You could probably get through life without knowing how to roast a chicken, but the question is, would you want to?
Nigella asks this question in her preamble to Section 1 of How To Eat, a section (it’s so much more than a chapter) titled Basics. It’s a section that deals with – amongst many other things – sauces, dressings, pastries and custards. It does, however, start with good old roast chook – a dish that is possibly my desert island comfort food dish…well, either that or Hainanese Chicken anyway.
When I was growing up roast chicken was a treat. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not talking about inkwells in the school desk days or having to walk barefoot in the snow for 5 miles or anything like that. We’re just talking about Australia in the 70s and 80s.
A meat and three veg household, Mum used to buy her meat in bulk – a half a side of beef and a half of lamb – or something like that – and package it up in meal sizes in the freezer. I’ll always remember those days – the corgi standing guard ready to growl at any of us kids who got too close to the wonderful smells (wonderful, that is, to a dog) that Mum was putting into freezer bags.
Chicken, therefore, was a treat reserved for special occasions, such as birthdays. Somehow my mother used to make one chicken – and they were smaller back then – feed all six of us, with leftovers for sandwiches that we’d then fight over.
The other favoured birthday dinner in our house was what my father still refers to as a party party – with little sausage rolls and party pies, mini frankfurters and those little balls of mashed potato you cooked in the oven – pommes noisettes, I think they were called. I have no idea whether you can still get them, but they sounded so much more exotic when said with an Aussie-French accent than they actually tasted.
Anyways, I have no idea how my mother used to cook her chicken, but Nigella tells us that she cooks her roast chicken the same way that her mother did – with half a lemon up the cavity, a smear of oil or butter on the breast, and a sprinkling of salt. It’s then cooked at 200C for 20 minutes per 500g plus 30 minutes and once out of the oven, it’s “rested” for about 20 minutes or so.
I’ve always done mine in a similar way – with the lemon – although I smear butter underneath the skin of the breast. I have no idea why I started to do this – although I think it was probably back when it was more difficult to get good free-range chickens than it is now. I used to add some chopped herbs or garlic to the butter then too – just to give the meat some more flavour; goodness knows it probably needed it.
And to go with the chook? Well, gravy obviously, but Nigella also serves roasted shallots and garlic alongside her chicken. They’re cooked (unpeeled) in the same pan as the chicken and pretty much are steamed inside their skins before being squeezed onto the plate. They taste surprisingly sweet and well worth doing.
In line with Nigella’s recommendation, we kept the potatoes unpeeled. They were simply chopped into much smaller pieces, tossed into a baking pan, drizzled with oil, sprinkled with sea salt and with a few sprigs of rosemary from the garden tucked in to keep them company. I popped them into the oven when the chicken had about 40 minutes to go and they were perfectly cooked by the time the chicken had rested and had been carved.
Once finished, Nigella would, of course, pop the bones into the freezer for stock – and sometimes I do that too…but not before I’ve liberated the “oysters” from it… These little morsels really are the absolute best bit.
And the photo in the main pic? Obviously, I didn’t take it and it’s not of my roast chook – although it very well could have been if I’d cooked the chook during the day and styled it beautifully under some natural light. The reality is I cooked it for dinner and it was badly lit as a result. Such is life…
Are you a roast chicken fan? Any tips or tricks?
It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…
It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, Debbish, Write of the Middle, and, of course, me.
Inlinkz Link Party
I love my roast chicken and cook it often – but i don’t stuff a lemon up it’s cavity – but I will from now on! I loved reading your childhood memories because they are so similar to mine. Mum too bought meat in bulk and stood in the kitchen putting it all into freezer bags for the big deep freezer downstairs … and chicken was a treat that fed our family of 7 and still more leftover. How did they do it? 🙂 #TeamLovinLife
I have no idea how they did it. My Mum is certainly a better home economist (is that the right term?) than I’ll ever be.
Ohh love a good roast chook, and like Nigella, I do the old lemon up the cavity which really does seem to keep the meat moist and flavoursome. I too remember the days when my Mum would bulk freeze meat, and meat of any denomination was quite a treat – yes a chicken was carved to an inch of its life n very thin pieces and went a long way, while steak – well that was for birthdays, if you were lucky. Thanks for a tip-full post today – I really enjoyed it 🙂 #lovinlife
The lemon absolutely does the trick. I tried a couple of times popping the lemon in with the potatoes (for full on roast spuds I par-boil before popping in the oven) for a few minutes so it was warm when it went into the chook and that seemed to release a little more flavour too – although mostly I can’t really be faffed.
I have to admit I’d never roast a chicken myself now that you can buy them roasted from the supermarket so cheaply! My mum used to roast chickens when I was growing up though. Having said that we probably had roast beef more as my dad was more of a red meat fan.
My mother buys them from the supermarket now too. I still like to do my own, but do buy them in for salads etc from time to time.
I’m going to ‘fess up here and say my favourite ‘roast’ is still the humble rotisserie chicken from Woolies! The leftovers are the basis of many a survival dinner in my house.
Lol…we still buythem from time to time too – great for salads & emergency dinners.
Hi, Jo – I’ve been anxiously awaiting this series and your post did not disappoint! Although I am a shameless cheater-chicken kind of gal….this post did inspire me to make one on my own… at least just once!
I’m glad to hear it…and yes, you have to try to at least once…then you can go back to being a cheater-chicken kind of gal. Next week (gasp) hollandaise…
Oh, man – I tried my own hollandaise sauce once. There were no photos taken and no one was (permanently harmed)!
I love roast chicken and like you it was always a special treat when I was a child, even though we had both chooks and turkeys (the latter only for Christmas Day). I pretty much roast my chickens the Nigella way although I am a big fan of cooking a roast chicken in the slow cooker even though that sounds weird. Then I do put butter and herbs under the breast skin and it browns up beautifully.
I really must try it in the slow cooker some day!
I’ve taken to Donna Hay-ing my roast chicken and butterflying it. I l pop whole bulbs of garlic and slices of lemon in the pan too – so good! All this talk of roast chicken has made me so hungry! I wish we were having chicken tonight!
I’ve never tried butterflying a chook…I must give it a go. Next up in How To eat is hollandaise…and then mayonnaise…
I love roast chook! Sadly I just discovered my son does not. In fact, he doesn’t really like chicken and veges in general. I am TRUE chook and veg girl. So the good ol’ fashioned roast chook won’t be appearing so much at my house. Bugger.
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