Pomegranate is one of the fruits mentioned in the Bible, and is still a favorite fruit of the Mediterranean, where is revered almost as much as the olive tree. Pomegranates signify good luck and fertility. Making your own pomegranate juice is slow going at first, but quicker once you get the knack of freeing the seeds from the fruit’s membrane. If you live near a Middle Eastern specialty shop, you may look for bottled, unsweetened pomegranate juice. If you cannot find small, 2-pound chickens, or if you don’t have two very large cast iron skillets, prepare this dish using two 3-pound chickens in slightly smaller, about 12-inch, cast iron skillets. Moving the hot pans in and out of the oven requires caution: Make sure you have strong hands and thick oven mitts.
- Three 2-pound whole chickens
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup fresh pomegranate juice (from about 3 pomegranates; see Note below)
- 1 cup Chicken Stock or low-sodium canned chicken broth (Chicken Stock recipe)
- 6 tablespoons Grand Marnier
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves
- 2 tablespoons brandy
Heat the oven to 425 F. With a kitchen shears, cut out the backbones from the chicken, starting at the neck and cutting along both sides of the backbone. Lay the chicken flat, skin side down on the cutting surface. Cut the chicken in half through the breast bone. Remove the central breast bones and the smaller attached ribs, using your fingers and a paring knife. Season both sides of the chicken halves with salt and pepper and rub them with olive oil. Place two very large (about 14-inch) cast-iron or other heavy, oven-proof skillets over medium-high heat. When hot, place the chicken halves skin side down in the skillets–they should fit comfortably side by side without overlapping. Cook until the skin is well browned, 5 to 7 minutes. Resist the temptation to peek for at least the first few minutes–the skin is much less likely to stick if it is allowed to brown and crisp. Turn the chicken pieces over, freeing the skin with a metal spatula if it sticks in places, and cook until the second side is brown, about 5 minutes. Place the skillets to the oven and roast, turning the chickens twice, until no trace of pink remains at the knee joint, about 20 minutes. Remove the skillets from the oven, spoon off all fat from the skillets. Divide the remaining ingredients between the two skillets and return them to the oven. Cook 10 minutes, basting the chickens frequently and turning them once. Transfer the chickens to plates. Combine the sauce from both pans in one pan and place over medium heat. Simmer the sauce until it is syrupy. Strain the sauce through a fine sieve and spoon the sauce over the chicken. (If the skillets are too heavy or hot for you to comfortably pick them up, then spoon the sauce from one skillet into the other, then spoon the sauce into a sieve to strain it.) Note: To make pomegranate juice: Cut a pomegranate in half. Break each half into several large pieces. Working over a sieve placed over a bowl, scrape the red seeds free of the membrane into the sieve. Continue until all the seeds from the first pomegranate are in the sieve, breaking the pomegranate into smaller pieces if necessary to free all the seed. With a pestle or small ladle, crush the seeds against the sieve to extract as much of the juice as possible. Remove the seeds from the sieve and repeat with the remaining pomegranates until you have the amount of juice called for in the recipe, plus a little more for the cook if you like.