I would never call a grocery store to make sure they had food left before I go shopping, but whenever I am in the mood for rotisserie chicken (at least once a week) I call in advance.
These hot birds fly off the rotisserie rod fast. Too many times have I been dying to eat one and showed up, $10 in hand, and was disappointed to find that the aluminum nest was empty (but the glass counter was still fogged by the hot chickens).
“They are really popular. They saved our prepared food department, they are guaranteed to sell,” said Fritz Metellus, who is in charge of seasoning and cooking the rotisserie chicken at Union Market at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Union Street. “They sell themselves, when you walk in you can smell them right away.”
Fritz, the prepared food chef who seems to be on a first name basis with many customers, sold 75 chickens on Sunday, about 15 more than a usual day.
They come in three different flavors: Adobo, lemon and herb and rosemary and garlic. It costs $4.49 per pound and a whole chicken is usually a little more than pounds, costing around $10.
On Sunday at 6 p.m., I was walking to the market to grab my Sunday dinner but realized I forgot my cell phone. I couldn’t call ahead and I knew this was going to mean I was not having my beloved rotisserie chicken.
The birds are gorgeously roasted and the skin is charred black in places, golden in others and covered with seasoning. I usually buy the rosemary and garlic chicken, which is speckled with rosemary and has a juicy flavor that is strongly seasoned.
Sure enough, there was not one left.
However, I was told another batch was in the oven and would be done in an hour. I put in my order and left, happy to know that I would be munching on a succulent wing, leg and chicken breast shortly. I would be pealing off the crunchy skin and licking my fingers in just over 60 minutes.
Union Market makes about 50 rotisserie chickens every day. They make them in three batches: one at 7 a.m., another at 1 p.m. and the last at 5 p.m.
Fritz seasons the chickens, puts them on the rod and pops them in the oven for one hour at 430 degrees. Fritz said that the seasoning is simple and only has about three ingredients.
The rosemary chicken has the namesake seasoning with garlic and only a “dash” of salt and pepper. When they are almost done he paints them with butter, that way the skin burns just the right amount.
“I make sure you can taste the chicken when you get home,” Fritz said, explaining that if it is not seasoned properly, the flavor can rub off in the bag. “My chicken has a strong taste.”
An hour and a half went by and I picked mine up, it was the last one.
Before the batch came out a customer named Michelle, who makes the trek from Crown Heights every week just to get one chicken, saw that the case was empty.
“I came all the way here and there’s not one?” she said in astonishment. Luckily for Michelle, she only had to wait 45 minutes to get hers.
“I’ve been coming here to get their rotisserie chicken for five years,” she said. “It’s simple: they are just that good.”
But others were not so lucky. After Fritz put the last one in a bag, three people came up to the counter and all of them shared the same sentiment.
“There’s no chicken left?” asked a man with a forlorn look.
“No, we just sold out,” Fritz said with sympathy as the man walked away.
Fritz, who learned how to cook rotisserie ten years ago, said that he has to make sure to get three shipments this week instead of two.
“We sell out every day. There’s not too much to say, the chicken speaks for itself,” he said after telling the third customer in a couple of minutes that they better think of something else for dinner. “When I see a customer’s eyes meet the chicken, I know they’re buying it.”