At one point in my life I was a vegetarian. Of the “no bigger prude” variety. The decision to completely eschew protein sourced from previously alive beings was brought on by England’s “Mad Cow” crisis. I was horrified by the images of burning carcasses, and disgusted by what we saw fit to feed our animals (in essence themselves). So I quit eating them. Which worked until I found myself with double pneumonia in a hotel room in Sweden in the middle of winter. “You idiotic vegetarians”, the burly doctor sniffed. “Don’t think things through. How were you ever going to stay healthy living on a tour bus and drinking a bottle of wine every night? Your body is eating its muscles it is so desperate. Unbelievable.” I spent 10 days in the hotel, being brought broth by his wife, and fed all sorts by the hotel staff, who were under manners to keep the English girl alive.
What I didn’t tell the doctor was that I had been hallucinating the smell of roast chicken for the better part of a week. The band I was working with were sick of me sniffing the air and had organised for the backstage catering to cook me up a traditional English roast. I baulked at eating it – a girl had to maintain her principles on the road, but I knew something was up.
So – that was that for me being a veggie. I have never been much of a red meat lover – I can’t remember the last time I ate a steak. If I am going to partake – it should be (as sofa brother likes to say): meat that doesn’t taste like meat, fish that doesn’t taste like fish, or chicken that doesn’t taste like chicken. There should be no evident blood etc. Which narrows my choices to chicken breast, flaky white fish, tinned tuna and bacon. But (weirdly) I love Italian and Spanish hams, oysters and caviar.
My body was smart. It knew if there was one thing that would entice me back to protein it would be roast chicken. Especially if my mother had made it. And it had all the trimmings with it. I still love roast chicken and make it a couple times a month. I keep it simple – and roast my (always free range/organic) chook on top of mediterranean veggies that caramelise down into a lovely mush that you then serve separately or add into your gravy.
There’s something about a roast chicken dinner that speaks to the heart. It never fails to delight – unless you faff around with it too much. Last night’s was just delicious. And could only have been improved by a dessert of sofamother’s apple pie. Aah – one can but dream.
Simply the Best Roast Chicken.
To prepare your bird:
Take your chicken out of the fridge 30 minutes before it goes into the oven to bring it to room temperature.
Preheat your oven to 240°C/475°F
Sprinkle the chicken all over with regular table salt. Allow to stand for a few minutes.
To prepare your veggies:
I used red peppers, carrots, big black mushrooms, red onions, a couple of random roma tomatoes, and garlic. There’s no need to peel the vegetables – just give them a wash and roughly chop them (take the seeds out of the peppers though – they cook bitter). Break the garlic bulb into cloves, leaving them unpeeled.
To cook your dinner:
Pile all the veg and garlic into the middle of a large roasting tray and drizzle with olive oil.
Place the chicken on top of the vegetables in the roasting tray and put it into the preheated oven. Turn the heat down immediately to 200°C/400°F and cook the chicken for 1 hour and 20 minutes.
If you’re doing roast potatoes and more veggies, this is the time to prep them – and then whack them in the oven for the last 45 minutes of cooking. I pre-boil floury potatoes and scrape them with a fork so they make crispy bits while they are cooking. Our side dishes last night were a tomato and onion salad and steamed cabbage drizzled with an olive oil/lemon juice and salt salad dressing.
If the veg look dry halfway through cooking, add a splash of water to the tray to stop them burning. To tell if your chicken is cooked, slice the skin between the drumstick and breast, any juice there should be see-through – with no pink. When cooked, take the tray out of the oven and transfer the chicken to a board to rest for 15 minutes or so. Cover it with a layer of tinfoil and a tea towel.
For the gravy:
Pour off the oil in the roasting pan (into a separator jug if you have one) but keep all the brown, burntish bits. Squish the garlic into the tray from its skin and add the onions and the juices separated off from the oil. Put it back on the stove and grab a bottle of zesty white wine. When the pan is sizzling pour in the wine and deglaze the pan, scraping all the yum bits off the bottom and allow to mix together. If it looks thin, add a couple of teaspoons of cornflour mixed with water. But do it slowly so it doesn’t get lumpy.
To carve the chicken:
Lift the crispy skin from the breast and cut into smaller pieces. Everyone will want a bit. Then take off the wings and drumsticks, and finally remove the breasts and slice them medium thick. My mom and brother like to get the weird juicy bits underneath. This is not my territory – but they swear by the ‘chicken oysters’ Just turn the chicken and pull all the tasty (so they say), juicy bits from underneath.
You should be left with a stripped carcass that you can turn into a slow simmered stock by adding warm water, bay leaves, a few pepper corns and any fresh herbs you have to hand.
To serve: pile all the veg on a big serving platter and arrange the meat around it. Pour the gravy into a jug – presentation is all. You potatoes should be served on a separate plate with a sprinkle of flake salt and freshly ground pepper. You can add a jar of horseradish for dolloping if you like, I do.
Now, pour a glass of wine and tuck in. Voila … memories made.