A roast chicken is a thing of wonder. As a warming winter Sunday lunch or a summer salad, charred from the barbeque it is a hot, succulent marvel. Eating a leg on the bone is the stuff of mediaeval banquets and yet a bite of lightly salted chicken breast is the heart of some of the most satisfying, simple meals. And while we usually only think about roasting at the weekend, in reality it only takes an hour and a half for a medium bird so if you get it on promptly you can have one even after a hard day at the office.
Having chicken hailed as a dieting miracle is truly something to cheer about for the overweight glutton so it takes the limelight here as number one on my list: the glorious un-mucked about with roast chicken. I’ve eaten a lot of chicken over the past couple of years and there came a point when people asked me the secret of my amazing weight loss and sometimes I did take the easy answer and not say, “a high fibre, lean protein, on-off behavioural routine”... but just, “chicken, roast chicken.”
And it wasn’t too far from the truth. I eat lots of smoked fish too, but if it comes down to one individual creature the chicken would have to be it. I keep chicken in the fridge: the leftover meat in grab-able bite-sized chunks while the bones make a stock. I eat simple cooked pieces - breast in something or other and I make simple soups, stews and curries. But, without doubt, it started with a roast.
- A chicken (this assumes roughly a 1.5kg bird)
- 2 lemons
- Sprigs of thyme (optional)
This is the least messed with chicken there is. I don’t even oil the skin because we’re not going to eat it, but the lemons leave a subtle flavour and help keep the bird juicy.
Preheat the oven to a blistering 230C. Empty the bird of giblets. Put it breast up in your roasting tray, on a rack if you can. Halve your lemons and cut a couple of thin slices. Two halves go in the carcass with the thyme sprigs. Squeeze the other lemon over the bird and rub it all over. Throw the lemon peels into the tray too. Put the slices on the bird for a bit of protection. Sprinkle with a little salt and a lot of pepper.
Roast for half an hour. Lower the oven to 160C, open the door to let it cool, and while it’s open baste the chicken in its own juices. Once the oven is down to 160C, close the door and roast for another hour.
Timing is: a blistering first half hour, then roast at 160C for 20 minutes per 500g.
Keep basting every ten minutes or so.
Remove. Allow to rest for ten minutes and carve. Or tear to pieces.
Make rolls of chicken in a lettuce leaf and dip in celery salt, freshly ground black pepper and a bowl of mayonnaise.
Supper is served.