In the whirlwind of a hectic week, amidst the chaos and constant motion, I found myself longing for one thing—a roast dinner, specifically a perfectly roasted chicken. It wasn’t just about the flavours; it was an unconscious plea for calm. There’s something magical about the process of roasting a chicken; it transforms the atmosphere in the house, lowering the energy levels and ushering in a sense of tranquillity. The sound and the smell of the chicken roasting is a subconscious nod to slowing down, to a sense that everything will be ok. It is the ultimate comfort food.
Where to Begin
A Good Roasting Tray:
At the heart of a great roast chicken, lies my indispensable enamel roasting tin, a little worn but in great nick really with its white with a blue rim. I am looking forward to seeing it in another 20 years. The one non-negotiable I have about the tin for the roast chicken is it must have ample space for the roast potatoes. They must be able to roll around in the hot, bubbly chicken fat, get plump and crispy. They need space for the air to circulate. My mother’s Pyrex casserole dish, a relic from childhood, is still on the go. No roast chicken will be cooked without it and I love the fact that now my kids are synonymous with nanny roast chicken from the same vessel too. It is full of memories.
The Raw Materials:
- Begin with a trip to the butcher and seek out a locally sourced, free-range, large chicken.
- Infuse the bird with the aromatic essence of woody herbs—sage, thyme, and rosemary—accompanied by a citrus kick from lemon or orange.
- Roast a bundle of garlic beside the chicken, and generously apply a mixture of butter and oil both on top and under the skin.One fat flavours and burnishes, the other moistens. Oil prevents the butter-burning
- Oil and butter is the magic combination. Choose to drizzle over and massage on, run the butter under the skin or over the skin
- Sea salt, particularly the delicious West of Dingle sea salt either the black garlic one, or the lemon and herb, adds a final touch of perfection to any roast chicken.
Cooking Times, Basting, Resting, and Gravy:
- Observe average cooking times for different chicken sizes. A 1.5kg chicken will take about an hour; a 2kg chicken 90 minutes. During cooking, baste the bird two or three times with the contents of the pan.
- Baste the bird two or three times during cooking, introducing potatoes to the roasting tin after 25 minutes.
- The chicken is ready when the skin is puffed and golden, the flesh firm, and its juices run clear. Leaving the bird in the switched-off oven for 10 to 15 minutes with the door ajar is all the attention it needs, but if the roasties need a few minutes longer then I usually bring the meat out and let it snooze on a warm dish, hidden under a crinkly tent of foil.
- After cooking, cover the bird loosely with foil and let it rest in a warm place for 10 to 15 minutes.
- I cannot emphasise enough the importance of resting, a crucial part of the roasting process. Think of it as part of the cooking time. It is important for the residual heat to work its way through and for the muscles to relax and the flesh to be succulent.
- The result is a plump parcel of crisp skin, soft flesh, and golden juices.
The Hidden Secrets:
Unveil the treasure left behind—sticky, caramelised, almost toffee like juices that cling to the corners of the tin, a concentrated essence to be drizzled over carved meat or transformed into a rich sauce.
The Toffee Sticky Caramel Liquid Gold, The Oysters, The Crispy Skin, The Wings, The Juices:
As you take the chicken out of the oven there is an audible hiss and crackle. This dissipates to be a faint whisper, but its distinct noise is usually enough to alert the troops that dinner is ready. This is where the fun usually starts in our house. Who scores the 2 hot, almost too hot to eat, almost….. chicken wings. Who gets to dip the crust of the pan loaf in the rich, unctuous juices, who…. What clevero will remember the two succulent, juicy, flavourful oysters hidden away under the chicken. I will. Normally whoever is the favourite child that week will get the other….
A Gravy / A Jus / Tarragon Cream (Roast Bulb of Garlic, Tarragon, White Wine, Cream):
We try too hard to make the juices into a “bisto” style gravy. If you want that, make the bisto and pour some of the juices in. Easy. However, why not appreciate the glory of the juices for just what they are. A jus, a lighter, more subtle savoury jus that will moisten the meat, add warmth and a subtle hint of additional savoury flavour.
Add a splash of wine and a soft roast build of garlic for a little more body or perhaps make a light French-style tarragon cream sauce. For something a little more indulgent, add white wine, about 20 leaves of tarragon, a build of roast garlic and a splash of cream. Delicious. Very Provençal.
Allow Anything Left to Solidify:
Introduce a unique tip—allowing the remaining substances to solidify into a thick viscous gel, akin to natural stock pots. This gel, when melted, serves as a natural stock pot for future culinary adventures.
Finish with a detailed guide to perfect roasties—parboil for 10 minutes for a softer, fluffier texture. Stress the importance of cooking them alongside the chicken in the same pan to absorb the flavourful juices and aromatics, resulting in a delightful combination of plumpness, chewiness, and crispiness.
In conclusion, roasting a chicken is more than a culinary pursuit; it’s a proclamation of well-being, a comforting symphony of flavours that fosters a shared sense of calm and joy around the dinner table.