Recipe: Roast chicken and veg
When I was little, and my friend Susan and I played house, Susan was always pretend roasting pretend chickens. For her, it was the epitome of grown up behaviour. Maybe she was right, because the first thing that my mother formally taught me to cook, when I was about 9, was a roast chicken.
Everyone should be able to roast a chicken – it’s really easy and it can be a family supper or a special occasion meal. There’s something about a roast chicken that is comforting and makes the eater feel nurtured. And most people, except vegetarians, like it. It’s the most inoffensive of dishes.
My mother’s basic rule for roasting – for roasting ANYTHING – was to cook it at 180 for two hours. This feels kind of counter-intuitive – surely lamb and beef and pork and chicken can’t all be cooked the same way. But often I find that after I have consulted numerous books and done complicated sums about weight versus time versus how you like it cooked, I end up cooking a thing for two hours at 180. . .
Anyway, for a basic roast chicken, it works.
To start at the beginning, I only buy free range chicken. I’m a meat eater, so I can’t pretend that I am doing a great deal for animal rights, but what happens to battery chickens is truly shocking. If you don’t know, do a bit of research. It’s ugly and traumatising and so I try to help by only buying free range eggs and chicken. And by really hoping that I am not the victim of a labelling scam.
So take your free range chicken, and check that it has no giblets hiding in its tummy (this happens less now, used to be pretty standard) and also check for that weird piece of plastic that it sometimes has tucked under it. I’ve roasted that piece of plastic more than once. . .
If you want to take your chick from “week night” to “special occasion”, you should stuff it. I fry bacon and onions in butter, and then add that to breadcrumbs, chopped up apple, salt and pepper. But you can play with this – just use a breadcrumb and melted butter base and add the flavours you like. If you have a left over pork sausage in the fridge, that’s a winner to add!
If you’re not stuffing, put a peeled onion or a pierced lemon in the cavity.
Rub some oil onto the chicken (and if you have been concentrating on my blogs, you will not be surprised to know I use sunflower oil) and then salt and pepper it. My mom used a great garlic salt product that had a nice chunky texture – but this has been discontinued. I used to put garlic on the skin but I don’t really know that it adds much. Put the chicken in a roasting pan with a bit of oil in it.
Pop it in the oven at 180.
Now my mom used to baste (spoon the hot oil over) the chicken every 15 minutes in the last hour. (She even had a baster, but after the woman who lived across the road rather famously inseminated herself with a turkey baster, I am a bit more comfortable with spoons.)
For ages I did the basting, and then one day I didn’t and I couldn’t really tell the difference. So now I don’t, because I am really lazy and not one for pointless extra steps.
After the first hour, put your vegetables around the chicken – adding a bit extra oil if necessary. I always do carrots, often onions. You can do tomatoes and whatever other veggies tickle your fancy.
These days I do the potatoes in a separate dish with loads of butter and salt. (Sorry, if you’re banting, you took a wrong turn when you came to my blog. . .!)
It’s a good idea to stir the veggies every 15 minutes. If you feel like it, baste the chicken at the same time.
And if you are an energetic sort, you can make some gravy when the chicken comes out. Pour out most of the oil, keeping the lovely coloured juices. Put the pan on the heat and stir in a tablespoon of flour or maizena. Add water or stock, and you could also start with a dash of white wine. Stir until thickened.
In my childhood home of three, a roast chicken would do for two meals – we’d have it cold with salad on the second day. Every time I roast a chicken I imagine that I will get two meals out of it. I never do.