Beauty & the Baste

We’re almost there & as the big day draws near, gifts have been wrapped, greeting cards are written & parcels delivered.  If you’ve been following my blog, you’ll have most of your Christmas cooking prepared by now too (well done you!).  This part is all about the main event: a beautifully basted bird, & whether you prefer turkey, chicken or something else completely, you want it to be perfect.  It’s like a spectacular Sunday lunch, only with more people (& more wine).  Whether you’re having a full-on festive feast or not, everyone will be looking forward to spending a few days with their family & friends.

In the past, I have regularly cooked Christmas dinner for around 10-20 people (what was I thinking?!), including a turkey the size of a pterodactyl (it was a bit of a beast & needed two people to wedge it into the oven), along with joints of beef, pork & Quorn, plus a glazed gammon joint & various crates of veg – this involved several days, two kitchens & a bottle of Sherry!  Despite all the chaos, dinner would be done & I somehow managed to keep smiling – it’s a bit like being a swan on a pond, all calm & graceful on the top, but paddling like mad under the water!

Because we don’t eat turkey these days (nor do I try to feed the 5,000 anymore), I cook a large chicken on Christmas Day instead, but this method works equally well with a turkey too (probably not one the size of a pterodactyl though!).  For turkey cooking times, including defrosting times, here’s a link to the British Turkey website to help you get started:

The way I roast a chicken is actually quite easy & you don’t really need to prep the bird until Christmas morning.  You could do this just before bedtime on Christmas Eve if you really want to get a head start, just don’t add the salt or the water until you’re ready to roast.

One thing I always recommend is to get yourself some decent roasting tins!  Forget the non-stick ones – I learned the hard way that no matter how expensive they are or fabulous the guarantee is, that stuff eventually comes off on your food.  Save yourself some hassle & invest in some good, plain stainless steel ones – you don’t need to spend a fortune either, just check they are well-made & solid.  Let’s get started!

You will need:

1 fresh Chicken, without giblets (to feed four, I use about 1.5kg size)
(standard cooking times for Chicken are usually 20 minutes per 500g plus 20 minutes, although I tend to cook it longer by my method)

2-3 medium/large Carrots
2-3 sticks of Celery & a couple of the inner ones with leaves on top
1 large Onion or 2 smaller/medium Onions
Sea Salt & Black Pepper
A glug of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Optional: 6-10 rashers Streaky Bacon (smoked or unsmoked)

Stuffing:  either Fresh Herbs – a handful of Thyme, a couple of sprigs of Rosemary & a few Sage leaves are plenty;
Or:
Homemade Sage & Onion Stuffing (see my previous blog http://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/a-bit-on-the-side/)

What you do:

Pre-heat the oven to 200*C.  Before handling your bird, wash your hands thoroughly & dry them to avoid any cross-contamination – there’s a lot of hand washing, because you don’t want people to remember your Christmas dinner for all the wrong reasons!

Take the chicken out of it’s wrapper & most importantly: do not wash it!  Trust me, no bacteria will survive in a 200*C oven – the temperature require to kill E.coli & Salmonella is 70*C (160*F), so panic ye not people!

Remove any elastic or ties & pop the chicken legs out of their sockets, allowing the chicken to cook evenly.  To do this, hold the chicken in both hands, breast side up, with it’s legs in the palms of your hands & firmly push them outwards, away from the breast – you will feel them pop out easily.  Place the chicken in the roasting tin & wash your hands thoroughly again.

Wash the carrots & celery, then chop roughly into 3 inch long pieces & arrange around the chicken.  The reason we clean the veg is because you’ll be using the stock for gravy & you don’t want any mud or grit in it.  Cut the onion into half (leave the skin on if clean), or quarters if it’s a large one, putting the pieces in the corners of the tin.

Next you need to fill the cavity of the chicken – again, this helps the chicken cook evenly & it also flavours it nicely too.  There are various fillings you can use, but ultimately it’s down to personal choice – some people prefer traditional sage & onion stuffing, some prefer using a few fresh herbs & vegetables.  If you made some of my homemade sage & onion stuffing for this, simply spoon it into the cavity until full.  If you prefer your stuffing separate, bundle together a couple of thin carrot & celery sticks with the leaves on, along with the herbs (saving a couple of Sage leaves) & put inside the chicken cavity.

