A chicken offering to the green goddess

Melissa Clark / New York Times News Service /

My mother learned how to marinate chicken in spiced yogurt from Madhur Jaffrey's famous tandoori recipe.

At first, my mother strictly followed the directions, grinding the garam masala and coloring the yogurt a torrid vermilion.

But after a while, she starting playing fast and loose, adding preground spices if she didn't have time to grind her own, and tossing a mix of whatever pungent aromatics she had on hand into the blender with the yogurt. (She also stopped coloring the yogurt red, because, as she likes to say, it tastes just as good when it's brown.) Her “tandoori” chicken is wonderful, if not exactly the way Jaffrey intended.

When I started roasting my own chickens, using plain yogurt as a marinade ingredient seemed natural, and convenient because I always seem to have some in the fridge.

Like my mother, I tend to throw in whatever fragrant herbs or spices (or both) that I have on hand, mixing and matching to fit my mood. The only constants, besides the yogurt, are salt and garlic. Everything else is negotiable, which makes this a good blank slate on which to project your cravings.

In this recipe, it's Green Goddess salad dressing that satisfies the yen. Packed with piquant fresh herbs in a tangy base, it's probably one of my favorite media in which to smother fresh vegetables, either as a dressing or sometimes as a dip. Its zippy flavor works nicely with the mildness of chicken, too.

I like to use buttermilk as the base for my Green Goddess dressings because it's thinner than yogurt, which makes the dressing easier to pour. But yogurt works just as well here. And you can substitute other herbs for the basil. Chervil and tarragon are more traditional.

The thing to be careful about in this recipe is the marinating time. Let the chicken sit too long and the yogurt will turn its flesh from soft and supple to mushy. Don't let it go for longer than 24 hours.

To get the most intense Green Goddess experience, I use the mixture as a marinade and as a sauce, rubbing some on the chicken and saving some to serve, in all its verdant glory, in a small bowl on the side. The intensity of its hue reminds me of my mother's earliest and most colorful tandoori iterations. But the Green Goddess flavor is its own special thing.

Green Goddess Roasted Chicken

Makes 4 servings.

Time: 11⁄4 hours plus at least 6 hours marinating.

11⁄2 C buttermilk or plain yogurt

1 C packed basil leaves

1⁄4 C packed chives

2 garlic cloves, peeled

1 scallion, white and green parts

Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime

2 tsp coarse kosher salt

1 tsp black pepper

1 (4- to 5-lb) chicken, halved through the breast and back bones, patted dry with paper towels

1 to 2 TBS extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

In a blender, puree buttermilk, basil, chives, garlic, scallion, lime zest and juice, salt and pepper until smooth.

Put chicken halves in a bowl or large heavy-duty resealable plastic bag and cover with three-quarters of the marinade. (Save the rest to serve as a sauce.) Refrigerate for at least 6 hours or up to overnight.

Heat oven to 500 degrees. Remove chicken from the marinade, shaking off as much liquid as possible, and lay the halves on a rimmed baking sheet. Pat chicken tops dry with paper towels and drizzle with oil. Roast until cooked through, about 30 to 45 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving, with some of the reserved marinade as sauce if you like.