Roast Chicken….in search of the best……

Perfect Roast Chicken
As always I am on the hunt for the best recipe for everything, I’d like to start with one of my Desert Island Dishes, roast chicken. So to begin with I’m asking the question what really is the best way to roast a chicken?

Then I’ll show you how to make a tasty stock with the carcass………

It is also Simon Hopkinson’s favourite food, in fact he named a book after it. (Named as ‘The Best Cookbook in the world!’)

“The title of this book, Roast Chicken and Other Stories, (Ebury Press 1994) was chosen simply because it had a friendly ring to it, and I hope that it sounds inviting and uncomplicated. I also happen to enjoy roasting a chicken almost more than anything. It is very satisfying to look upon a fine chicken turning crisp and golden as it cooks. Even the sound of it causes salivation, and the smell of it jolts the tummy into gear.”

nb. As I’m typing this up the smell drifting across the studio is driving me nuts. I can smell that sweet nut brown butter and a soft drift of thyme. God I want to rip it’s skin off!

Roast Chicken (Simon Hopkinson’s)
So normally I shove a cut lemon inside it, spread it with a little butter, drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and roast til done. Time to re-evaluate my method and here below is Simon’s recipe I followed today to see how much more it could be improved.

110 g good butter, at room temperature
1.8 kg free range chicken
salt and pepper
1 lemon
several sprigs of thyme or tarragon, or a mixture of the two
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed.

Preheat the oven to 450 F/230 C/Gas 8. Smear the butter with your hands all over the bird. Put the chicken in a roasting tin that will accommodate it with room to spare. Season liberally with salt and pepper and squeeze over the juice of the lemon. Put the herbs and garlic inside the cavity, together with the squeezed out lemon halves – this will add a fragrant lemony flavour to the finished dish.
Roast the chicken in the oven for 10-15 minutes. Baste, then turn the oven temperature down to 375 F/190 C/Gas 5 and roast for a further 30-45 minutes with further occasional basting. The bird should be golden brown all over with a crisp skin and have buttery juices of a nut brown colour in the bottom of the tin. Turn off the oven, leaving the door ajar, and leave the chicken to rest for at least 15 minutes before carving. This enables the flesh to relax gently, retaining the juices in the meat and ensuring easy, trouble-free carving and a moist bird.

Back to the roast chicken……
14.30 in oven
14.45 basted and oven reduced
15.00 basted
15.15 basted
15.30 basted, oven turned off, door ajar.
15.45 Love in the kitchen

It’s hell of a lot of butter and I thought it was burning after the first 15 minutes. But no it was fine and yes as mentioned above the buttery nuttiness was quite fab. The flavour was sweet with a hint of garlic somewhere in there, (When it said crushed garlic in the ingredient list I took this to mean crushed but left whole.) and the thyme gently permeated the air. It was very moist and juicy. Can I do better?

Carve the bird to suit yourself. I like to do it in the roasting tin. I see no point in making a gravy in that old-fashioned English way with the roasting fat, flour and vegetable cooking water. With this roasting method, what you end up with in the tin is an amalgamation of butter, lemon juice and chicken juices. That’s all. It is a perfect homogenisation of fats and liquids. All it needs is a light whisk or a stir, and you have the most wonderful ‘gravy’ imaginable. If you wish to add extra flavour, you can scoop the garlic and herbs out of the chicken cavity, stir them into the gravy and heat through: strain before serving.

Use the chicken carcass as a basis for a very tasty stock….

Then as I repost this in October 2010, I am cooking up Nigel Slater’s roast chicken….a large chicken, butter, 4 or 5 bushy sprigs of thyme, 2 whole heads of garlic, salt and pepper……

Preheat oven 200 C/400 F/gas 6, rub the chicken all over with butter, salt and pepper and thyme leaves, pushing a couple of sprigs inside it’s cavity. Place upside down in a roasting tin. Cut the garlic bulbs in half across their middles and tuck beside the bird and place in oven.

Roast 45 minutes, no basting mentioned, then turn the chicken over and put back in the oven for another 45 minutes…….. Thyme infused with crunchy crusty bits in bottom of tin to scrape up into your mouth……For full recipe and cheesy mash…….Nigel Slater The Kitchen Diaries, Fourth Estate.

