Thursday, 9 February 2012

In which I roast a chicken (no, really)

I have not gone mad. Of course I roast chickens all the time. Of course you know how to roast a bloody chicken. The last thing we need is yet another way to roast a chicken. And yet, and yet, there might be something else to try.

Last Sunday was a bit of a shocker. Still limping through the after-effects of flu, iced in (because of course we move to the North and become the only place in Britain not to get beautiful dreamy drifts of snow but blanket sheet ice literally falling in lethal lumps from a dour sky) with nowhere to go and dying of boredom, I decided I would cook the roast chicken I had planned for dinner The Heston Way (cue ‘dah-dah-DAH!’). This involved brining, a slow cook, a long rest and a final blasting roast. It looked to be a bit of a haul and I was sceptical as to how worth it it would be.

I had to cut corners not least because I decided to embark upon it at 10.30am, a good 14 hours later than Heston would have you start. First you theoretically brine your chicken in a 6% salt solution overnight. Do not panic: I too have no idea what that means so I followed his instructions of 300g salt to 5 litres water in a stockpot and plop in the untrussed chicken. I left it for 3 1/2 hours; this was all I could leave it for as I have a rule on Sundays we all eat together and that means dinner about 5.30 and this sucker had to cook for at least three of those hours left. I drained it, dried it off, smeared it with butter and shoved a lemon up its bum then stuck it in the oven at about 110C. Now, he stipulates 90C but my oven doesn’t have such a low temperature on the dial and I wasn’t even sure it would come on, so I upped it to visible temperature.

After 3 hours (about 4.30pm) I took the chicken out of the oven. It did not look promising. Pallid, flobby, and practically swimming in its own juices. Blee. There is a reason Heston tells you to put it on a rack. Do it. However I gamely stuck my thermometer into the thickest part and checked the temperature. He wanted it to be about 65C; mine read just over 70C. ‘That’s cooked enough for me’ I thought as I poured off the juices into a measuring jug and left it to rest sweatily on the side. I mean, roast chicken looks great, no? This really doesn’t. You have to keep the faith a bit at this point. Heston rests his chicken for 45 minutes before a final basted roasting for 10-15 minutes to crisp up the skin – but he forgot about the roast potatoes. This is where timing goes out the window but I don’t think it matters a jot.

Your roast potatoes are going to need, say, 45 minutes in a really hot oven, so get them boiled and ready to go in when the chicken comes out. Whack the oven up, get the potatoes in and get on with your gravy (if you make it separately like I do). If you do, spoon off the fat from the top of the juices, then pour those juices into the gravy to really concentrate the flavour. If you make yours in the tin, hold onto them for later.

20 minutes before the chicken is ready, melt a little butter and white wine together in a pan and baste the chicken with it. Perhaps brush it on with a sprig of rosemary. Season. Place the chicken in the oven and cook until the skin is golden and crisp. Mine took 12 minutes. Remove from the oven with the potatoes and foil over to keep warm.Working  quickly, either reheat your gravy or heat the leftover juices in the roasting tin and season.

Finally, carve your chicken. Now, this is the thing. I think this method is really going to show results on a supermarket chicken; I think the better quality the chicken you buy, the less difference you’ll see in the end result. However, the point is the chicken meat is firmer, it tastes amazing and it is of course juicy (although I have never cooked a dry chicken, so I can’t possibly comment. I don’t know how you do cook a dry chicken.) The gravy with all those flavours returned to it is also knock-out. And the leftovers are where it gets really good; as the chicken remains so moist, the leftovers really do stay good for some time.

I have made the monumental decision to buy the book Heston Blumenthal at Home; not because I was so overwhelmed necessarily with the result, but because the method was interesting, easy to follow and methodical (if tiresomely long – my recommendation would be to do it for a Sunday lunch and then your afternoon is free) and, having watched the Channel 4 series, I long to have a go at his cheese sauce and fondue for the same reasons. Not because I can’t cook them, but because I want to know how I can cook them better.

Self-improvement. The name of the game for 2012.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Relocation, Relocation; or, in which I lost my heart

Sometimes the only way you know you’re home is when you return. Sometimes you don’t even know that you have returned and found home in something you didn’t know you wanted in the first place. (Too cryptic? Try me after my next coffee). Sometimes your whole being throws out little anchors you didn’t realise were holding you safely in place until you try to tear away from them.

I’ve always loved moving around, perhaps because we never did as children, so I still love discovering new places. A particular joy of such a big move up to Cheshire is the constant discovery of new roads, new places, new people. It is a buzz. I knew I liked it up here; we’re enjoying ourselves, the slower lifestyle, the new friends and so on. I didn’t know how much till we left.

This sounds terribly melodramatic, so let me clarify. We merely went down to London for 48 hours to see my sister and for MCD to go on some almighty marathon piss-up with his friends under the guide of ‘sorting out a stag do.’ We drove to Bromley via the sat nav’s weirdly circuitous route of the Olympic site (big thrills for MCD there) and, as we drove through E London, as the buildings drew ever inwards, as the skyline grew greyer and contracted to glimpses of blue, I felt my innermost being contract as well. Something inside huddled a bit closer. The traffic got a bit more impatient and aggressive, the high streets looked surly – it all looked, well, unfriendly.

We had a fine weekend. Despite MCD Jr deciding to push his canines through and consequently spending much of it streaming from every orifice and wailing hysterically, it was a good weekend. I saw two of my best friends, I hung out and drank Champagne with my sister, we went to Chapter One where they thought MCD Jr a riot, fed him fishcake and he helped himself to vast quantities of rhubarb sorbet and crème brulée. It was fun.

But. And here’s the thing. As we turned on to the A500 off the M6, a mere 25 minutes from home, I felt my entire soul lift. I felt myself breathe in again; as if all weekend I had been holding my breath in tension. It was a feeling of home, of belonging, of right-ness. ‘This is where we should be, we are fools ever to leave it’, were my persistent thoughts as we came through the final leg and passed the Snugbury’s bear. I felt like I was coming back to my husband after being away, that same sense of slight desperation and excitement to see each other again. Is this love, I wondered?

It is a similar feeling to coming home to my parents’. I still refer to it as ‘home’ which still irritates MCD. ‘We have a home’ he insists, and he’s right, but in my head I had two homes: one where my parents are, and one where we are right now. I suspect it’s not that unusual. But now we are here in Tarporley, and even though we rent, the word ‘home’ has taken on a deeper resonance; as if I have indeed come home. I feel the same sense of security, of familiarity, of contentment as in my childhood. That makes it more ‘home’ than any place we lived in – and loved living in – in London.

Home is where friends and family are. That is a fundamental truth and not one I shall strive to overturn. However, I would like to make a plaintive plea for Place. Sometimes it’s not where your family is, or where you hang out with your mates, or where you grew up; sometimes it’s just a place that evokes all of those feelings in you, that conjures up that same sense of comfort and holds you tight when you leave.