Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Lemony roast chicken

There are few things I like more than a good roast (well, actually, one or two things do spring to mind, but it's not that kind of website). Rather than masking the flavour of the meat with a bujillion flavours, you emphasise it to make it beautiful, juicy and flavoursome. Chicken is probably the most popular kind of meat to roast in England, probably because it's fairly cheap. Please buy free range chickens though - it's worth the couple of extra quid for something that tastes better, is better for you and was raised in a far more ethical way.

So here's how I made mine today (it will probably serve 4 people, depending on how fat or hungry you are, and takes a couple of hours):


  • A whole chicken - 1.5kg
  • A lemon
  • 100g butter, plus a little extra for basting
  • A good few springs of parsley and lemon thyme
  • 6-7 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
  • A leek
  • A large onion
  • Two carrots
  • 2 tbsps Worcestershire sauce
  • A generous splash of red wine


1) Get the chicken out of the fridge about an hour before you want to start cooking; this will let the meat adjust to room temperature so that it doesn't shock and toughen when you put it in the oven. In the meantime, chop up a couple of garlic cloves and about 2 tbsps parsley leaves. Put them into a small bowl with about 100g of the butter and about 1tbsp of thyme leaves. Grate some lemon zest (about half the lemon's skin) into the bowl, mix it all together, and put it in the fridge to let the flavours infuse before you start.

2) Put the oven on at 220 degrees.

3) Peel and roughly chop the carrots, onion and leeks and put them into the bottom of a roasting tin, then add some red wine (this will provide a base for your gravy).

4) Thoroughly wash your chicken and pat it dry. Break the wishbone at the neck so that it's easier to carve. Carefully slide your hand inside the slight gap between the skin of the breast and the breast meat itself, and gently and slowly slide your hand in (take your time). Next, put the garlic and herb butter into this gap with your hands and massage it to a roughly even spread once it's all in. Pierce the lemon a few times with a sharp knife and shove it into the large cavity between the legs along with a few lemon thyme sprigs and quite a lot of parsley sprigs. Put the chicken's ankles inside the skin of the cavity and truss it into place using either the string it came with or some cocktail sticks so that the lemon etc doesn't fall out. Finally, rub some butter, salt and freshly ground black pepper all over the chicken, put it on a rack resting on the roasting tin with the vegetables, and put it in the oven.

Note: the point of all of this stuffing is that you add some subtle, complementary flavour to the chicken and keep the flesh nice and moist while it cooks. There's nothing worse than dry chicken, apart from maybe Limp Bizkit.

5) Turn the heat down to 190 degrees and roast it for one and a half hours. Don't be a gimp and cover it with foil, the skin and the stuffed ingredients will keep the flesh moist enough and without the foil the skin will go nice and crispy. Baste some of the juices in the bottom of the roasting tin back over the chicken with a spoon every half hour.

6) The easiest way to check that the chicken is done is to get a meat thermometer and stick it in the thickest parts of a breast and a thigh; it should be about 180 degrees. If you're too tight to buy one of these very cheap things then you can just pierce the thickest part of the thigh with a knife or skewer; if the juices run clear then the chicken is done. Place the chicken upside down on a chopping board so that the juices run back down into the breasts, cover it with foil, and leave it for about 10 minutes while you do your gravy - don't worry, the chicken won't go cold in that time, this will simply allow the flesh to relax.

7) Put the roasting tin on the hob on a medium-hot heat. Using a whisk, scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen the sediment, which will add flavour to your gravy. Add two tbsps of Worcestershire sauce (and more wine if need be) and let it reduce slightly, then add a fair splash of water from the saucepans that I'm assuming you used to do the accompanying vegetables. Using a potato masher, mash up the ingredients in the pan as it reduces, which will help to thicken it, then once it tastes OK (taste it using a small teaspoon) strain all the liquid into a jug via a sieve. For non-Brits reading this, what you now have is a simple but delicious sauce called "gravy" which you can and should pour over your nicely roasted meat and veggies. For Christ's sake, do NOT use stock cubes or gravy granules, they taste like arse in comparison to the real thing; and if you use beef stock cubes/granules, I will personally come to your house and turn you into something resembling a Cannibal Corpse album cover.

Now you can carve and serve your bird! Today I served mine with roast potatoes and honey-roast carrots, but you could also use cabbage or mashed potato; I'll do separate posts on these side dishes.

TIP: When you've finished with the chicken, don't throw it away! The remaining flesh can be used to make pies, risottos, curries, pasta dishes and all sorts. Furthermore, you can boil the carcass in some water in a pan with a few other bits to make a delicious stock.

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