I’d been feeling a need for a roast chicken for days: it started when I realised there was no chicken stock left in the freezer and then Simon Hopkinson did his signature ‘Roast Chicken’ dish on his TV series, The Good Cook, last Friday. I got so excited by this that I texted my daughter and son – even though my son was in Florence and no doubt had more exciting things on his mind than roasting a chicken. Simon’s Roast Chicken and Other Stories has been a family favourite for years and it was no surprise to us when it was voted Most Useful Cookery Book of All Time by a panel of 40 chefs, restaurateurs and food writers set up by Waitrose Food Illustrated in 2005. However, I do have to admit that I’ve never actually followed Simon’s roast chicken recipe … I don’t think I’ve followed anyone’s recipe for many years … but I always use his recipe for Hummus (you can tell that by the way the book opens at that page and is a little splashed with remnants of past cooking), love his Chocolate Tart and always use his version of Elizabeth David’s recipe for Imam Bayeldi, Spiced Aubergine Salad, which is one of the most amazing, wonderful recipes I know.
It’s hard to find a really good chicken and I’ve been buying some good ones in the local farmers’ market for a while now. But on Saturday I decided to try one from the Laverstocke Park Farm shop recently opened in Twickenham. I’d had some good lamb from there a couple of weeks before. The chicken also turned out to be excellent …
Chicken is a great thing for a single gourmet to cook because not only are there the delights – the succulent taste, mouth-watering aroma, etc. – of the freshly roasted chicken but the added delight of all those leftovers (more later, see below). And you don’t have to do anything fancy because it’s delicious simply served cold the next day with some sweet little new potatoes tossed in butter and freshly chopped mint and some salad. I’ve occasionally bought a small chicken to roast just for myself but on Sunday there were two of us – leaving half for other things … including, of course, the much wanted chicken stock for my freezer (see below).
Heat the oven to 200 C (Fan) so it’s hot. Put the chicken in a heavy roasting dish that you can put straight on the hob after to make the gravy. Smear over a good amount of olive oil and use your hands to cover the whole bird. Freshly grind a generous amount of sea salt over it and some black pepper. Then finely grate the rind from a lemon over the top; then I scattered some of Yannis’s Mixed Herbs (see Yannis’s Herbs below) over too. Cut another lemon into quarters and put round the side of the bird; they caramelise nicely and you can serve with the chicken. Take a large square of greaseproof paper and smear a good amount of butter over the middle then lay it gently over the chicken so the buttery bits of the paper lie across the breast of the bird (this keeps in the moisture so it doesn’t dry out). Put the chicken in the hot oven and turn down to 180 C (Fan). Now, depending on the size of your chicken it will take about an hour to cook. Baste it a couple of times during cooking and about 15 mins before you judge it will be ready, remove the greaseproof paper to allow the skin to brown and crisp up. When ready, remove from the oven and allow to rest for a few minutes while you make a gravy from the juices. I usually pour away excess fat, stir in a little plain flour to make a roux and then pour in some hot stock till I have the right consistency. Check seasoning. If I have some white wine open then I’ll add some of that too near the beginning; or otherwise, a little Madeira near the end is nice for a sweet gravy.
Recipe: Chicken Delights (2) – Real Chicken Stock Cubes
Recipe: Chicken Delights (3) – Chicken and Mushroom Risotto