As food goes, there’s nothing more homely than roast chicken. It was the first thing we cooked in the box-fresh oven in the new kitchen and the last thing we laid on for my sister and brother-in-law last Friday night, hours before they jetted off to a new chapter in New York. I had been desperately flicking though my mental rolodex of ways to make them stay and failing that, I settled on a dish that might remind them to return home one day…
We managed to cram in a decent enough amount of wine as well – not so much that it got too emotional – plus some passion fruit creams in little espresso cups from my Christmas copy of Kitchen Diaries II, speckled with the seeds and soaked in a pool of golden juice, which accompanied my teaspoon with every mouthful, right to the bottom. Once blasted Banuary is over, I am going to give it a bash with other fruit as it was particularly delicious and super easy.
What’s below is NOT rocket science obviously but how I do my roast chicken which, the BSG tells me, is pretty good. The basic formula will take on almost anything throughout the year; fresh herbs such as sage or tarragon, or wild garlic in the cavity, spices like Ras-el Hanout or Harissa and yoghurt rubbed into the skin and sit proudly alongside any salad as well as lasting you through the week. Good for the diet and the budget: what better friend could you ask for right now?
Basic Roast Chicken
1 chicken (free-range. One of those happy Woodland-roaming ones will do – not sure of the weight but should cost you between 6 and 8 pounds)
Fresh thyme sprigs (optional)
Salt & pepper
Remove the chicken from the fridge 10 minutes before you need it to bring it to room temperature and then place it in a roasting pan. Heat your oven to 190C. Slice the top quarter off a lemon and squeeze it over the top of the chicken before putting it into the cavity with the thyme sprigs and the half-onion. Drizzle the top and legs with oil or smear with a few knobs of butter. Season generously with salt and lightly with pepper before putting into the hot oven.
Cook for 20 minutes, before taking the tray out and turning the chicken over breast-side down (be careful here!). This should do some basting for you and ensure that everything is as juicy as possible. Return to the oven and cook for another 20 minutes before turning the chicken back over, spooning some of the basting juices over the legs. The onion, lemon or thyme may fall out at this stage, but they will go towards making lip-smacking gravy as they cook away in the tin. The skin should crisp up and brown in this last 20-30 minutes.
After between an hour and 5 minutes and an hour and a quarter’s cooking time, the chicken should be done, but to double check, insert a skewer between the leg and the breast to see if the juices run clear. It is almost always an hour and 10 minutes for me, but ovens vary. Lift the bird out and set onto a board, covering with foil if you like. It does well to rest for 10 minutes while you make the gravy; it will be juicy and easier to carve after resting.
For the gravy: drain off as much of the clear fat from the tin as you can, squeeze the remnants of the lemon quarter with the back of a spoon and keep any bits from the onion in there which have caramelised but not burnt, discarding the rest. Put the tin over a medium heat and scrape the sticky brown bits loose – they will be packing valuable chickeny flavour. Add a knob of butter and melt it. You can add a tablespoon of plain flour at this stage and cook it lightly, for thicker gravy. Add some hot or boiling water – about an espresso-cup’s worth – and a slug of white wine, smear it all together and simmer for a few minutes. Taste, adding more water and seasoning if necessary.