Spiced Roast Chicken Breast

Did you know that I wrote a cookbook? Well, not personally, and certainly not glossy and published, but back in 2000 my friend E and I made a compilation of our favorite "recipies" to give as Christmas gifts. I contributed 25 recipes, and was responsible for the page design. E contributed the balance and did the layout and copy tasks. It proved to be a lesson on many levels. Not only is it more difficult to compile a book than at first it seems, but the layers of organization that are required to end up with something that echos the original vision is tough. I think I do speak for both of us, that it looked nothing like we were anticipating...I know that my funny drawings surprised me when I saw them emblazoned across each page.

More than the lessons learned in joint efforts, I still appreciate our cookbook since I actually still use it. The recipes were our favorites a decade ago, and some of them are still mine today. Weather it is the Don Chapellet's Zeppelin Pancakes pilfered from the hand of Marion Cunningham, or Marcella Hazan's pesto recipe, I grab this little tome frequently to remind me of the proportions, or to be inspired by the many fish recipes E included.

Last Thursday night, I had to make some chicken since I had pulled it from the freezer, but didn't have a plan since I was running errands late into the afternoon. Fortunately, my trusty cookbook also contains one of my most favorite recipes of all time. I originally made the recipe for Spiced Roast Chicken Breast after it was included in the April 2000 issue of Gourmet, in a column I remember being particularly interested in because it only contained recipes using 5 ingredients. Besides that, it is a foolproof way to quickly roast chicken pieces or plain old breasts: started on the stove top in a cast iron skillet, and then gracefully transferred to the oven to finish, enabling the assembly of the rest of the dinner without worry. The spice combination is just made quickly of pantry staples, but is just interesting enough to call attention to itself. No one thing stands out, so you can serve almost anything with it, and the chicken stays almost magically moist.

The first time I made it was when I had my new boss and friend, GOP, over for dinner shortly after I began working at the Square Pie. We loved it, and I have made it countless times in the years following. For that first dinner, I served with Jasmine Rice with Cumin and Mustard Seeds, and a haystack of my Mom's home canned green beans. It probably is still my favorite way to serve it, but I love it with mashed potatoes and broccoli as well. I call upon it in moments of stress, and it makes me look like a "domestic goddess", sorry Nigella!

You'll notice that the recipe originally calls to preheat the oven to 450, and you can do this. Lately, I've been using a lower oven to give myself a little more dinner assembly time - 375 degrees. I also frequently mix up a double batch of the spice mix so I can spread it liberally on the chicken. It creates more of a spice crust this way.

Spiced Roast Chicken Breast (my version from Gourmet Magazine's original)

  • 2 chicken breast halves, boneless and skinless (or bone-in and skin on)
  • 1 t. chile powder
  • 1/4 t. ground cumin
  • 1/4 t. ground coriander
  • 1/4 t. black pepper
  • 1/8 t. cinnamon
  • 1 t. salt
  • veg or olive oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix all the spices, salt and pepper together in a small bowl. Add a tiny amount of oil to moisten into a paste. Rub into the chicken well, and let it sit a few minutes while the cast iron skillet heats over medium high heat.

Sear the meat about 2 minutes per side - a minute or two longer per side if using bone-in chicken. (Start with the side you want to present up first, so when you pop the pan into the oven, the prettiest side is up when it comes out.)

Transfer pan to oven, and continue baking until the chicken is done, about 15-20 minutes depending on the size of the pieces and if you use bone-in chicken.

Let the chicken sit for several minutes before serving to re-distribute the juices.

If you need a last minute Valentine meal tomorrow, you can pull this out of your hat in a mere half hour - and I'll guarantee, you'll be a very popular person around the dinner table.

Happy Valentine's Day!