If you’re using bacon, layer your bacon rashers across the chicken breast, starting at the top & working your way down, with each rasher overlapping the previous one.  This is good if the skin has split on your chicken – it will keep your breast meat moist & the bacon will crisp up nicely at the end of cooking.  Wash your hands well again afterwards (they’ll be sparkling by now!).

Pour about three pints of cold water around the edge of the chicken (be careful not to splash), then drizzle some olive oil over the whole bird & legs, sprinkle a good teaspoonful of ground sea salt & black pepper over the top.   Rip up the rest of the Sage leaves, along with any Thyme & Rosemary leaves that fell off, then sprinkle them around the roasting tin.

Next, make a foil dome to go over the top of your roasting tin & capture all those lovely steamy juices.  This is the science bit that is going to save you time & effort: as the moisture heats up, the steam vapour rises to the top of the foil dome, condenses & drips onto the chicken, basting the bird so you don’t have to!  No more opening the oven every half hour to baste your bird & effectively let all the goodness escape the oven (including the heat!), nor are you going to end up with burned fingers or splashing your arms with meat juices.

Lay a couple of equal sized foil strips on top of each other, with the dull sides on the inside (the side that goes next to the chicken), then fold the top over about a centimetre all the way along.  Do this a couple of times, then mash them together well to make sure they don’t come undone in the oven. If you have a larger sheet of foil, just put a crease or fold in the middle, leaving the central part un-creased.  Put over the tin, making sure it forms a dome over the top & doesn’t touch the chicken, then press firmly around the edges of the tin so that none of that lovely steam can escape.  This is what makes your stock, infusing with the bird & veg to produce a fragrant, flavoursome fluid for making gorgeous gravy later.

Put your foiled roasting tin in the lower part of the oven & leave it there for at about two & a half to three hours – you don’t need to be too precise here, but if it’s a larger chicken than the size I have mentioned, I just add another half hour on (check the British Turkey link I mentioned before for weights & times, if you’re not sure).  As I mentioned above, standard cooking times for chicken are usually 20 minutes per 500g plus 20 minutes, however I tend to cook it longer by my method.

Once it’s cooked, take the roasting tin out of the oven, remove the foil (keep to one side) & check your chicken.  Take a metal skewer or a small sharp knife, poke it into the thicker part of the chicken & if the juices run clear, then it’s cooked.  To crisp up the bacon & skin a bit, strain most of the liquid into a large saucepan (keep this for later), leave the foil off the bird & give it another five minutes in the oven.

When you’re happy that it’s crisped enough, remove your roasting tin from the oven & place on a cooling rack (I use a grill tray with a wire rack in it for this, to catch any drips).  Replace the foil lid & seal around the tin to protect the meat from drying out, then let it rest for at least half an hour.  By resting the bird, the meat relaxes nicely & becomes beautifully tender.  Traditionally, you should let the bird rest for the same amount of time it was in the oven, but I leave it as long as it takes to cook the accompanying side dishes.

Just before serving, transfer the chicken carefully onto a large serving plate, ready for carving (you’ll find the meat will fall off the bone easily, so you might not need to do much carving at all!).

If you’re making pigs-in-blankets, do these now – they take minutes & use up any extra bits of streaky bacon.  Simply roll short bacon strips around chunky chipolata sausages, straight or diagonally, then pop them onto a baking tray (you don’t need any oil – the fat in both of them will render out onto the tray, giving sufficient grease).  Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes until crispy & bronzed, giving them a little shake halfway through.

If you’ve been following my previous blogs, this is where you grab a well-deserved glass of something nice, give yourself a pat on the back & relax, because all your sides will be prepared!  Just pop them in ovenproof dishes, then warm them through in the oven while your roasties cook (bet you’re glad you did all that prep now!).  Obviously, this is also when you tell everyone else to keep out of the kitchen while you’re working hard (on your G&T hopefully) & send them off to set tables, find tablecloths, fill glasses – anything to keep them busy & give you a five minute breather.

