from Roast chicken and Other Stories by Simon Hopkinson with Lindsey Bareham (Ebury Press)
There is chicken, and there is chicken.... the better the bird, the better the dish cooked...
Well, up to a point. A good cook can produce a good dish from any old scrawnbag of a chook. A poor cook will produce a poor dish. I firmly believe this to be true....
Roasting a chicken is a joy for me; and if I am pressed to name my favourite food, then roast chicken it must be.
110g/4oz good butter (Nigel used unsalted), at room temperature
1.8kg/4lb free-range chicken
Salt and pepper
Several sprigs of thyme/tarragon
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
Preheat the oven to 450˚F/230˚C/Gas Mark 8. Smear the butter all over the bird. Put the chicken in a roasting tin that will accommodate it with room to spare. Season liberally with salt and pepper and squeeze over the juice of the lemon. Put the herbs and garlic inside the cavity, together with the squeezed out lemon halves-this will add a fragrant lemony flavour to the finished dish.
Roast the chicken in the oven for 10-15 minutes. Baste, then turn the oven temperature down to 375˚F/190˚C/Gas Mark 5 and roast for a further 30-45 minutes with further occasional basting. The bird should be golden-brown with a crisp skin and have buttery, lemony juices of a nut-brown colour in the bottom of the tin.
Turn off the oven and leave the chicken to rest for at least 15 minutes before carving. This enables the flesh to relax gently, retaining the juices in the mat and ensuring easy, trouble-free carving and a moist bird.
Carve the bird to suit yourself; I like to do it in the roasting tin. I see no point in making a gravy in that old-fashioned English way with the roasting fat, flour and vegetable cooking water. With this roasting method, what you end up with in the tin is an amalgamation of butter, lemon juice and chicken juices. It’s perfect homogenisation of fats and liquids.
All it needs is a light whisk or a stir, and you have the most wonderful ‘gravy’ imaginable. To add extra flavour, scoop the garlic and herbs out of the gravy cavity, stir them into the gravy and heat through; strain before serving.
Another idea, popular with the Italians, is sometimes known as ‘wet-roasting’. Pour some white wine or a little chicken stock, or both, or even just water around the bottom of the tin at the beginning of cooking. This will produce more of the sauce and can be enriched further to produce altogether different results.
For example, you can add chopped tomatoes, diced bacon, cream, endless different herbs, mushrooms, spring vegetables, spices-particularly saffron and ginger-or anything else that you fancy. For me, the simple roast bird is the best, but it is useful to know how much further you can go when roasting a chicken.