I’ve finally succumbed to an iphone; and, this has meant downloading apps like Hipstamatic, which food loving friends insist is the thing to use when photographing food. I have used it to take this photo of my standard roast chicken. I make it about once a week and we never get tired of it, though I’m not convinced by my efforts at artiness.
My keys to success are as follows: firstly choose a free-range chicken. (I usually buy Packington Chickens.) Why? Because it tastes better and the bones make better stock. And I always make a stock; a good homemade stock is the key ingredient for decent risotto or soup.
Next, spatchcock the bird. This means using a decent pair of poultry scissors to cut down either side of the spine. Next spread the bird out – skin side up – on a chopping board and, using the palms of your hands, push down on the breastbone to flatten the bird. Using this approach, the chicken not only cooks a bit more quickly, it does so more evenly and the breast doesn’t get dried out.
Once you’ve got your flattened bird, make a trivet of celery stalks: put a layer of vegetables in the roasting pan (you could use carrots or onions, or a mixture) and place the chicken on top of it. I also find space for the spine, as I like to roast it before it’s put into the stockpot.
Rub in olive oil, salt and dried oregano leaves (mine come from Sicily; of course choose what you want – fresh thyme, rosemary – any of the woody herbs) and bung the bird into a preheated, 190C oven for an hour and a half for a 1.7kg bird.
Once the chicken is cooked, don’t throw away the celery stalks – they’ll be collapsed and caramelised and taste delicious. And do make gravy: while the bird rests on the carving board, put the roasting pan on the hob, deglaze with a small glass of white wine, then either pour in some water in which you’ve boiled other vegetables for the meal, or some chicken stock from the previous meal (it’s worth freezing it in ice cubes for this purpose). Use a wooden spoon to scrape up the brown bits and let the gravy boil and reduce for a couple of minutes.
And the stock? Pick off the meat from the chicken carcass – good in salads, sandwiches and stir-fries – and place in a saucepan with the outside stalks of the celery and a bay leaf and cover the bones to a depth of 3-5cms of water. Cover and simmer very gently – the occasional bubble – for about an hour and a half.
Where I depart from the usual advice on stock making is that I also add a teaspoon of salt. Meat stock smells different depending on whether it has been salted or not – and I loathe the smell if it hasn’t been added. It stems from the time I was a lodger and the owner of the house liked to boil up unseasoned mince and cabbage of an evening. The way I justify it is that salt added at the beginning of cooking is always less than what one has to add at the end to lift the flavours.