Feeling a bit refreshed?  Good!  Right, back to work (briefly anyway) – it’s gravy making time!  If you have pre-prepared your gravy, simply pour it into a saucepan & gently warm through, before transferring to a gravy boat or jug.  If you are making it from scratch, here’s a refresher of what to do.  Grab a whisk & saucepan!

What you need:

1 pint of chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
4 heaped teaspoons of Gravy Browning (such as Bisto powder)
A good glug of cold water (about 3 tablespoons)

What to do:

Using the fresh, hot stock from your roasted bird, simply ladle off a pint into a jug (keep the rest in the pan, put the lid on & leave to cool, then freeze).  To remove any fat from the stock (that’s the golden bubbles you can see here), get yourself a few sheets of kitchen paper & touch it gently on the top – the grease will attach itself to the paper, which you can then throw away (no faffing around trying to separate it).

In another jug, measure your gravy browning (I’ve used Bisto for years, so just use whatever you like best).  You don’t need any seasoning, because there’s plenty in the gravy browning & also in your stock.

Pour in the cold water & mix to form a smooth brown liquid, followed by a quarter of the stock, then tip into your saucepan & heat gently for a few seconds, using the whisk to mix everything thoroughly.

Add the rest of the hot stock carefully & keep whisking gently to prevent lumps forming.  The gravy will begin to thicken up nicely now, so dip a spoon in & if it coats the back of the spoon, it’s ready.

Pour into a gravy boat or a jug & that’s the gravy done!   Enlist a Little Helper to put it on the table, with a plate or saucer underneath (to catch the drips & save your table).

When everything is ready & you’re happy with it, get your Little Helpers in to distribute dishes to the table (maybe have some extra treats to reward them for their support).

That’s it!  Your festive feast is ready, everything is done & you can enjoy the fruits of your hard work.  Whatever you’re doing, whomever you’re with, I wish you all a very Merry Christmas & a fabulous New Year from my family to yours.  Stay hungry 😉  A x

 

A Bird in the Hand is Worth Ten in a Dish

If I had to count how many single portion meals I can get from one fresh chicken, I would have to say at least ten – yes, you read that correctly: ten!  That’s ten individual meals from one regular sized chicken.  I’m not Merlin the Magician, I’m just a mere mortal woman who insists on getting value for money & doesn’t like waste.

We’ve all done it – shopping tired, hungry, after work or at the last minute, so you buy pre-prepared chicken portions to cook for dinner. Not only is it ridiculously more expensive (think of the wine you could buy!), but learning to do it yourself is a great skill to have & it’s very satisfying knowing that you’ve got meals in the freezer for when you can’t be bothered to cook.

This is how I bone & fillet a chicken – I’m self-taught, it’s just me in the kitchen at home & this is the way I do it.  If you’re squeamish, please skip the next couple of paragraphs (I understand).

Before I begin, I usually give my husband a beer & hustle him off into the lounge (because he doesn’t like to watch, bless him).  Then I get to work!

Firstly, I pop the legs out of their sockets, then slide my boning knife between the socket & joint, removing the legs from the body – I use scissors to cut the skin between them & the body, because it’s easier.  Once that’s done, I carefully peel the skin back from the chicken crown (leaving it attached to the carcass) & feel where the breastbone is – this runs across the top of the chicken.  Carefully, I slide the knife as closely to the bone as I can, using firm strokes to cut the meat away from the breastbone & rib cage.    Once done on both sides, the bones should be pretty much clean & all that’s left is a thin membrane with the ribs intact.  A few minutes later, I have a plate of prepped chicken portions & a carcass to make a fuss-free stock.

Making stock is really easy – I make mine in the oven, not on the stove (because who has the time).  I stuff the carcass with a handful of fresh herbs (usually a couple of sprigs of Rosemary, half a dozen Sage leaves & a bunch of Thyme), along with some leafy stems of celery & a couple of carrot sticks, pulling the skin back over the top of the chicken to hold it all in.  Then it’s chucked in a roasting tray with some chopped, chunky veg & two or three of pints of cold water, a drizzle of olive oil & a good sprinkling of sea salt & black pepper.  I’ll whack it in the oven for a couple of hours with foil on top & once ready, it will cool on a wire rack before everything is tipped into a colander over a large pan to drain.  That’s the stock done!  It can keep in the fridge for a couple of days or you can freeze it.

