Not much can surpass the crisp skin and succulent flesh of roast chicken at Easter.
New spring lamb is so young, I'd rather wait until June or July for more flavour – so it's poultry for me this weekend. Before you think about cooking your bird, you need to shop wisely.
A poorly reared creature sold suspiciously cheaply will normally result in anaemic, flabby meat. Make sure you get one reared outdoors with enough space to roam (muscles mean flavour).
The labels to look for in supermarkets are free range or Freedom Food (the RSPCA stamp). It's worth spending the most you can on a roast chicken for a special family occasion.
I start by testing a recipe by Edinburgh chef Martin Wishart as he opts for what some call 'a wet roast'. I slather the chicken with 60g soft butter and wedge the bird (he recommends a 2kg one) in the oven at 200C with veg dotted around it and 400ml cider poured over.
After one hour, as instructed, I remove it but it's still pink inside. By the time this stubborn old bird is finished, the veg is quite soft from sitting in the cider – and that was meant for the gravy but has evaporated. And the meat? It's beautiful – dribbling with bits that slop messily down my chin. The skin is good but moist. But I'm not satisfied yet.
I turn to another excellent chef, Adam Byatt , whose book, How To Eat In, has a recipe called 'Roast chicken my way – with all the trimmings'. He recommends poultry brand Label Anglais when buying the best chicken.
'I always poach my chickens before roasting,' he says. 'This results in a tastier bird and, although it sounds more complex, it actually shortens the overall process.'
I plunge my chicken into a pan brimming with simmering chicken stock, bay leaves and peppercorns. I simmer for a minute then remove it, reserving the poaching liquid. Later on, I season it, smother with butter and roast – at 200C this time for 35 minutes with the assumption it's cooked a bit from the poaching.
Mine isn't so I roast it for another 20 minutes. Like my previous test, the flesh is a wet snog of perfection but the skin remains a little pliable. More work is needed, then.
A solution could be found in Jamie Oliver's beer butt chicken, a new-fangled US style. You lower the chicken's rear on to a half-full can of lager. It doesn't look pretty but the beer steams up inside the chicken, resulting in lagery loveliness.
For something more elegant, a brining method by Heston Blumenthal suits me better. I dissolve 300g of salt in five litres of water and slide my bird in the concoction the night before. There follows a fussy procedure of putting the chicken in the oven on a low heat, then removing it, then putting it back in later. But Heston's method produces the best results.
Then along comes Margot Henderson's simple roast chicken from her book, You're All Invited (Penguin). Hers is covered in good old-fashioned butter and cooked at 200C. The lemon-and-thyme stuffing is mellow and helps to keep the flesh moist, while the skin is crunchy crispy heaven. Move over, Nando's.
Chloe's ultimate roast chicken recipe Ingredients (serves 4) You'll need two baking trays
Method Step 1 The night before: Pour the water and salt into a large clean vessel and stir well. Carefully submerge the chicken – pour in more water if needed – then cover with cling film and refrigerate overnight.
Step 2 The next day: Remove the chicken. Pat dry with a clean tea towel or kitchen towel. Place on a baking tray on the side for 1hr so it's at room temperature. Preheat the oven to 200C.
Step 3 Parboil the potatoes on the hob for about 7min. Place a second baking tray with the goose fat (or olive oil) in the oven for 1-2min so the fat heats up. Remove it – be careful not to burn yourself – and smother the potatoes with the fat or oil in the tray. Season with salt and pepper.
Step 4 Massage the chicken with the butter under and over the skin, covering it. To finish, rub with the olive oil so everything is coated – you want the crispiest skin in town. Season well. Make sure you've got the chicken in the tray that you're to roast it in. Now carefully, from a jug, pour a good glug of white wine or cider (approx 60ml-100ml) into the cavity.
Step 5 Chop the garlic bulb in half and pop in the cavity, along with half a lemon and some thyme.
Step 6 Roast in the oven at 200C. After 10min, turn it down to 180C and put the tray of potatoes into the oven. Add the shallots to the chicken pan. From there, cook everything for 60-70min, turning the potatoes now and again.
Step 7 In the final 10min of cooking, crank the oven back up to 200C again to maximise crispness. To test if the bird is ready, poke a skewer into the thickest part of the thigh –the juices should be clear, not pink.
Step 8 Remove from the oven and place carefully on to a serving plate, leaving as many juices as possible in the baking tray (to make gravy with). Cover the plate with foil and rest for 20min. Leave the potatoes in until they're golden and crisp.
Step 9 To make the gravy, place the tray with the chicken's juices over a hob on low heat. Deglaze by adding 100ml white wine and simmer for a few minutes, then add 100ml water and whisk, scratching the sticky meaty bits off the tray. Taste and season if you need to. Strain for a smoother consistency. Add a sprinkling of rosemary if you wish. Pour it into a gravy jug. Serve with the roasties and chicken.
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