My mother taught me to make a roast dinner, but she would spurn this as incomplete. Many people would. Where is the bread sauce, the stuffing, the cauliflower cheese, the carrots, the mash, the proper roasties? BISTO GRAVY? Heathen. You can add all those things and more, and I do when the mood takes me, but this is not for then. This is for comfort; not the stress of a thousand things in the oven at once, of mashing, and mixing, and burning hot fat sploshing all over the place. This is the easy base from which all else can rise. This is for days when chopping things up is about all you can manage. And the washing up isn't too evil either.
You will need a chicken, a lemon, some butter, some waxy potatoes, some garlic, some dried rosemary, some salt, some green vegetable and Bisto.
First, get your chicken. I would rather eat good chicken once a month than shit chicken every week, so I buy a free range one from a supermarket. It costs about twice what a battery chicken does, and it's not guaranteed to be twice as ethical, or even twice as tasty, but there is nothing more depressing than some poor pale creature that has lived out its six weeks of life up to its eyeballs in shit, crammed into a tiny space. If you are minted, buy an organic chicken. But try free range as a minimum.
If you get your chicken from the supermarket, it will have the cooking time in minutes on the front of the packaging, if you cook it at 180 degrees. Note this. If you don't, there are sundry guides to cooking times on the internet. Preheat your oven.
Get a roasting pan. I have two medium sized ones that are differently shaped, to accommodate chickens which are fatter or longer. Put a massive sheet of baking parchment in the bottom of the pan. This serves two purposes - it collects the juice, and it stops the chicken sticking to the bottom of the pan, which is a shitter to wash up.
Put the chicken in the baking parchmented-pan. Cut the string tying its little legs together, and untuck them from the cavity. The legs will spring open, like a birthing woman. Leave them there.
Get some salted butter. Cut a chunk off - how much depends on how sad you are - and blast it for five seconds in the microwave. Take it into your paw and smear it about your chicken. All over the breast, the legs, the wings, the weird bits between the legs and breast. Wash your hands before you absent-mindedly wipe them on your jeans.
Take the lemon. Cut the lemon in half. Don't spray yourself in the eye as you do this. Take one half of the lemon and squeeze it all over your buttery beast. When that half is well emptied, shove it up the chicken's arse. Yes, you read that correctly. Keep the other juicy half; you'll need it later.
Sprinkle a little salt over the breast. I use a small amount of sea salt for this, because it makes the skin taste even more delicious. Saxa table salt is fine though.Don't overdo it.
Remember the cooking time for the bird? Stick your bird, uncovered, in the oven, and note (mentally or on your phone or on paper or whatever) what time it will be finished, and when it will be an hour from finished.
Go do something else for a bit. A bath. A read. The telly. After half an hour, the house will begin to smell of chickeny goodness, and you will get hungry.
About an hour before your chicken will be ready, get an ovenproof dish out, the sort you do pasta bake or cottage pie in. Get your waxy potatoes. I use Charlotte ones. They're a quid a bag from Tesco, but use whatever you like. Guess how many you might like to eat - we will generally eat a whole kilo between two of us. Adjust for numbers and greed. Chop them up. Doesn't matter how. I take the ends off, then slice them into rounds. Sometimes I do them as chunks, which tend to crisp up a bit better in the oven. However you do them, they need to be not-too-thin. Too thin makes the equivalent of crisps, and that is not what you want right now. Too thick and they don't quite cook through. Between a penny and a pound in thickness. When they are chopped, put them in the ovenproof dish. Slosh some olive oil over them. Squeeze the other half of the lemon over them. Sprinkle a little rosemary over; not too much or you'll just taste rosemary. Crush some garlic. How much garlic? How much do you like? One to two cloves gives a pleasant waft to the thing. Five gives a punch. Add that to the dish - I use a garlic crusher because then it melts into the potatoes and you don't get the nasty crunch of an unexpected slice. Add a good sprinkle of salt. Then mix it all up with your hands. Make sure each potato piece gets a bit oiled. If you think it's too wet, drain a little liquid into the sink. If you think it's too dry, add a little more oil. Cut the juiced lemon half into half again. It will be all sad and squidgy and dead, but it gives such life to the dish. Chuck it in.