That fragrant, golden stock will make a generous risotto for four people (or a risotto for two & risotto balls for more than two people the day after).  The legs make a great pollo alla cacciatore for two or can simply be roasted in the oven with some lemon & Thyme.  Then there are the very versatile chicken breasts – these are almost double the size of the ones you get in those pre-prepared packs!  Usually, I can make four kievs per chicken (coating them in homemade breadcrumbs of course), or use each breast to make a meal for two people – pie, curry, sweet & sour, whatever I like!  Plus, if someone is feeling a bit under the weather, I make a couple of bowlfuls of homemade soup using the vegetables that roasted with the carcass & a little diluted stock (which is why I always wash the veg before roasting).  It’s a great “pick me up”, especially when you have a few slices of warm, buttered bread to dunk in it too.

Let’s not forget the meat on the underside of the carcass & the wings – I strip this tender, lean chicken for our beautiful cat, who does a great Dyson impression & vacuums it from her plate!

If I can make more than ten meals from one chicken, anyone can – all it takes is a bit of practise & imagination, all for the princely sum of one lovely, whole chicken.   Where else can you get ten decent sized servings for about a fiver?

So show the chicken some respect: use the whole bird, fill your family & save yourself some money too.  Stay hungry 😉 A x

 

Risotto Reprise

Monday nights are for making rich, rib-sticking risotto, using up the
lovely fresh chicken stock I made on a Sunday from the roast chicken & whipping up a lazy dinner.   Most people think risotto is fiddly, difficult & a bit boring (it depends what you put into it, as with most things in life!).

For me, risotto is a versatile & comforting food – once you master the basic recipe, you can add a variety of flavoursome ingredients & toppings. Mine is just chopped celery, smoked pancetta pieces (streaky bacon works really well), chopped spring onions, fried in a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil.  Then I add a couple of heaped handfuls of Arborio rice (you can use Carnaroli if you like), coating the grains well in the oil, then add a good glug of dry white wine (always use the wine you would drink & absolutely never anything marked “cooking wine”!) & a ladle of  hot, fresh chicken stock from a pan warming on the stove.  Give it a good stir & once the fragrant liquid has been absorbed by the rice, add another ladleful & repeat.  It takes about 20 minutes to cook – just give it a taste & the rice should be al dente (yes, like pasta).  Then turn off the heat, add a generous grating of Parmesan or Grana Padana cheese (I like to mix the two, because I’m a bit of a rebel when it comes to cheese), a couple of small chunks of butter dotted around the pan & cover.  Give it five minutes to rest, then slowly stir in the puddles of butter & melted cheese, spoon onto a plate & eat!  That’s it – no fuss, just a bit of chopping & stirring.

Due to my lack of portion control, there are always plenty of leftovers & that’s great for lunches, but
there are other options!  Like scooping little heaps of cold risotto into balls, rolling them around in a little flour, egg & some breadcrumbs. After that, gently shallow frying them until crispy & golden (actually, very shallow because it’s easier & you don’t need that much oil, just keep moving them about).  Put them on kitchen paper to dry the excess oil & then perch them on some watercress salad.  Give them a little drizzle of beautiful, dark balsamic vinegar, a squeeze of lemon juice & a dusting of black pepper.  My homemade tomato sauce goes very well with these – the richness of the risotto is cut by the sweet, but tart tomato.

So stop throwing away that chicken carcass – make yourself some stock & rustle up a risotto!   A x

 

 

My Easy Roast Chicken

One of my favourite Sunday dinners is roast chicken, slowly cooked in the oven, filling the house with that unmistakable perfume & filling everyone with anticipation of eating it later!  The one thing you can’t do is rush this – it is meant to be cooked leisurely, without any fuss or faffing about.  You don’t need to baste it, you don’t need to do anything other than stick it in the oven & forget about it for a couple of hours or so.  The best thing is you make fresh stock at the same time, without any stock cubes or boiling any bones or carcass in a pan, which you would have to watch & keep checking.  Plus it’s great for using up any veg you have forgotten about in the bottom of your fridge (we all do it & I really hate throwing anything away, so now you don’t have to).

