When I began to think about starting this blog, one of the ideas that bounced around my mind was to exclusively feature recipes for chicken. I am almost obsessed by cooking chicken. Many ingredients transform radically as you cook them; fish goes from wet and translucent to light and flaky, onions dissolve into a jammy essence in the pan, and eggs transform beyond recognition in any number of ways, but nothing thrills me like taking a whole roast chicken out of the oven, golden and literally singing.
In my many years of roasting chickens, I’ve gone from stuffing herbed butter under the skin, roasting them upside down, moving from one temperature to another throughout the cooking and adding god knows what seasonings to just doing as little as possible. I really believe that, in terms of the quality of the outcome, you lose nothing by following a recipe that requires almost nothing of you.
The one requirement I do suggest is not moving too far away from the oven. I believe regular basting makes all the difference when it comes to getting the most moisture in the breast, and it has the added byproduct of the cook observing the bird more closely and reducing the risk of overcooking which, to a plain old roast chicken, is a sorry fate.
Regarding the sauce, the choice isn’t mine; my eldest daughter, Elsa, demands ‘Mustard Gravy’ with any roasted meat, and who am I to stand in the way of that, especially given the wisdom of the request?
For those who feel like there’s too much butter in this recipe, I don’t know what to suggest. Boil the thing, maybe? If you’re going to roast a chicken properly, especially if it’s a sunday, but those weighing scales away and let yourself go.
You will need:
- A chicken, of a size that’ll feed your party. (I tend to use a small bird of about 1.2kg for us two adults and two small, but hungry, children.)
- Half a lemon, unwaxed.
- Plenty of unsalted butter
- A head of garlic (or at least most of one), separated out into cloves and lightly crushed with the flat of a knife blade, skin remaining.
- 1tbsp heaped Dijon mustard.
Preheat the oven to 200°C.
Season the chicken all over with salt and pepper, quite generously, inside and out.
Put the half lemon inside the cavity, and cut plenty of generous slices of butter (about half an inch thick), stuffing a few inside around the lemon, and resting the remaining slices on top of the breast. No need for neatness or accuracy.
Put the chicken in a roasting tray, either resting on the bottom or, if you want crispy skin all over, on a rack (this’ll make basting more of a faff, but it’s up to you). Scatter the garlic cloves around the bird and stick it in the oven.
Remove the tray from the oven every 15 minutes (close the door immediately after you remove the bird, so as not to drain too much heat), angle it to pool the butter and juices in the corner and spoon them over the bird several times, focusing on the breasts, but not neglecting the legs.
I realise this seems a frustrating thing to say, but do this til it’s cooked. My 1.2kg bird tends to take around an hour. A bigger chicken will take another 15, 30 or even 40 minutes. It’s done when you pierce between the breast and thigh and the juices which flow out are clear and there are no signs of pinkness in the flesh. Don’t overcook it ‘to be on the safe side’ (really, you’ll be fine). Take it out when it’s done, and rest it on a warm plate for 15 minutes.
Whilst you’re resting the chicken, scrape any crispy bits from the bottom of the roasting tray or dish (there should be enough butter to do this, but splash in some hot water if not) then pour it all into a saucepan. Add a heaped tablespoon of dijon mustard, and whisk it til uniform. Season and keep warm, adding water from a boiled kettle and whisking together if it begins to look a little over-reduced,
Carve the chicken, legs first, then taking off the whole breasts and slicing them thickly (follow THIS as a guide), leaving a wing-piece, then scrape any extra fatty-meaty bits off the back and scraping out any appealing looking pieces of offal from the carcass, and pile it up on the serving plate, with the whole garlic scattered around.
Serve it with the gravy on the side, alongside anything you feel like. We had plain brown rice, corn cobs fried in butter with smoked salt and broccoli fried with garlic and the juice from the other half of the lemon.
What more could you want? It’s not clever, or impressive, but it’s always, always delicious.