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THE KITCHN: Master Cleanse Chicken, a tasty riff on California wacky

By Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan, on

Once upon a time long ago, a friend of mine 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. Since then, I've tried the Master Cleanse once, for three miserable days, and bombed.

Fast forward to today: Years have passed and I find myself in Northern California on a two-week trip, having all kinds of wonderfully familiar cliche 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'm here 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. Something about 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 mayonaise.

Master Cleanse Chicken

Serves 2-4.


1 (3- to 4-pound) roasting chicken

1 small whole lemon

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons maple syrup


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