Chef and cookbook author Roxanne Gold included this unconventional recipe in a 1994 New York Times article of April Fools’ Day recipes. Her premise: Although she listed lots of silly-sounding recipes, any she gave recipes for – such as this one — sounded weird but worked. For the Chicken in Watermelon recipe, she encouraged readers to “consider its madness.” Madness, indeed. On top of everything else, the dish spends four-and-a-half hours in the oven; the watermelon becomes a cooked out, semi-collapsed mess by the end; and the chicken is so tender it tends to fall apart just getting it out of the melon. (Don’t believe me? Check out this excellent and entertaining video of the recipe being cooked at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1C5EFAs14KM.) The last laugh is that the result is a succulent and delicate-tasting chicken –- plus its guess-how-I-cooked-this story.
Said to come from Hawaii, this jokey-sounding recipe has the perfect punch line: It’s delicious.
The concept works because the hollowed-out watermelon (and its watermelon lid) functions much as a Dutch oven or a Romertopf clay cooker, making the chicken inside it delectably moist. It also adds just the tiniest hint of sweetness, ably complementing the chicken’s Asian seasonings.
1 very large watermelon*
1 roaster chicken, about 5 to 6 pounds*
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
½ cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon five-spice powder
2 tablespoons chilled butter
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Cut a ¼-inch-thick horizontal slice off the rind on bottom of the watermelon so it sits without rolling.
Cut off the top third of the watermelon horizontally. Scoop out enough the pulp** (and seeds, if any) from both parts of the watermelon to make enough room for the chicken.
Season the cavity of the chicken with salt and pepper. Prick the lemon several times with a fork and insert it in the chicken. Add 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce to the chicken cavity. With the remaining soy sauce, brush the outside of the chicken, then sprinkle on the five-spice powder.
Place the chicken in the larger part of the watermelon. Position the other piece of melon on top as a lid, securing it with long skewers or toothpicks. Place on a rimmed baking tray.
Bake at 400 degrees for 2 hours. Then, reduce the heat to 300 degrees and bake 2 ½ hours longer.[At this point, the New York Times recipe reads: “Place watermelon on a tray and show to guests.” Umm, perhaps not. But up to you.]
Remove chicken and carve. With a ladle, remove the juices from the watermelon into a skillet and reduce until thickened. Whisk in the cold butter. Serve on the side in a gravy bowl or spoon over the chicken before serving.
*If the watermelon is very large and the roaster chicken is 5 to 6 pounds, the recipe makes 8 servings. An especially large watermelon and larger chicken may need to cook an extra ½ hour. A smaller watermelon and a smaller roaster chicken may be used and will, of course, serve fewer people.
** The pulp isn’t used in the recipe. Consider using the leftover watermelon pulp for salads, drinks, or sorbets. Roxanne Gold’s suggestion: “With some sugar, champagne, and a little imagination, it makes a decent sorbet.”
–Slightly adapted from “A Fool for Food? Try Some of These” by Roxanne Gold, New York Times, March 30, 1994
Recipe tested by Ellen Ficklen; email questions to email@example.com