to serve this in some restaurant, some day.”
And so he did. If you’ve ever been to his brash beer-style hall restaurant, you’ve surely tried it. And we can only assume you have, because partaking in a meal at The Publican in Chicago is like going to church, except here, the holy trinity — naturally — is "oysters, pork and beer.”
Since opening in 2008, The Publican has become the city's de facto spot for fine meal. Sure, that could be said of all of Kahan and One Of Hospitality’s restaurants, from their first, Blackbird, opened in 1997, to their latest, Publican Anker, but there’s something about the original Publican that Chicagoans can say there's nothing else quite like this in the world.
Which is why it makes sense — after 20 years of accolades and awards — that Kahan’s first cookbook comes filled with recipes refined from The Publican kitchen.
Cosmo Goss and Paul Kahan
In Cheers to the Publican, Kahan — along with co-authors Cosmo Goss and Rachel Holtzman — gives the story of how Chicago’s signature restaurant came to be. In addition to all kinds of cheffy insights, it’s an in-depth look at what The Publican stands for: “great product, great cooking, great wine, great beer, great friends, and most important, collaboration —the belief that no idea is a bad idea.”
Below you’ll find the recipe for that famous grilled chicken, straight from the plain-speak prose of Kahan himself. Yes, you’re gonna have to learn how to butterfly a chicken. It’s worth it, trust. After that, it’s as easy as making a marinade. The results? The last chicken recipe you’ll ever need.
Publican Chicken by Paul Kahan
2 ½ T freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ C extra virgin olive oil
1 T piment d’Esplette
1 T dried oregano
1 1/2 T brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, sliced
½ t salt
¼ t freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon, cut in half
First, clean the chicken. Rinse the bird under cold water, and dry with a paper towel.
Now butterfly the chicken, which means taking out all but the drumstick and wing bones so the chicken will lay flat as it cooks. Start by removing the wing tips at the first joint. Then run the chicken vertically so its head (or at least where its head used to be) is on your cutting board. Holding on to the tail, run a sharp boning knife down the ride side of the spine, from top to bottom. Repeat on the other side and remove the backbone.
With the bird flat on the table, breast-side down and legs pointing away from you, make a small vertical cut in the white cartilage that runs over the breastbone. Bend both halves of the chicken backward at the cut, which will make the breastbone pop right through. Run your thumbs or index fingers down both sides of the breastbone, pull to separate from the meat, and then pull the bone out. If it doesn’t come out easily, your your knife to loosen any remaining bone or cartilage.
Finally, with the tip your knife, make a slit along each thighbone to the knee joint. Use your fingers to move the flesh away from the bone and pull the bone out.
Season the chicken on both sides, slightly less than you’d normally season if you were cooking right away. Put the chicken on a plate, cover it with plastic, and let it sit in the fridge overnight.
The next morning, combine all the marinade ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Toss the chicken in there and gently rub the marinade into both the skin and the flesh. Let it sit for at least 1 hour and as many as 12 hours. (Put it back in the fridge if it’s going to sit for more than an hour and remove it from the fridge about an hour or two before you want to cook it.)
If grilling the chicken, build a fire on one side of charcoal grill and let it burn down to the embers. Alternatively, preheat you oven tl 450F
To grill the chicken: Cook the chicken skin-side down over indirect heat and positioned so the legs are just touching the direct heat. Cover the grill with the air holes open so you get good high heat. Cook for 6 minutes, then turn the chicken so the breasts are over the direct heat. Cook for another 6 minutes. Flip the bird over and do it again (another 6 minutes with the legs over direct heat, another 6 minutes with the breasts over direct heat).
To tell if the chicken’s done, you can put a sharp paring knife in the breast and thigh (the thickest part of the bird), hold it for a few seconds, then touch it to your arm. If it’s hot, it’s done. People will tell you that you shouldn’t be poking and prodding your meat if it’s done, but I’m telling you that there’s no human being on this planet who can tell you if a whole chicken is done by just touching it. There’s nothing wrong with poking and prodding. Really. You used an instant-read meat thermometer instead; the chicken is done at 160F. Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes.
To roast the chicken in the oven: Add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the big ovenproof skillet and heat over high heat until it smokes; then put the chicken, skin-side down, in the pan and cook over medium heat until a nice golden crust forms, about 5 minutes. Transfer the pan to the oven, without flipping the chicken over, and cook for 10 more minutes. Flip the chicken and cook for 8 minutes for a total of 23-ish minutes. Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes in the pan.
Put the chicken on a carving board and hack it up. Or more specifically: Transfer the chicken to a carving board and cut it into 8 pieces. Start by cutting it in half from the neck to the tail. Next, remove each breast from the leg and thigh, then cut through each breast on the diagonal, dividing it into two pieces. Then cut the thighs from the legs at the knee joint.
Squeeze lemon juice over the whole thing on the cutting board and be sure to save all the juices — it’s important to pour them over the chicken just before you serve it, especially if it’s over a mound of Frites.
Recipe excerpt from Cheers to the Publican, Repast and Present: Recipes and Ramblings from an American Beer Hall