Marinate A Whole Chicken In Labneh

Photo: Claire Lower

There are many ways to roast a chicken, and many of them are good. There are so many, in fact, that I rarely roast a chicken the same way twice, though I think that’s all about to change, as I am now obsessed with smearing whole chickens with the strained, cream cheese-like yogurt known as “labneh.”

Labneh chicken — labhen, if you will — which is completely and totally inspired by Samin Nosrat’s iconic buttermilk chicken, is the ultimate low-effort-high-reward roasted bird.

Labneh — which is like a cross between sour cream and cream cheese — makes a great marinade a lot of reasons. Like Samin’s buttermilk-marinated chicken, a labneh-coated chicken is exposed to acid, fat, and protein, making for a tender, juicy bird with a gloriously brown skin.

Unlike a buttermilk-marinated chicken, you do not have to worry about liquid spilling while marinating, so you can be much lazier with your chicken bagging.

It’s also extremely forgiving. Moments after I put my labneh chicken in the oven, I discovered the battery in my meat thermometer was completely dead, which caused many swears to exit my mouth. Rather than go buy another battery — it’s one of those flat circle batteries, which means my corner store does not have them — I decided to wing it, and cook the chicken for just under an hour (the average time it usually takes), hoping for the best.

I’m happy to report that “the best” is exactly what I got. Even without spatchcocking, the connective tissue and fat in the thighs had had plenty of time to melt and meld, while the breast meat stayed completely moist.

It was one of the easiest, most beautiful, most delicious roast chickens I’d ever made, if not the absolute best (it’s hard to know for sure; I’ve roasted a lot of chickens). To make it yourself, you will need:

  • 1 whole pound chicken

  • Salt

  • 1-2 cups of labneh

Remove any giblets or plastic or anything else that may be hanging out inside the chicken cavity from the chicken. Season the chicken heavily with salt, making sure to season inside the cavity in addition to the outside. Let the chicken stand at room temperature for half an hour.

With freshly-washed, completely clean hands, smear a thick coat of labneh over every inch of the outside of the chicken, making sure to get in-between joints and crevices. Place the chicken in a big freezer bag (you may need two), and let it hang out in the fridge for 24 hours.

Once a full day has elapsed, preheat your oven to 230°C and remove the chicken from the bag. Wipe off as much labneh as you can with a paper towel, re-season the bird with salt, and place it, breast side up, in a cast iron skillet or small roasting pan, tying the legs behind the bird and tucking the wing tips under.

Roast until the skin starts to brown (about 15-20 minutes, depending on your oven), then reduce the temperature to 200°C and continue to roast for another 40 minutes or so, rotating the pan as needed to ensure even browning. (I ended up rotating mine three times.)

If you have a meat thermometer (and you should have one of those), roast until the thickest part of the thigh reads 75°C. Remove from the oven, and let the chicken rest for 10 minutes (use this time to take photos of your very pretty chicken).

Carve and serve, making sure all the glorious crispy skin get consumed before any leftovers are put in the fridge. The skin is best fresh out of the oven, and should not be wasted.


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