Ultimate roast chicken

Some might say that if you call it The Ultimate Roast Chicken it must involve foie gras, winter truffle or a decadent stuffing. But I think the ultimate roast chicken is one that is perfectly cooked, moist and tender, juicy and full of flavour. The top tips that make the difference are lots of fresh herbs (although you can use dried), and soft butter stuffed under the skin to keep the breast super lubricated while cooking.

Start with the best bird you can afford. An organic, free-range and corn-fed bird would be first prize in this arena – and it will reward you with flavour for every additional pound you spend. But if free-range is the best you can do, then go for that. Please avoid injected, chlorinated, pale and flabby caged birds – they are not worth the money or the effort of cooking them and I would rather you made a decadent vegetarian dish instead. One very good roast chicken once a month is better than a mediocre one every week.

One really good reason to cook your own food is so that you know where it’s come from and what’s gone into it – which is why it’s always a good idea to check the label and understand whether it’s been injected with water or treated with chemicals on its way to you.

A younger, smaller chicken is best for roasting, so that the darker leg meat cooks before the breast meat gets dry and chewy. If there are many to feed, cook two rather than a singe big one.

Most supermarket chickens have been cleaned and the giblets removed but it’s always worth checking inside to make sure. When I was living in France my chickens came from the farmer at the weekly market in and they came with head, feet and innards intact. The head, neck and feet were used for stock, and the heart and liver pan-fried for the cook (me). Heaven.

Start your preparation an hour before putting the bird in the oven, and take it out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before you want to cook.

Working backwards from when you’d like to sit down to eat, include 15-20 minutes for the bird to rest at the end while you finish off the veg and make the gravy. This golden hour allows  time to prepare and parcook your potatoes and parsnips for roasting, and time to prepare the bird. It doesn’t really take much more effort than that – once the roast is in the oven, it just needs basting 2-3 times, and turning if your oven cooks unevenly.

When you’re prepping the veg, think about how long they will be in the oven. If the potatoes are cut too small they could burn before the chicken is ready, so if it’s a larger bird make the pieces of potato larger. I always add an onion and whatever other root veg is in the fridge, from butternut or pumpkin to swede or sweet potato – they develops rich, umami flavour in the oven and adds deliciousness to the gravy juices as well as padding out the meal for hungry teens.

Ingredients

(feeds 2-4)

1 (preferably) free-range cornfed chicken around 1.2kg-1.4kg

60g softened, unsalted butter

10 fresh sage leaves, depending on size

10 sprigs fresh oregano, leaves only (or a generous teaspoon of dried oregano)

A bunch of fresh thyme, leaves only (or a teaspoon of dried)

4 tablespoons light olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 lemon, halved (optional)

2 large cloves garlic (optional)

Assorted veg for roasting: floury potatoes (eg Maris Piper or King Edward), onions, parsnips, swede etc

1.5tbsp plain flour

750ml Chicken or vegetable stock

1 roasting pan larger than the chicken, to accommodate potatoes and any other veg you want to add

Method

Begin by peeling your potatoes and veg, cutting to the required size and boiling in salted water for 6 minutes. This won’t cook them all the way through, but soften the outside so they crisp up in the oven. Drain them well, and leave in a colander over the pot to steam dry for at least 30 minutes. You can do this the day before and leave, uncovered, in the fridge.

Set aside 4 whole leaves of sage, and chop and mix the rest of the herbs together.

Remove the packaging from the chicken check all the feathers and giblets have been removed. Remove the string binding the legs together. Some people leave it on, but it prevents the heat reaching the skin underneath and we want as much crispy skin as possible!

At this stage (10 minutes before the chicken goes in), heat the oven to 180C / Gas Mark 5.

Get your roasting tin, pour ½ a tablespoon of oil in and use your hand or a pastry brush to ensure the bottom of the tin is well coated. Now season the tin. Sprinkle sea salt and pepper in the middle (where the chicken will sit), add a small sprinkle of fresh herbs.

