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!