Master Cleanse Chicken riffs on California wacky

TheKitchn.comNovember 13, 2012 

  • Master Cleanse Chicken 1 (3- to 4-pound) roasting chicken 1 small whole lemon 2 tablespoons lemon juice 1 tablespoon lemon zest 2 tablespoons maple syrup 2 teaspoons ground cayenne pepper 1 tablespoon coarse salt CHECK the chicken for a packet of giblets. If there is one, remove it and discard or reserve for another use. Pat the chicken dry with a paper towel, inside and out, and put it on a plate. Slice the lemon in half and place it inside the cavity. Fold under the wings and tie up the legs either with kitchen twine or by slicing a slit in each side of the fat around the cavity and inserting the end of the drumsticks in the opposite side. COMBINE the lemon juice, lemon zest, maple syrup and cayenne pepper in a small bowl. Place the chicken in a gallon-size zippered plastic bag. Pour the lemon mixture all over the chicken. Sprinkle it evenly with salt. Seal the bag, pressing out as much air as possible. Refrigerate 24 to 48 hours. REMOVE the chicken from the bag, keeping the marinade, and pat the chicken dry. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees and put in a heavy cast-iron skillet. Place the marinade in a small saucepan, bring to a full boil, and boil 1 minute. Set aside. PLACE the chicken breast-side up in the skillet when the oven is fully heated. Roast about 25 minutes, or until it is getting golden, then flip it over. (If it’s browning too deeply, reduce the heat to 400 and tent with foil.) Roast for 15 minutes longer, then flip it again and baste with the boiled marinade, then return to oven for about 10 minutes to crisp the skin. PUT a meat thermometer or instant-read thermometer in the meatiest part of the thigh not touching the bone and check the temperature. When it reaches 165 degrees and the juices run clear, it is ready. Remove the chicken from the oven and tent it with foil. Let it rest 15 to 30 minutes before serving. Yield: 2-4 servings

Once upon a time long ago, a friend told me she was doing a crazy thing called the Master Cleanse. For something like 30 days, she consumed only a tonic made from water, lemon juice, cayenne pepper and maple syrup.

This, of course, went down in California. I tried the Master Cleanse once, for three miserable days, and bombed.

Fast forward to today: Years passed and I found myself in Northern California on a two-week trip, having all kinds of wonderfully familiar cliche Northern Californian experiences, like leaving the house unlocked, being greeted by neighbors with “dear gentle people,” meeting a local couple who founded a nudist peace movement, walking through clouds of patchouli at the hardware store, and always being given the option for soy, rice or almond milk in my coffee.

I was there on a cooking vacation – clearly no time for a cleanse. But as I strolled the market dreaming up dinner, it all came back to me, those fond memories of the wacky things I learned about while growing up here. Somewhere between the maple syrup stand and the poultry guy, an idea was born. Bingo! Master Cleanse chicken! It’s sweet, it’s spicy, it’s bright, and most importantly, it’s full of delicious chicken fat and flavor.

What started as a silly idea became one of my favorite new ways to flavor a roasted chicken. The maple gives the skin a sweet crunch, and the whole lemon, lemon zest and lemon juice keeps the flesh moist and tangy.

If you really like spice, increase the cayenne to a tablespoon, but even as written this recipe has a kick. The leftovers make great sandwiches with crisp greens and homemade mayonnaise.

For a printable copy of the recipe, click the link:

Master Cleanse Chicken

Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan is the founder of, a nationally known blog for people who love food and home cooking. Email comments or questions to

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