Pour ½ tablespoon of oil into your cupped palms and use your hands to massage the oil all over the chicken. Work quickly, and make sure you get under the wings. Now you can place the chicken breast-side up on too of the seasoning in the pan.

Sprinkle salt and pepper inside the bird and put the lemon in the cavity and peeled garlic in the cavity (if using).

Using your fingers, gently ease the skin away from the breast and create a pocket on each side that reaches all the way to the thigh. Now scoop a teaspoon of soft butter and smoosh it in under the skin on each side. As you smooth it from the outside the butter will spread.

Then take a sage leaf and gently push it in flat, on top of the butter. Repeat with the other breast, then do the same from the other end – use your fingers to create a pocket under the skin, go in first with butter, then sage leaves on either side.

Now season the chicken generously with salt and pepper.

Tip your steamed potatoes back into the pot and pour over the remaining olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and the chopped herbs. Put the lid on and give the veg a shake to make sure they are well coated with oil and seasoning.

Place the veg around the chicken and use a pastry brush to sweep all the remaining oil and herbs from the pot. Brush these over the top of the chicken and, if there’s any left, use it to dress the veg in the pan.

Your roast is ready for the oven!

Pop it in on the middle shelf and pour a glass of wine.

After 30 minutes, take the tray out of the oven, rearrange the veg in the corner so you can get a spoon in, tip the tray and spoon the juices over the chicken and the vegetables. Give them all a good soaking.

Repeat this procedure every 15 minutes until the chicken is cooked. This means it’s golden and crispy all over and the juices inside are clear, with no red or pink colour. You can tip the chicken up to check.

A small chicken, 1.2-1.4kg will take around 75 minutes at 180C.

Now grab a smaller, second roasting tin and transfer all the veg over, making sure you don’t lose the crispy bits (I use a palette knife). Pop the tray back in the oven so the potatoes and veg continue to crisp up but watch they don’t burn.

Then gently remove the chicken from the pan, tip it up and allow the juices to fall back into the roasting tin. Put the chicken on a serving dish and leave to rest. You can cover it with foil but if the kitchen is warm it will be fine.

Tip the roasting tin up and spoon any fat off the surface of the juices. Alternatively, leave them and you can spoon them off the top of the gravy before serving (they will rise to the top)

On the hob, heat the roasting pan, sprinkle the flour over the juices and use a wooden spoon or sauce whisk to combine the two. It will start to bubble. Scrape the bottom of the pan and bring everything together in the middle. Add half the stock and keep whisking/stirring as the gravy thickens. Add more stock as you go, until you have the consistency you prefer. Allow to simmer for 3-4 minutes, to cook the flour. Check the seasoning and adjust with salt and pepper if necessary.

Carefully pour off the gravy into a jug and pop it into the oven to stay hot until required. Don’t forget you can skim off any excess fat from the top of the jug before serving.

These are my tried and tested tips for taking a simple roast chicken to the next level. No cheffy flourishes that can’t be achieved in a home kitchen, just amazing comfort food. You will never roast chicken any other way, ever again.


Beef short rib in Oloroso with bay and oregano

THIS isn’t a quick midweek meal, it’s great for a weekend cooking session when you want to get lots done for the week ahead. And it’s a slow, gentle braise – ribmeat is the opposite of fillet steak and that holds true of the price as well; it’s a genuinely cheap cut of meat that rewards the patient cook.

The prep takes 15 minutes, the rest is just time. You can gussy it up for a dinner party (when we can all do that again, hopefully soon) and serve it with home-made pasta, or portion and freeze for quick midweek suppers with comforting mash and greens.

The sherry adds depth and sweetness – oloroso is dry and aged in wood for many years so it has walnutty, caramel notes. It’s relatively inexpensive, usually available in small bottles and it keeps forever (unless, like me, you love it poured over vanilla ice-cream in which case it disappears pretty quickly).

The other miracle ingredient in this are Chinese smoked black dates (Hei Zao 黑枣) dates – available in Asian supermarkets like Longdan or online from Sous Chef. The dates can be brewed for tea or added to soups, stews or rice to impart a smokey sourness – just remember to remove them before serving, or warn your guests as the pits are definitely a tooth-breaker!

