In 1985, a fledgling shop with Boston in its name skewered and roasted its birds in rotating rows, so they basted each other with seasoned drippings until firm flesh morphed into Sunday dinner succulence. Since then, Americans have made takeout rotisserie chicken as much a weeknight staple as a box of macaroni from the cupboard.
Statistics don't tell the whole story, but they're a good place to start. Grocery stores jumped on the trend back then and continue to reap the rewards. Six hundred million rotisserie chickens were purchased in U.S. supermarkets, club stores and similar retail outlets in 2010, according to the National Chicken Council. An additional 200 million were sold through food-service outlets.
A market study by NPD Group, a consumer research firm, found consumers 50 and older eat more rotisserie chicken than other age group, and the higher the household income, the more it is eaten.
A classic roast chicken is certainly one of the easier entrees to master. Salt and pepper, a little fat rubbed into the skin and a lemon in the cavity can do the trick. But even cooks who take pride in their own recipes have come to rely on a trussed, store-bought option that often costs less than raw poultry.
"Of course, mine is best. When you don't have time to prepare it yourself, though, rotisserie chicken makes a decent meal," says Audrey Graziano. The 34-year-old Alexandria, Va., wife and mother of two has been buying supermarket-prepared chickens for about a decade. Leftovers go into chicken noodle soup, and her mother-in-law may claim the bones for stock.
Getting two or three family meals out of an inexpensive 2 1/2-pound bird offsets the big advantage a home-cooked chicken has over its commercial cousins. That would be the crisped, golden brown skin - a source of guilty pleasure that most of the time provides the majority of flavor.
Retail containers that allow for successful rotisserie chicken transport have gotten greener and more technically advanced over the years, but they sure do a number on the chicken's exterior, which gets clingy or splits in the time it takes to transfer a batch from store oven to heated store shelf.
The charms of juicy, warm rotisserie chicken fade with a night's refrigeration, of course. The sodium solution infused in the flesh of a raw bird can create pockets of uneven saltiness in a cooked one. White meat can get mealy or stringy.
For best results, let the meat come to room temperature so you can assess texture and seasoning. Bland white meat that's dry might be right for a fruity curried chicken salad, or shredded into a creamy tortilla soup. A highly spiced bird can hold its own with stir-fried vegetables. The remnants of a barbecue rub may be pronounced enough to reserve that chicken for pressed sandwiches.
•2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
•1 medium red onion, sliced thin
•2 cloves garlic,sliced thin
•1 1/2 teaspoons saffron threads
•1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
•1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger
•1 teaspoon ground coriander
•1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
•3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
•1 2/3 cups homemade or
•no-salt-added chicken broth, warmed
•Freshly squeezed juice of 1 orange
•1/3 cup golden raisins, soaked in warm water for 10 minutes
•About 1 cup almonds, chopped fine
•2 large eggs, beaten
•1 3/4 pounds cooked chicken meat
•Freshly ground black pepper
•4 tablespoons melted butter for brushing, plus more as needed
•12 sheets phyllo pastry
Stack phyllo sheets and cover with plastic wrap to prevent drying out.
Heat the oil in a large saucepan until it shimmers, add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until softened. Add the saffron, cloves, ginger, coriander, cinnamon and nutmeg and cook, stirring continuously, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the broth and boil. Then reduce heat so sauce thickens and is reduced by half, 10 to 15 minutes.
Remove saucepan from heat. Add the orange juice, raisins and almonds and stir to combine. Stir in the eggs and shredded chicken, mixing well. Allow the mixture to cool, then season it with salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9-inch round, straight-sided baking dish with butter. One at a time, brush six sheets of phyllo dough with the melted butter and place them buttered-side-down in the prepared dish to cover it evenly. Extend sheets out evenly over the sides of the dish. Spoon the chicken mixture into the dish and top with phyllo sheets, so the filling is completely covered. Pull the overhanging edges of the pastry sheets up and bend them toward the middle of the dish so that they crimp up a little during baking. Brush the top of the bistilla with melted butter. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes or until the pastry is golden.
Cool for 3 minutes before transferring it to a serving plate. Dust with confectioner's sugar and serve.
Servings: 6 to 8