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.


Siobhan said...

My ex had his family food book and some of it was really simple, easy to follow and has stuck with me for making food better. Glad you foudn it useful (if long and tiresome) I may check it out now my fiance no longer hates him.

I'll alsos come back to your post when trying this methosd for roast chicken as you pay attention to the rest of the roast!

Marcheline said...

Wow! What an adventure!

My advice, given to me by a chef who owned his own restaurant and now owns a thriving vineyard/B&B, is to take your recipe and turn it around backwards.

Put the chicken (or turkey or whatever bird you're roasting) on a rack in a VERY HOT oven (400-425) for 20-30 minutes, effectively crisping the skin first. Then baste, lower the temp to 350, and cook slowly for the rest of the time, covering the bird with foil if the skin looks as if it might darken too much in the meantime.

It takes no extra time to speak of, and the searing/crisping process seals in all the juices so that the meat is deliciously tender once carving time arrives!

Jo said...

Siobhan: I got the book as well and actually it's surprisingly simple, just very very time-consuming. But those are the hours...
Marcheline: Yes in fact in the book it says you could do exactly that so either which way would work