Put the dish in the oven. It will take between 45 and 60 minutes to cook, which should align with your chicken being cooked. Give them a stir if you think they're burning, but I always forget to check them, and they never do. Your hands will smell so good, you will want to eat them. Don't eat them. Wash them before you wipe them on your jeans.
You have an hour-ish to kill. Go and do something relaxing. My god, your house smells amazing now, doesn't it?
I don't know what green vegetable you like. I tend to cook broccoli, green beans, peas, asparagus in season, or a mix of all of them. If you want them to be ready at the same time as the chicken, you'll need to be ready to cook them around 15 minutes before the chicken is done, but the nice thing about this is that unless you get stuck on the phone to someone or fall asleep or have an asthma attack, an extra ten or so minutes in the oven won't hurt.
Is your chicken ready? You can skewer it to check - in the deepest part of the thigh, shove something sharp and then observe the juices that bubble forth. If they're clear, you're good. If they're pinkish, give it another five to ten minutes. I tend to trust the supermarket, and don't check. I deserve food poisoning. If your chicken is ready, remove it with a flourish, close the oven door and turn it off - you can leave the potatoes in there for a bit, they won't spoil.
|This chicken had twenty minutes longer than it should have, thanks to screaming children. Still tasted amazing.|
Leave your chicken on the side for a moment while you put a load of Bisto into a bowl. How much Bisto? I don't know. I like my gravy ludicrously thick, so I put in a fair bit. I don't think Bisto is really an exact science.
To get your chicken from pan to plate is not necessary if you feel like just ripping the chicken off the carcass and shoving it into your face, and this chicken is so good, I wouldn't blame you at all. But I move mine out of the pan and onto a plate using a big spoon and a fish slice. I take the lemon out of the cavity, put the spoon in the cavity, and then use the fish slice to lift it from the pan onto the plate. Truly, I am an elegant genius. Should you drop your chicken on the floor...pick it up with a tea towel. You won't though. If I, clumsiest of women, can do this, so can you. You can put a foil tent over it if you don't think everything else will be ready for ages, but a cooler chicken is much easier to attack with hands and knife.
You should now have a pan of delicious chicken juice and buttery lemonyness. Put some into your dry bowl of Bisto. No water yet, just juices and Bisto. It will look deeply unappetising and nothing like gravy. Fear not.
|Mmm, slurry au Bisto avec jus de poulet!|
Boil the kettle. While it boils, drain your veg and take the potatoes out of the oven.Give the potatoes a bit of a prod, to check they're cooked. They should YIELD. I love that word - yield. Give way. Fall to the sword that is the point of your little knife.
Your chicken should be covered in a golden skin, with speckles of crusty salt and generally look and smell beautiful. So beautiful it may be difficult to come to terms with the necessary carving. Do yourself a favour: rip some chicken skin off and eat it. Eat some more. Stab any wandering hands trying to steal your chicken skin with a fork. This is the definitive cook's perk. By the time you've eaten the skin, you should have a beautiful white breast looking up at you with a bone running down the centre. Put a sharp knife down either side of this bone. This parts the breast off the skeleton of the bird, making it far easier to carve. Men like carving on the bone, all knives and dead beast. I do not. Should this technique fail you, rip it off any which way you can. It all goes down the same way.
Plate up. Chicken, potatoes, veg. Now pour just enough boiling water into your chickeny Bisto slurry to turn it into the consistency you want. In our house, that's basically meaty custard. Stir it vigorously with a fork. Pour it over your chicken, potatoes and veg. Eat it. Eat it all. Wonder why you ever feared roasting a chicken. It tastes good. It tastes safe, and comforting, warm and homely. It is balm. And you made it all by yourself.
I have a confession. This chicken dinner didn't have gravy, I just lobbed some pan juices over it at the end because I was tired. And I made Ellabell Risbridger's amazing garlic kale instead of plain greens, but god it was good. It is always good.
Leftover chicken mixed with mayonnaise and mango chutney make the best sandwiches I have ever had the pleasure of eating. You can also use them to make some sort of stir-in-sauce meal the next day. The leftover carcass, boiled in plain water for a few hours, makes the most delicious jelly of a stock. A chicken is a useful thing. But firstly, you get this meal, and that is always worth the effort.