Another idea, popular with the Italians, is sometimes known as ‘wet-roasting’. Pour some white wine or a little chicken stock, or both, or even just water around the bottom of the tin at the beginning of cooking. This will produce more of a sauce and can be enriched further to produce altogether different results. For example, you can add chopped tomatoes, diced bacon, cream, endless different herbs, mushrooms, spring vegetables, spices – particularly saffron and ginger – or anything else that you fancy.
For me, the simple roast bird is the best, but it is useful to know how much further you can go when roasting a chicken.

Today my chicken is a Tesco one. It’s my nearest supermarket, I was in there and whilst in there I really fancied a roast chook.
Good food is still too expensive. I am broke at the moment so when I went into Tesco, this was the bird I could afford. Most people are short of money and time and most of us have a junk food guilty pleasure that needs feeding every now and then. I believe that making people feel guilty about what they eat and buy doesn’t encourage change and only alienates people.
I will use the best ingredient I can afford where possible and I would always encourage this and anyhow once you’ve tasted the best it really is hard to go back. To be quite honest though until prices come down things are not going to change quickly enough. So for now I will show you the best way to get the best out of an ingredient and in the meantime cost will decide what goes in your shopping bag. Just be sure to treat yourself once in a while. When I can afford a better chicken I will head over to The Ginger Pig in Victoria Park, Frank Godfrey’s in Highbury Barn or even pop into Lidgate’s if over West to get one.
I never watched Jamie Oliver’s t.v programme (I don’t own a t.v) on chicken farming but I need to get my head round it and thought I would start to form my own view of the situation. My chicken choice was a compromise of the best I could afford at that time.
The chicken I chose for today’s roast was a Willow farm Whole chicken endorsed by Freedom Food. (The labelling curiously used larger type in bold for certain words as shown.) “Willow farm chickens live in spacious windowed barns where they are free to roam. A combination of straw bales perches and daylight stimulates natural behaviour. A slow growing breed, fed a cereal enriched diet enhancing their flavour.” (1.368 kg for £4.77.)
Freedom Food is the RSPCA’s farm assurance and food labelling scheme. It’s focus solely on improving the welfare of farm animals reared for food. Freedom food latest campaign is urging people to ‘Simply Ask’ about where their food comes from when eating out.  This is in a bid to get restaurants, pubs and cafes to source products from higher welfare farms such as Freedom Food, free-range and organic.

I am like Simon Hopkinson a guts. Teased as child by my older siblings, I’ve always had a great appetite. So for me it’s the same as for Simon and if left on my own with a freshly roasted chicken, I will rip as much of that freshly crisped chicken skin from it’s flesh and suck on its wings, swallow it’s oysters and would eat it there, standing up by the hot oven, no potatoes, no veg. Happy.

Roast chicken lovers will all have their favourite method and my mum’s roast chicken will remain forever in my memory, spread thickly from a bowl of dripping, (from many roasts before!) before roasting that gave it a flavour that can only be described as ‘Winnie’s’ and the best in the world.
A friend bought, (a vegetarian up to this point but she decided to delve into the world of roast chickens!) an organic, free range beauty from Lidgate, a prestigious butcher (with prestigious prices. I’ve known friends going there just to window shop!) over on Holland Park. All I will say this chicken came a close second as best roast chicken ever. This was almost completely, (Though it was cooked beautifully.) due to the fact of it’s quality.

One more chicken tale is one where I once shared a small roast bird at The Ivy. Slightly shocked myself to work out that it was about 10 years ago, so a little research into the webs archives was needed and makes me think that this would’ve been a French Poulet De Landes. That meal goes down in history as one of my favourite meals ever. I was a very poor art student when my friend Karl treated me for my birthday. He and I still sigh happily about that meal and The Ivy itself. I had, had fussier meals of 3 star Michelin standard but as Will Self has said “…it basically dishes up comfort food for adults..” (from The Sunday Times, Dec 16 2007.) But as such, it is usually just so, and so very good at it. That chicken was bloody good.

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