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Roast chook, the kitchen’s little black dress

July 26, 2009

roastchookRoast chicken, as you’ll know well, is the little black dress of the culinary repertoire. Simple, elegant, timeless and understated – but with a bit of bling it can be transformed into a truly spectacular performance.

I started musing on this today because I have some writing buds coming round tomorrow evening. We meet frequently to eat dinner together and take turns wailing about our work. They are all fine writers and fine cooks (in fact I think every writer I’ve met loves good food – is there a connection?), and the meal is central to our enjoyment of these evenings. But there’s also an unspoken rule that dinner is a simplish affair so as not to distract the cook from the natter, the real heart of the matter.

As I still haven’t got used to the joy of a generously sized and perfectly working oven (the old one had two temperatures – off, and 240 degrees C), I’m going with roast chook for tomorrow night’s dinner, prompted in part by Andrew McConnell’s great-looking chickybabe in yesterday’ s Good Weekendroast chicken with brussels sprouts and bread sauce.

This brings me back to the endless potential for blinging up little black dress – the fact that an LBD will go just as well with a teeny pair of diamond stud earrings as it does with one of those whopper seventies copper-enamel whirligig pendants.

So here is a short list of easy suggestions for roast chicken bling – but I want more! Do add your contributions, please … ( I’m very much hoping that Chefbro Hamish, who is sadly now almost totally blocked from chatting to us here by the great firewall of you-know-where but is presently holidaying in France, land of the free and greedy, might be able to pop in with some chook-bling suggestions of his own before returning to Shanghai.)

On & in the chook

  • Under the skin: butter with thyme, garlic & salt; or same with tarragon.
  • Under the skin from Neil Perry – compound of butter, garlic, coriander, parsley, cumin, lemon zest, saffron, salt.
  • Maggie Beer’s fabulous recipe here suggests whizzing  the under-skin butter in the food processor (not too much or butter will split) with chopped preserved lemon & tarragon. Of course she also adds verjuice towards the end, which helps moisten the chook – and see below for Maggie’s resting tip.
  • Stephanie Alexander says rub the chicky inside and out with lemon, crush 3 cloves garlic with the back of a knife, roll in salt & pepper and bung in the cavity with 2 lemon halves, rosemary sprig & butter.
  • Karen Martini advises a stuffing of bruschetta, porcini mushrooms, chicken liver & rosemary & check out Jules of Stonesoup’s adaptation of same.
  • In the chook’s cavity, says Skye Gyngell, stuff half a lemon, thyme, bay leaves, parsley, garlic, crumbled dried chilli.

Cooking the chook

  • Maggie says roast in a fan-forced oven at 170⁰C for 40 minutes, pour verjuice over and return to oven for 10 minutes or until cooked through (juices run clear from the thigh). If using a meat thermometer, it should read 68⁰C at the thigh.
  • Maggie’s all-time best chook tip, I reckon, is to rest the chicken in a warm place for 20 minutes turned on to its breast sideand Damien Pignolet repeats it in his book French: “Maggie Beer taught me this excellent technique, which allows the juices to circulate from the thighs into the breast, keeping it moist.”
  • Andrew McConnell (can’t find any online references but he runs Cutler & Co in Melbourne) in his Good Weekend recipe suggests smearing a 1.8kg bird with butter & salt, roasting it at 180⁰C, breast side down for 20 minutes, then reducing the heat to160⁰C, turning it over and continuing for 40 minutes or till cooked.

Sauces, accompaniments

  • In Rockpool, Neil Perry suggests simply tipping the chicken juices from the cavity into the pan, adding lemon juice and extra virgin oil, scraping the pan to loosen the crispy solids and chucking the lot over the whole bird (with garlic roasted in the same pan) at serving time.
  • Skye Gyngell serves pan-roasted chicken with braised lentils, roasted tomatoes, basil oil and a big blob of aioli  - and elsewhere Neil Perry serves pan-fried chicken breast with tzatziki.
  • From an issue of Delicious magazine years ago I have kept a Steve Manfredi bread & tarragon salsa recipe (it goes with an incredible slow-roasted lamb, but is fab with poultry too) – basically you just whizz up some day old bread soaked in lots of olive oil and red-wine vinegar with a couple of cloves of garlic and a bunch of tarragon, sale & pepper, adding more olive oil to loosen. It’s sharp and fragrant and delicioso.
  • I often throw some quartered fennel bulbs along with unpeeled garlic cloves & French shallots into the pan beneath the chook – they all go sticky and sweet but the fennel’s aniseed sharpness gives it a lift.
  • When we were in Puglia a couple of years back, one of the finest things we ate was a chicken simply roasted on a rack over a tray of potatoes, which catch the chickeny drippings and are soft and flavoursome as anything. I have never, ever, ever eaten chicken as good as that – in Australia even the best chooks are a poor substitute but it’s still worth a crack if you get a really good chook. While you rest the chicken, whack the oven heat up to a zillion and blast the hell out of the potatoes. It’s good.
  • Yesterday’s Good Weekend Andrew McConnell bread sauce – bring half a litre of milk  to a simer with a couple of cloves, half an onion and a bay leaf and then remove from heat and leave for 15 minutes (sounds remarkably like the start of Jane’s polenta recipe) – then add 120g dried breadcrumbs, stir, reduce heat and cook gently for 10 minutes. Cool and whizz in a blender, adding nutmeg & salt to taste.

Ah, we could go on … so why don’t you?  What are your favourite roast chook tips, tricks, accompaniments & complements?

2 comments

  1. I’m afraid you pretty much covered it! Very thorough… Asian chicken? though I never do this with a whole bird, I must admit, I prefer the lemon-garlic-herby approach pretty much every time.


  2. I have got that feeling gully_girl! thanks for popping in though. And Asian roast duck is a great idea, perhaps a whole other post, methinks!



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