Thursday, 17 July 2008

The Much Maligned but Never Beaten...Roast Chicken

Last night I desperately wanted comfort food. The trouble with wanting comfort food is that in many cases, making it involves so much effort that the comfort is all but lost in the exhaustion of the preparation, resulting in it being comfort food for everyone but the cook! What I really, really fancied was roast chicken. But a roast dinner is far too much effort on a weeknight...or is it?

A streamlined version of roast Sunday lunch is actually easier to prepare than you might think. To be fair, I've always found preparing Sunday lunch is the sort of torture I prefer to avoid. I'm really not a big lunch eater; I like my big meal in the evening. Plus I find the effort involved in cooking any Sunday lunch causes me to feel like it's the weekend for everyone but me. It's not just the cooking, it's the cleaning up afterwards, when everyone else is too exhausted to help and just wants to fall asleep on the sofa. (I'm the sort of person who is utterly disappointed if I ever do fall asleep on the sofa on a Sunday afternoon as I feel I've missed out on part of the weekend. Falling asleep on the sofa is, for me, a kind of failure.)

Anyway, I digress. I wanted comfort food, specifically, roast chicken, but I wanted it quick and easy. I toyed with the idea of chicken breasts, but I really do love roasting a whole bird, not least of all because I believe the meat is more tender than when you just cook chicken pieces. So I decided to start with the best whole chicken I could find, so that it would cook easily and be tender and delicious. I must admit, paying nearly £9 ($18+ dollars) for a free range bird did bring tears to my eyes, but when the "sensitively farmed" birds are only a few pounds cheaper it does seem a waste not to go whole hog and get the free range version. I did stop short of organic though. I honestly can't taste the difference, and the cost has always been astronomical. Now though, it's right out of the galaxy with the way food prices are rising. So I took home a beautiful free range bird, all ready to cook (no giblets!) and settled down to thinking about how I could make my comfort dinner without ending up exhausted in the process.

Well dear reader, I'm pleased to report, I found a way. When you think about it, roast chicken itself does not take much effort. You just rinse out the cavity of the bird with cold water (I know some folks don't do this, but my parents always did, so I do too - not that I'm a creature of habit!), anoint it with a little olive oil, grind on some rock salt and pepper and put it in the oven. Most of the grocery stores here have even calculated the cooking time on the label of the package so I don't even have to do that anymore. Although, if you are wondering, chicken needs to be cooked at about 200 C or 375 F for 20 minutes per 500 g (approximately 1 lb) plus about 30 minutes just to round it out. When cooked, the juices should run clear if you puncture the leg. I always use a meat thermometer just to double check - the temperature should read in excess of 160 C when you stick it in the chicken leg.

So, without much effort at all I had the bird in the oven. Now for vegetables and potatoes the quick and easy way. I had some new potatoes from Marks and Spencer so they were completely prepared and washed. As they were fairly tiny, I just put them in a roasting pan with one red pepper, cut in chunks, a red onion similarly prepared and five peeled parsnips, cut in quarters. (We love parsnips even when they are not in season!) I tossed all this with some olive oil and a bit of balsamic vinegar and put the pan in the oven after the chicken had been in there for about half an hour.

A little more than an hour - and one light tossing of the roasting vegetables half way through the cooking time - later, my comfort food was ready. The only effort involved was carving the chicken and as it was a small one, it was very easy.

Alex made the gravy for me. It was a powdered mix we always bring back from Canada - Swiss Chalet gravy. Please do not wrinkle up your nose, this really is delicious. Of course, you could always buy one of those lovely tubs of ready made gravy from the supermarket if you are not planning a trip to Canada or don't know anyone who is!

So there you go, roast chicken with very little effort. I was suitably comforted, and once Guy and Alex got over their surprise at eating roast Sunday lunch for dinner on Wednesday, they were pretty comforted as well.

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