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Hey, chick: Take it all off! 

Most meat eaters love tearing into a properly seasoned tender-fleshed roast chicken but stop short when it's their turn to pull out the roasting pan. The dual challenge of seasoning the bird adequately and arriving at a balance between cooked and overcooked meat is enough to make the most confident cooks run to the nearest Peruvian chicken take-out joint.

The thing is, it's exhilarating when you've managed to make chicken both delicious and tender at the bone. So how to achieve this?

Take off the bird's clothes. You'll discover, after pulling off the skin (start at the breast and don't worry about the wings, which are tricky), that there's plenty of fat cushion to go around and keep things flavorful.

Without skin, the bird is heart healthier, and it marinates more efficiently. Plus, without the skin layer, the bird cooks faster, by about 30 minutes.

I learned this method from From Curries to Kebabs by Indian culinary diva Madhur Jaffrey, but she calls it Curried Whole Chicken, Durban-Style. Several chickens later, I have adapted Jaffrey's recipe and have coined it Naked Chicken. After all, isn't everything better naked?

1 3-4 pound chicken, skinned whole

Juice of one lemon

Approximately 1 teaspoon salt

2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

3 cloves garlic, chopped

2-3 fresh chilies of your choice, chopped (I like the medium heat of serranos)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon turmeric (for color; optional)

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

With a knife, make diagonal slits in each breast, going all the way to the bone, plus in the thighs and drumsticks, on both sides of the bird. Apply lemon juice and salt all over the bird, inside and out.

Using a blender, food processor or mortar and pestle, combined ginger, garlic, chilies, oil, cumin and coriander, until it resembles something like a paste. Taste and see if you like it: Now's the time to adjust seasonings. It should have a hefty kick.

Rub the paste all over the bird, inside and out, including those slits. Let marinate for about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Line a baking sheet or roasting pan with foil or parchment paper. Place chicken on liner, breast side up, and finish off with a healthy dose of ground black pepper (cayenne is also fun). Place pan in oven -- legs in first so they can benefit from heat at back of oven -- and roast for approximately 1 hour, 15 minutes. You may check on its progress every half hour. Don't worry, it's not drying out. After the first hour, you'll see browning, and it's fine if you want to flip the bird over for even color.

When the internal temperature of the thigh reaches 160-165 degrees, remove chicken from oven and let rest for about 15 minutes. At that point, the aromas will be so overpowering you may find it difficult to act refined when carving up the bird. Serves a maximum of three healthy chicken-lovers.

Kim O'Donnel, the host of What's Cooking on washingtonpost.com, tests all the recipes so you don't have to. Send questions and comments to kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.

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