Almost all of the world’s ethnic cuisines lay claim to grilled chicken in one of its many manifestations, and even Latin America’s pollo asados include at least three heavyweights -- Mexican, Peruvian and Cuban, as well as variations within the variations. You can’t really go wrong though. You’ll end up happily cleaning up a plate of whichever version you end up cooking.
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Mexican Pollo Asado
Combine the juice of an orange, a lime and a lemon in a bowl, along with extra-virgin olive oil. Add chopped fresh cilantro, a chopped serrano or ancho chili, minced garlic and a small amount of ground cumin. Stir all the ingredients.
Pour the bowl’s contents into a zippered-top plastic bag. Add a whole chicken, either butterflied or cut up, or chicken legs or bone-in chicken thighs. Close the bag and turn it over to coat the chicken. Marinate the thighs in the refrigerator for up to 4 hours.
Start the coals on a grill and allow them to burn until they turn white. Remove the chicken from the marinade and blot it dry with a paper towel. Season it with salt and pepper.
Grill the chicken, turning it once, for approximately 18 to 20 minutes, until its internal temperature reaches 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Alternatively, you can roast it in a 400 F oven for 45 minutes, also until an instant-read thermometer reads 165 F, followed by brief broiling for 2 minutes to add charred spots and a richer flavor.
Remove the pollo asado from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes. Serve with any of your favorite accompaniments: warm tortillas, beans and green salsa, chopped tomatoes, onions and roasted chili strips.
Peruvian Pollo Asado
Place olive oil, mint leaves, kosher salt, peeled and chopped garlic cloves, black pepper, cumin, sugar, smoked paprika, dried oregano, lime juice, lime zest and a minced habanero chili in a blender. You can substitute a serrano chili if that’s all you have. Process the ingredients for 10 to 20 seconds until a smooth paste forms.
Place half the paste under the skin of a whole chicken. Place the remaining paste on the exterior of the chicken. Put the bird in a gallon-size zip-top bag and refrigerate it for 6 to 24 hours.
Create an informal vertical roaster if you don’t have a commercial one by opening a can of beer and pouring out half the contents. Put your oven rack in its lowest position and preheat the oven to 325 F.
Place the can of beer within the chicken’s body cavity, so that the bird can essentially sit upright in a roasting pan. Place the chicken and roaster in the oven and cook until the breast reads 140 degrees, after about 50 minutes. Remove the chicken carefully and boost the oven temperature to 500 F.
Pour a cup of water in the pan and return the pan and the chicken to the oven when it reaches 500 F. Continue roasting the chicken until its internal temperature reaches 160 F in the breast and 175 F in the thigh. Serve with spicy Peruvian mayo, salsa verde, rice and beans, plantains, salad or fried yucca.
Cuban Pollo Asado
Cut two whole chickens in half. Place them in a baking dish.
Mix a marinade of either sour orange, “naranja agri,” or 2 parts lemon and 1 part orange, as well as crushed garlic. Season with dried oregano, cumin, and salt and pepper. You can also add smoked Spanish paprika. Pour the marinade over the chicken. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Prepare salsa criolla the next day by heating olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add a medium onion and diced red and green bell peppers. Saute until the onions become translucent. Add water, tomato sauce, garlic powder, dried oregano, a small amount of cumin spice, 2 bay leaves and dry white wine. Bring to a boil and then simmer for a half-hour. Take the sauce off the burner to cool.
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Remove the halved chickens from the marinade and place in a baking dish. Take the bay leaf out of the salsa criolla and pour the salsa over the chicken.
Place the chicken in the preheated oven and roast it for 45 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer placed into the thigh reads 165 F.
Remove the chicken from the oven and let it rest for 10 minutes. Strain the salsa criolla and pour it over the chicken. Serve with black beans or any of the sides for the other pollos asados.