A roast chicken is always comforting. It doesn’t matter if it’s a cool fall day or the middle of a tropical heat wave: dripping crispy chicken skin soothes. Chef Juan José Cuevas of 1919 at the Condado Vanderbuilt in San Juan, Puerto Rico, cooks it more than anything else for his daughter Alejandra. He prepares his by spreading a garlic-and-herb compound butter beneath the skin of a heavily seasoned bird. When he opens the oven to baste it, the aroma is sublime. “It has been our comfort food since Ally was a little girl,” he says.
During Ally’s childhood, Cuevas often worked long hours at world-class kitchens in San Sebastian, Barcelona, Monaco, Copenhagen, San Francisco, and New York, leaving a trail of Michelin stars behind him. Back at the Cuevas house, the smell of succulent roast chicken in the oven meant dinner was going to be good, but also that dad was home: Any troubles of the school day melted away.
Now Cuevas is back in his hometown of San Juan full time and he’s still working long hours and winning numerous awards. He oversees 1919 — one of the island's most revered fine dining destinations — as well as six other restaurants for Condado Vanderbilt. Cuevas is known for his inventive cuisine and is often regarded as a leader in Puerto Rico’s local sourcing movement, a crucial matter for an island that still imports roughly 80 percent of its food supply. Still, on Sundays and Mondays he’s off, and spends much of that time with Ally, now 26 years old. They are roommates and good friends. “She is my partner in discovering new restaurants,” he says. “She loves great food and wine and has an amazing palate.”
While they live to taste and are in lockstep with emerging food trends, Cuevas and Ally haven’t altered the menu much at home. Daily breakfast is a fruit smoothie and dinner is usually this roast chicken recipe with roasted vegetables and a green salad of puntarella, arugula, anchovy, and parmesan. Why mess with a good thing?
Chef Juan José Cuevas’ Roast Chicken Recipe
- 1 whole chicken 4-5 lbs.
- 1 onion, cut into quarters
- 1 garlic head, cut in half
- Olive oil
- *Compound butter made of parsley, confit garlic, parsley, and rosemary
- 1 Yukon gold potato, quartered
- 1 yellow onion, minced
- Liberally salt and pepper the chicken cavity and outside of the chicken.
- Fill the cavity of the chicken with onions and garlic.
- Season the chicken under the skin with the compound butter.
- Truss the chicken with butcher twine and let it rest in the fridge for two hours.
- Preheat oven to 375F.
- Heat a cast iron pan over medium heat until warm; add extra virgin olive oil.
- Place chicken on the cast iron pan, then roast it in the oven for about 50 min. After 30 minutes have passed, baste it every 10 minutes.
- Remove the chicken from the pan to a plate to rest for about 30 minutes.
- Transfer pan juices to a container.
- Add approximately one tablespoon of olive oil to the pan.
- Add the potato and season with salt. Roast for 30 min; add the onion to the pan and return to the oven for 20 minutes.
- Remove some of the fat from the pan juices in the container and warm up the liquid gently on low heat. Stir in whole-grain mustard.
- Carve the chicken and serve with the vegetables and sauce. Chef Cuevas prefers serving it with Dijon mustard and aioli.
*To make the compound butter, simply combine a few pinches of the herbs and a few cloves of garlic listed above into softened butter.