A whole chicken is not just a delicious and indulgent treat, it's actually a very frugal dinner to have. My chicken tonight cost £4.10. It's not a free range one, (Sainsbury's had run out officer, honest.), but it is corn-fed and freedom food endorsed, which is the best I could do. I never buy cheap meat, I always spend as much as I can afford to in that department and go super cheap for everything else.
So, a few weeks ago, my parents visited from Scotland, we did nothing but eat good food and drink good wine from the minute they met me at the station until the minute I put them back on the train.
I love family visits.
We went to this gorgeous place one their last day. They served us whole chickens, bread sauce, roast potatoes, vegetables and gravy. It was amazing. A highly recommended Sunday lunch. The chickens themselves were tiny little things - each was enough to feed one person - and they were stuffed with bay leaves, garlic, lemon and onion, all chopped up small. Perhaps it was because the chickens themselves were so little, or maybe it was because the stuffing was chopped and intermingled, but the meat was flavoured incredibly. It was fragrant and delicate and moist. We all went home more than satisfied.
When cooking chicken, we always need to remember that it's not a very moist meat, so we need to help it out a bit. That's why stuffing it with something like onion or lemon is a good idea; it imparts some of it's moisture to our chicken. If you don't have time/can't be bothered to chop everything up in the way that I describe here, just cut an onion in half, (no need to peel) or cut a lemon into rough quarters, and shove it into the chicken's cavity. It'll make all the difference, I swear.
Oh, and sorry for posting a recipe for roast chicken, you probably already know how to make it. This version really is killer though.
A whole chicken, (buy one that's had as nice a life as possible please!)
Half a lemon
A few bay leaves, maybe three
A couple of cloves of garlic
Chop the lemon and the onion up and pop them in a bowl, halve the cloves of garlic and put them in too, tear the bay leaves and add them to the mix.
Get your chicken out of his plastic wrapping, put him into a roasting tin and cut the string that's tying him up off. He's already dead, let's not humiliate him. Let his legs roam free! You're not supposed to wash poultry anymore because the act of doing so spreads so much bacteria around the kitchen that it's safer not to bother, so just put him straight into your roasting tin. Put the chopped bits and bobs inside his cavity, but don't fill it right up, definitely leave some room in there for circulation as it will allow the chicken to cook properly. Keep some lemon pieces aside, they're nice to squeeze over the outside of the chicken.
Once the stuffing's in there, rub some leftover lemon bits over your chicken, tucking them in between the legs and the breast, to flavour and moisten the meat. Pour some olive oil and grind some salt and black pepper over and your chicken is ready for the oven! I hope you were keeping your hands nice and clean while handling him. Don't touch things in your kitchen with chicken-y hands.
Whack Mr Chicken in a hot oven for about 90 minutes, more if he's bigger. I normally just do 90 minutes and then check. He should look golden, bubbling and beautiful. He should smell delicious and his juices should run clear if you pierce in between his thigh with a knife and push his leg up against him.
Yes, £4.10 is a lot of money to pay for just one element of a meal, but if you keep watching this blog in the next few days, I'll be putting up recipes using the leftovers. I plan on getting three more meals out of our chicken friend, which works out as a pretty good deal in my book I reckon.
Now onto the second part of this blog, and equally as important.
I hope that my Dad doesn't mind me including our secret ingredient in the recipe here. It adds such depth to the flavour of the gravy, it takes it from ordinary to mind blowing. You'd be a fool to miss it out. See if you can spot it in the following list of ingredients.
Juices from the chicken
Hot water (preferably some that you've just boiled vegetables or potatoes in. You only need a ladlefull or so)
Add a tiny bit of boiling water from the kettle to your roasting tin to melt all of the caramelised juices from the bottom of the pan. Go for those deep brown bits that look almost burned. That's where the real flavour lies. You want your gravy to be rich and chicken-y don't you? I thought so.
At this point my Dad usually pours the juices into a fat-seperator like this, but that's because his fat-intake is limited. I don't bother, I just pour the worst of the fat into a glass, it's pretty easy to do as the fat floats on top of the juices, so the fat pours away first. As soon as the clear liquid that you're pouring away becomes brown liquid, stop, because you're throwing away all of your flavour!
Put your chicken juices into a small pan, adding a tablespoon of flour or so to thicken it. Don't over-do it with the flour, the mixture in the pan should be a sort of a greasy paste, delicious.
Give the flour a minute or two to cook off, then chuck a generous splash of wine. It makes all the difference here, enriching the gravy and adding great flavour. Keep stirring and slowly add the hot water, once the wine has cooked off. You might want to use a whisk here, as you're at risk of lumps. If your gravy is looking too thick, add some more water. If it looks too thin, boil it off a little bit. Keep going until your gravy is at the thickness that you want it, I like mine really thick. Shake in a few drops of soy sauce and season with black pepper, give it a quick taste to see if it needs any more of either and you're ready to serve!
Whenever I have roast chicken, I think about my darling friend Lauren, because this is her jug. Thank you Lauren, and sorry for pinching it. But know that I think about you when I'm eating my favourite tea.
Honestly, is there anything better in the world than a roast chicken with gravy? I normally serve mine with rice and broccoli. The rice thing is a family tradition, it comes from a few trips to singapore, where roast chicken is served with rice. It goes really well with gravy, try it one Sunday.