I also tucked a dried Guindillas picante chilli into the pot – in my experience they aren’t very hot despite being billed as spicy – for even more flavour but any dried chilli, or a pinch of chilli flakes, would do.

The benefits of cooking this in advance are that cooling it overnight will allow you to skim the fat off the top when it’s cold, and while it tastes great on the day, it tastes even better the day after.

 

Ingredients

Serves 4-6

1kg beef short-rib on the bone

1tbspoon vegetable or olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 onions, roughly chopped

2 carrots, roughly chopped

2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped

4 fresh or 2 dry bay leaves

1 teaspoon dry or a tablespoon fresh oregano, roughly chopped

1 large sprig fresh rosemary, finely chopped

70ml Oloroso sherry (or you could use a dryish port from the back of your drinks cupboard or, at a push, a cream sherry)

1 400g tin chopped tomatoes (or 4 large ripe tomatoes, blanched, peeled and chopped)

2-3 dried black dates (optional, if you can’t get find them don’t worry)

1 Guindillas Picante dried chilli (or a pinch of dried chilli flakes)

A spoonful of honey or sugar to adjust seasoning at the end, if needed

Grated Parmesan and chopped parsley to serve.

 

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed casserole dish. Season the meat and brown on all sides to get a good crust. Remove the meat with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  2. Turn the heat down and add the onions. When they start to brown, add the carrots, garlic and herbs.
  3. Return the meat to the pan, turn the heat up and pour over the sherry. Give the pot a good stir, scraping the sides and bottom to deglaze, allow the sherry to bubble for a minute then add the tomatoes and 200ml water. Add the dates and chilli.
  4. Make a cartouche. Fold a square of baking parchment in half, half again and then again, until you have a funnel shape with a pointy tip. Cut a semi circle across the widest point, and open out the paper into a circle that should be roughly the size of your casserole dish. You can cut it down if it’s too large. This is an essential slow-cooking technique as the liquid stays inside the paper cover and rehydrates the dish, rather than evaporating and drying out.
  5. Place the cartouche on top of the beef, put the lid on and simmer gently on the hob for for 4-6 hours, or in the oven at 140C, turning the meat over occasionally so it cooks through evenly. The time will depend on the size of the ribs – mine were Flintstone-esque.
  6. At the end of the cooking time, the meat should be falling off the bone. You can remove and discard the bones, and cut the meat into smaller portions. If the sauce is too thin, remove the meat and veg, strain the sauce through a colander into a saucepan and reduce the sauce over high heat until you have the desired consistency. Return the meat and veg to the sauce and check the seasoning. Add salt and pepper as required. If it’s a touch bitter (if a dryer sherry has been used), add a teaspoon of honey or a pinch of sugar to adjust.
  7. Remember to remove the dates before serving, either as a delicious meat sauce with pasta such as pappardelle or rigatoni, or with creamy mash.

 

The smell of this cooking will drive you mad, make sure you have snacks to keep you going!


Kedgeree for days

We’re all cooking so much more these days and while for some of us that’s a busman’s holiday for others it’s a tedious treadmill of getting meals on the table with all the associated planning, prep and cleaning up that entails.

We’re all looking for inspiration and hungrily devouring recipe collections and suggestions, and enviously eyeing up instagram feeds from foodies who make everything look so delicious – we do, after all, eat with our eyes.

Here at Daffodil Soup HQ we’ve been making lots of comfort food, baking bread and delving in to kitchen classics, which led to one of the most comforting meals of Lockdown so far – the most serendipitously delicious example of kedgeree that it just had to be shared.

Originally a Bengal staple dish of spiced rice and lentils served with fried fish (Khicharhi), smoked fish and boiled eggs were added by Colonial cooks in the kitchens of the British empire to make it a favourite at the breakfast table. It has over the years become a mild and uninteresting blend of soggy rice, fish and egg, served on brunch menus everywhere.