Once you learn how to do this, your Sundays will be so easy that all you need to do is relax & enjoy your day.

One thing I will recommend is that you invest in some decent roasting tins – forget the non-stick ones (I learned the hard way that no matter how expensive they are or fabulous the guarantee is, that stuff eventually comes off on your food & spoils it).  Save yourself some hassle & invest in some plain stainless steel ones.

You will need:

1 fresh chicken, without giblets (approx size 1.2kg – 1.5kg)
2-3 medium/large carrots
2-3 sticks of celery & a couple of the inner ones with leaves on top
1 large onion or 2 smaller/medium onions (I prefer red ones)
Fresh herbs – my favourites are a good handful of Thyme, a couple of sprigs of Rosemary & a few Sage leaves
Sea salt & black pepper
A good glug of olive oil

What you do:

Heat the oven to 200*C.  Clean & chop the carrots & celery into 3 inch long pieces, cutting the carrots in half again lengthwise, then arrange them around the chicken.  Cut the onion into half (leave the skin on), or quarters if it’s a large one, putting the pieces in the corners of the tin.

Take the chicken out of it’s packet, cut off the elastic & pop the legs out of their sockets before putting it in the roasting tin in the middle of the veg.  Yes, I know it sounds a bit odd, but by doing this to the legs you allow the chicken to cook evenly & thoroughly.  To do this, hold the chicken in both hands with it’s legs in the palms of your hands & firmly push them back – you will feel them pop out easily.

Then you need to fill the cavity of the chicken – again, this helps the chicken cook evenly & it also flavours it nicely too.  Put together the inner celery sticks with the leaves on, a couple of carrot sticks, a good handful of the thyme, the sprigs of rosemary & about 3-4 of the larger sage leaves.  Put them inside the chicken cavity & then wash your hands well.

Pour about two & a half pints of cold water around the edge of the chicken – be careful not to splash yourself, then drizzle some olive oil over the chicken & it’s legs, sprinkle a good teaspoonful of ground sea salt & black pepper over the top.   Rip up the rest of the sage leaves, along with any bits of thyme & rosemary that fell off, then sprinkle them around the chicken in the water.

The last part is to make a foil dome to go over the top – as the moisture heats up, the steam hits the top of the foil & drips onto the chicken – this is what does the basting for you, so you don’t have to!   I usually lay a couple of equal sized foil strips on top of each other, with the dull sides on the inside (the side that goes next to the chicken), then fold the top over about a centimetre all the way along.  Do this a couple of times, then mash them together well to make sure they don’t come undone in the oven.  Put over the tin, making sure it forms a dome over the top & doesn’t touch the chicken, then press firmly around the edges of the tin so that none of that lovely stock can escape.

Put it in the lower part of the oven & leave it there for at least two & a half hours – you don’t need to be too precise here, but if it’s a larger chicken than the size I have mentioned, I just add another half hour on.

Once it’s cooked, take the chicken out of the oven to check it’s cooked.  Take a metal skewer or a small sharp knife, poke it into the thicker part of the chicken & if the juices run clear, then it’s cooked.  If you want the skin to be a bit more crispy, take the foil off & give it another five minutes in the oven.

Take the tin out of the oven & stand on a cooling rack (tip: if you have a grill tray with a wire rack in it, just use that).  Make sure that the foil is sealed around the tin to keep the juices/heat in & let it rest for at least half an hour.  By resting the chicken, the meat relaxes nicely & it also gives you plenty of time to cook your side dishes.   Usually, I turn up the oven & pop some potatoes in to roast while I prepare some vegetables to steam (or just chuck a salad in a bowl).

Once your sides are all done, the chicken will be ready for serving.  The meat will come off the bones very easily, so you don’t really need to carve it.

So, what to do with all that lovely stock?  Leave it until after dinner, so it’s cooled a bit (stealing some to make gravy first though).  Get a big saucepan, put a colander in the top (get yourself a metal one preferably) & carefully tip the contents of the tin into the colander slowly.  The stock will drain into the saucepan below & you can use it for making gravy, soups or risotto (my favourite use!).  It freezes well too & not a salty stock cube in sight!

Here’s a couple of pics to inspire you – “before” & “after”.

I hope your family enjoy it as much as mine do!

A x