Whenever I’m stumped for ideas for what to make for dinner, there’s quite a good bet that we end up with roast chicken in one form or another. There are so many variations – sometimes we have classic French-style poulet aux herbes, others we go a bit more exotic with Thai or Chinese flavours, and then there’s the good old British roast with stuffing and roasties.
I am lucky enough to have an old-fashioned enamel chicken baster – it means you can leave the chicken in the oven for hours and it will still emerge from its cocoon in a pool of tasty juices but with the crispiest skin. I absolutely cannot abide chicken that is only barely cooked, and the current fashion for roasting a chicken for only an hour is both unappetising and dangerous – seriously, who wants jelly-like chicken thighs with raw patches around the bones? Salmonella anyone?
We had friends over this weekend and I decided to go for summery French-style – plenty of fresh herbs, lemons and garlic, with carrots, celery, onion and fennel forming a trivet to make the juices extra tasty. I served the chicken with garlicky baby courgettes and French beans, so decided to forego traditional gravy and just added some white wine to the roasting juices by way of a sauce.
If you don’t have a chicken roaster, you can improvise with a roasting tin that is just large enough to hold the chicken, covered with a double layer of foil, tightly sealed so that the chicken is safely tucked up and the lovely juices can’t evaporate.
Slow-cooked roast chicken
Serves 4 – 6
1 chicken (mine was 1.6kg, but whatever size suits your family) – leftovers are good
6 cloves of garlic, peeled
1 lemon, quartered
Sprigs of rosemary, thyme and parsley
1 carrot, washed and cut into large chunks
1 stick of celery, cut into large chunks (include leaves if you have them)
1 small onion, peeled and cut into 6
2 bay leaves
A few stalky bits of fennel, cut into chunks (leave the good white part for another day, just use the stalks here)
A splash of white wine, dry sherry or white vermouth
Dried tarragon or mixed herbs (optional)
Pre-heat the oven to 200C.
Scatter the vegetables, bay leaves and lemon pieces over the base of your tin or roaster – you can leave some to tuck down the sides once you’ve got the chicken in the tin. Do make sure your tin is the right size for the chicken to fit in quite snugly (see pic).
Do not be tempted to wash the chicken – this will just very effectively spray your sink and drainer, and everywhere around them, with bacteria from the raw chicken, which can then get on to clean dishes and utensils – remember that only heat can kill salmonella or campylobacter on food.
Put the chicken into the tin and put three cloves of the garlic and a sprig each of thyme, rosemary and parsley into the cavity, then brush the legs and breasts of the chicken all over with a little olive oil (or use your hand if you don’t have a silicone brush) – don’t forget to make sure the brush is well washed in hot soapy water before you use it for anything else, and wash your hands well, making sure you don’t touch anything en route to the sink.
Finely chop or grate the rest of the garlic and scatter it all over the chicken. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and scatter over the dried herbs, if using. If you have any spare herb sprigs, just tuck them in where you can.
If the chicken legs are sticking out too much and will prevent the lid from sealing, just tie them loosely together with a piece of string, to keep them away from the sides of the tin.
Put on the lid of the roaster, making sure it is tightly closed. If you are using an ordinary roasting tin, cover with a double layer of foil (greased on the side that will be touching the chicken, so that it doesn’t stick to the skin) and make sure the tin is very well sealed with no holes in the foil (watch out for sharp chicken wings). If you have any holes or the lid is not properly closed, the juices will evaporate and you will be left with an overcooked, dry old chicken, so this bit is very important.
Put into the pre-heated oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 180C. Leave for 2.5 to 3 hours, depending on the size of your chicken (or whether your guests are late) then remove the chicken to a warmed plate to rest, covered either with the tin of your roaster or with the foil.
Add a good splash of wine or vermouth to the tin plus about 200ml hot water. Give everything a really good scraping with a spatula and stir the vegetables around to get all the lovely sticky juices and the caramelised bits from the tin into the liquid. When you are satisfied that you’ve got all the good stuff, pour it through a strainer into a small saucepan. Discard the vegetables. Bring to the boil and then simmer until the juices have reduced and you have the consistency you want. If there is a lot of fat on top of the juices, just skim it off with a spoon.
Carve the chicken – I find it easiest to remove the legs and just cut those into two across the elbow joint, so that you are left with a drumstick and thigh on each side. Then remove each breast – they should be very easy to prise away from the bone – and cut into thick slices.