I was determined to spice it up and make it pop, and I looked at quite a few recipes before assembling my ingredients, happy that the lockdown larder had pretty much everything required including beautiful smoked haddock from Bournes Fish at Highbury Barn.

Mild curry powder is supposedly a prerequisite for kedgeree, but is where I think I triumphed, because we only had Madras curry powder on hand, and this extra heat really ramped up the flavours from good to great. I usually make up my own pastes as needed, so don’t keep premade curry powders but this had somehow got through the net.

On the advice of Felicity Cloake in The Guardian, who also investigated many kedgeree recipes to arrive at her favourite, I chopped an onion and green chilli, and softened them in LOTS of butter, before adding turmeric and curry powder. She adds cardamom pods, which I didn’t have, but I did consider mustard seeds.

Some recipes suggest that you poach the fish in water and cook off the long-grain rice separately to keep it fluffy and light. My memory of childhood kedgerees was of cooking the fish in milk and using the strained milk to cook the rice.

I went back to the venerable Readers’ Digest Cookery Year book from 1977, inherited from my great uncle Bill and still my most treasured anthology, which has the original recipe containing lentils, onion, boiled rice, fresh limes, butter and fish but adds nutmeg and cayenne pepper as well as single cream and butter, and combines everything in an oven-proof dish to bake for 30 minutes.

So all in all, my recipe is a hybrid of a hybrid and damn tasty it is too! I hope you enjoy it.

Kedgeree

Serves 2 generously

  • 400g undyed smoked haddock
  • 350ml whole milk
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 green chilli, deseeded if you’re worried about the heat, and finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon Madras curry powder (or mild if you’re a sissy)
  • 2tbsp (30g) butter
  • 100g long-grain rice, eg Basmati
  • 2 medium free-range eggs
  • Lemon wedges and fresh coriander, chopped, to garnish
  • Salt and Pepper

Method 

Place the fish in a saucepan with the bay leaves and peppercorns and cover with milk.

Place on a medium heat, and as soon as the liquid comes up to the boil, turn it down to low and give it 4 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow to cool. Strain the liquid into a jug and carefully flake the fish making sure you remove any skin or bones. Set aside.

In a large frying pan, preferably one with a lid, melt the butter and fry the onion over medium heat, stirring, until soft and starting to colour. This will take 8-10 minutes.
Add the chopped chilli, turmeric and curry powder and stir. Then add the rice and stir to coat. Add the reserved milk, and half a cup of water if necessary to make sure the rice is covered in liquid.

Turn the heat right down, cover and allow to cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure the mix doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.

While the rice is cooking, boil the eggs – drop them into boiling water and simmer for 6 minutes, then drain and refresh under cold running water. Peel and set aside, ready to cut in half just before serving.

Check the rice, and see if all the liquid has been absorbed. If the rice is dry but still al dente, add a splash more water, turn off the heat and leave it to steam gently for 5-6 minutes and check again. There should still be plenty of residual heat in the pan– check the seasoning, add the flaked fish on top, replace the lid and leave to rest for 5 minutes.

When you’re ready to serve, give the fish and rice mix a good stir to combine, spoon on to plates and top each serving with the boiled eggs, chopped coriander and a lemon wedge.

Addendum

I had, while quick-pickling some shaved fennel and onion (delicious on cheese sarnies), come across a recipe from Grace Berrow on Instagram

for confit lemons. As there were two staring out from the fruit bowl, I quickly sliced them and, as instructed, submerged them in olive oil in a saucepan over low heat with a pinch of chilli flakes, some fennel seeds, a sprig of fresh thyme and some sage leaves, and a sprinkle of sea salt. I left them to bubble very gently until the lemons were soft and melting, and popped them in a jar in the fridge. This oil is insanely good for dressings and drizzling over fish or chicken, and the chopped lemon adds a zingy citrus note to soups, stews and casseroles, salads (for example chickpea or couscous), and chopped some finely to put on the table as a condiment. It was a great addition to the kedgeree and many other meals since.