|Rao’s Original, the toughest table in town.|
One of New York’s most iconic restaurants is almost impossible to get into. Unless you are a bold-faced name or a local politician or, even better, a family with “connections” to a very specific group of Italian families, your chances of scoring a table there are slim to none. Rao’s breaks every rule from its location (East Harlem, 455 East 114th Street NYC (Tel: 212-722-6709)) to its size (tiny) to its hours (Monday to Friday only) to its steadfastly sticking to Italian American classics on its menu. Lately, Rao’s has expanded to Las Vegas and Los Angeles where you’ll find a far bigger welcome at far bigger restaurants than the home office ever provided.
|Chef Annie Petito of Cook’s Illustrated|
This is because the chickens Rao’s uses are not readily found in supermarkets and because there is no way a home cook can achieve the results Rao’s salamander does. No home broiler is that powerful. And so Cook’s Illustrated, in the person of Annie Petito, set about to create a version that brought this lemon-y, crispy, chicken with its perfect-for-dipping sauce to the home table. As always, Chef Petito did an exhaustive amount of cooking to come anywhere close to Rao’s recipe. In my initial foray into the Cook’s Illustrated version, the results were impressive. Certainly the lemon-y brightness was there. The chicken was infused with lemon flavor while the skin kept its crispness and crunch. But I did have a problem: To me this is dinner-party food and not something I would cook on a weeknight. It requires a little time. So I remade the recipe to break it into manageable blocks of cooking time. All the early prep and partial cooking is done before the guests arrive. The cooking is then halted. Only in the final fifteen minutes before serving does the chicken go back in the oven before briefly resting and being served.
If you want to understand the science that went into Cook’s Illustrated’s version, please see Issue 140 of the magazine published in May/June 2016. I will forgo that and just forge ahead with the recipe, which replaces whole chickens with chicken parts, uses a quick brining technique to season and keep the meat moist and then dries the skin to insure its crispness. Cook’s Illustrated goes on to say “to ensure crisp skin, pour the sauce around, not on, the chicken right before serving”. The other alteration I made: Cook’s Illustrated managed to fit all their chicken into one 12 inch skillet. I opted to transfer my considerably more chicken to a roasting pan to complete the cooking. I think the results do Rao’s as proud as they will you. Here is the recipe:
3. Heat oil in a 12 inch skillet over medium high heat until just smoking. In batches, place chicken skin side down in skillet and cook until skin is well-browned and crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer browned chicken to a large plate. Set aside.
7. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter. Whisk sauce, incorporating any browned bits from the sides of the pan and adding chicken stock until it reaches a smooth and homogeneous consistency, about 3 minutes. Whisk half of the herb-zest mixture into the sauce. Sprinkle the remaining half over the chicken. Carefully pour the sauce around the chicken. Serve, passing the remaining sauce separately.