Wine & Food

    How to cook the perfect roast chicken

    24 March 2017

    I feel that sometimes roast chicken gets a bad rap. It’s plagued by being the default choice at weddings, business dinners, and every lacklustre conference centre you’ve ever had the misfortune to dine in. Dry, mealy and tasteless, without fail. It’s no wonder then that we see it as boring or lesser, especially when up against wibbling pork belly, thinly sliced rare roast beef, or thick hunks of rosemary strewn lamb.

    But if treated properly, roast chicken is glorious: golden and impressive. Bringing a whole bird to the table makes the simplest of meals feel like an event, and the meat cooked properly is juicy, almost silken, with the richly flavoured dark meat hiding from view. And of course, my favourite, the skin: dark, crispy salty and impossibly moreish. Don’t trust anyone who doesn’t steal a piece of crisp chicken skin when your back is turned. If you can get the skin right on a roasted chicken, people will never question your culinary prowess.

    The good news is that getting it right is so incredibly simple. My favourite way of roasting chicken is to cook it very hot, very fast, with just butter and salt. That’s it. You can have a chicken prepped and in and out of the oven in under an hour.

    When I began following the hot and fast school of thought, it opened up weeknight possibilities. Suddenly, roast chicken wasn’t something that was restricted to Sunday lunchtimes, and it didn’t demand a host of extravagant side dishes. My favourite way to eat it is popped in the oven as soon as I get home, and then served with crusty bread, a thrown together green salad, and lots of really good mayonnaise.

    Of course, one of the principal joys of a roast chicken comes after the main event: the leftovers, eked out over the days that follow. I turn these into coronation chicken, or impossibly delicious soup using the stock from the bones, or fat, mayonnaise-laced sandwiches.

    There is also the possibility of pints of stock, if you can be bothered to chuck the bones in a pot while you ponder pudding. There are far more effective and classical ways of making stock, I’m sure, than mine, but I frequently favour minimum effort for maximum return, and this certainly fulfils that criterion. Having stripped the meat from the bones, and squirrelled it away for packed lunches, I place all the bones in a big casserole dish and cover with water. If I happen to have an old onion or carrot lying around, I’ll throw them in too, whole. I gently simmer for about hour, then remove any bones or vegetables, before boiling hard until it’s reduced by about half. Then I bag it up and freeze it until I need it.

    The greatest crime against roast chicken is overcooking it, leading to the dry, mealy, tasteless chicken of conference centres mentioned above. It’s understandable given how often it is drummed into us not to serve undercooked chicken, and not surprising that much of our chicken then ends up panic-overcooked. But it is easily remedied: if you place a sharp knife in the thickest part of the chicken (the fattest part of the thigh), when it’s removed, the juices should run clear. But if you’re nervous, you can use a probe in the same place and it should read 75°.

    If roast chicken is already a weekly occurrence in your household, you might want to try one of the following ideas to jazz it up:

    • Blitz a handful of wild garlic, which is just coming into season, with a handful of walnuts in a blender and gradually add oil until it reaches a pourable consistency. Drizzle over sliced, roasted chicken.
    • For a punchy and zingy dressing, mash up 6 anchovies in a pestle and mortar. Grate in half a clove of raw garlic and stir through finely chopped parsley. Add olive oil to loosen and lemon juice to taste.
    • Panfry chunks of mushrooms in a medium hot pat with a little butter. When they’re golden and have given up all their juices, deglaze the pan with a couple of tablespoons of madeira, then stir in cream or creme fraiche. Serve the chicken on top of your boozy, creamy mushrooms.

    It goes like this:

    Makes: 1 chicken, enough to serve four with leftovers

    Takes: 20 minutes, including resting

    Bakes: 50 minutes

    1-5kg-1.8kg chicken

    25g butter

    A good pinch of coarse salt

    1. Preheat the oven to 210°C.
    2. Place the bird in a small roasting tin. Line it with tin foil if you wish, it will make for less washing up later.
    3. Rub the butter all over the bird’s skin, not forgetting the thighs and legs, and sprinkle generously with salt.
    4. Roast for 50 minutes.
    5. Remove from the oven and drape with tin foil. Leave to rest for 15 minutes, then carve and serve.