In a typical (and, to me, flattering) case of parallel evolution
, my own recipe for roast chicken is in many particulars similar to sneff
's above. There are however some ingredient and in particular method differences that make me think it's worth putting up here in its own tight. Maybe someone will try both and write a comparative critique!
The main difference between the two recipes is that while sneff recommends roasting the chicken at a high temperature, my preference is for a slow roasted bird cooked at lower heat to achieve a melting, falling-off-the-bone texture and deeper flavour. A more quickly cooked chicken will be crispier and the flavours sharper (because the garlic & onion will not have time to mellow out), but don't make the mistake of thinking it will be dry; it is the slower cooking method that requires additional fluid to keep the breast meat moist (we hates dry white meat, precious).
Here in the UK we don't have Australia's sophisticated sizing system; chickens come in small, medium or large. A medium chicken is in the 1.5-2kg range and would be enough to feed 4-6 people with side dishes. I'm with sneff in strongly urging you to go for broke and get the best quality chicken you can afford. Having said that, I know that getting a quality bird in a UK supermarket is an often impossible job. If certified (by the Soil Association) organic chicken is not to be got, check whatever is there for the following danger signs to at least help you eliminate the worst produce:
- Look at the chicken's legs at the point where the feet have been lopped off and the lower part of the leg tucked into the cavity: can you see small black marks there? If so, walk away in a hurry; this is the worst of the worst. The black marks are ammonia burns intensively farmed birds get from essentially living their whole lives kneeling in their own corrosive excrement. This is a result of the confined conditions but also the growth hormones which make them reach full size before their bones are strong enough to support their weight. Check a few of the chickens on the shelf - if one or two have the marks, it's likely the whole batch were raised in the same conditions.
- "British" chickens should have a clearly stated place of origin. Check the small print - quite often meat that is marketed as British is only packaged here, and sourced from unregulated farms elsewhere in the EU. In such a case any claims to being free range or corn fed are to be taken with more than a pinch of salt.
- "Barn raised" or self proclaimed "free range" chickens are more often than not just the same old intensively farmed birds which are reared not in batteries, but all in a heap in a huge, dark hangar. To qualify for the free range label they only need to be given access to the outdoors; in reality most of them never see the light of day.
- At the end of the day, you get what you pay for: a Tesco's Basic chicken for 99p per pound is a bad bet from the outset. Not that the more expensive stuff is always so much better, but at least you can spot the sure-fire stinkers.
OK, now that I'm done scaring you and you have hopefully chosen a decent enough bird that you're happy with, here is what you will need:
- A casserole with a lid
- 1 chicken
- 1 large or 2 small onions
- 2-4 cloves of garlic
- 1 cup olive oil
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme or 1-2 sprigs fresh
- 1 lemon
- Salt & pepper
- 1 cup white wine (or chicken stock if you're a teetotaller)
- Preheat the oven to 180C and place the casserole in it. Wash the chicken well and, using a sharp paring knife, go over it thoroughly and remove any loose bits of goo left on the inside, unplucked feathers and all that sort of gack. If the bird is really badly plucked, use the gas fire or - much more fun - a chef's blowtorch to singe off the remaining feathers.
- Rub the chicken all over with olive oil; make sure you get some under the skin over the breast as well. Season all over. Place the lemon, quartered, into the cavity with the garlic cloves, about half the onion in wedges and the thyme if you're using fresh sprigs. If you only have dried thyme, sprinkle it over the top of the chicken once it's on its back in the cooking dish, along with any remaining olive oil and onion wedges.
- If you don't have a casserole big enough but only a normal roasting tin, don't despair. You can accomplish the first stage of the cooking inside a tin foil tent, as you would with a turkey. Cook the chicken, covered, for 1 hour, during which you can go and put your feet up and enjoy the delicious smell spreading through the house.
- After an hour remove the chicken from the oven and increase the temperature to 200C. Take off the lid or foil and add the wine, then turn the bird over so it's face (and breast) first in the pan, and back it goes for another 15 mintues. The final stage is to then turn it right side up again and brown the breast and top of the bird.
- I don't trust the skewer through the thigh method because it's let me down in the past, so my recommendation would be to cut into the skin in the join between the thigh and the carcass, and see if any pink juices are gathered there. If so, give it another 10 minutes, then remove, rest, and serve with - again my preference - mashed potato and scrummy peas and carrots. A traditional meat & two veg meal to savour, and much less work than a proper Sunday Roast... Enjoy!