Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Slow-roasted chicken

Roast chicken is one of those dishes where there is a conflict between the visual appearance and the taste. While nothing looks nicer than a golden, oven-roasted chicken, to my mind the classic way of roasting chicken leaves the breast meat a bit dry. There are ways of mitigating this – stuffing the chicken, roasting it breast down and turning it halfway through, basting it etc. – but I think the method below produces a far tastier result, for less work.

1 chicken
seasoning mixture (see below)

  1. On a large chopping board, place a large sheet of silver foil crosswise, and another one over it lengthwise. Then place the chicken on top.
  2. Make several cuts in the chicken (to the breast, back and legs) to allow the flavours of your seasoning to penetrate the meat.
  3. Rub the chicken all over with your seasoning mixture (see below).
  4. Close the foil over the chicken, and wrap it in another layer of foil before placing the chicken parcel breast upwards in a roasting tray.
  5. Place the chicken in the oven and turn it on at 150°C.
  6. Cook for at least 6 hours.
  7. Remove the chicken from the oven and leave to rest for 5 minutes before carving and serving. The legs and wings are best eaten with your fingers.
If you have time, do steps 1 to 4 the day before you plan to cook the chicken, and leave the flavours to soak in, but this is not essential. Similarly, the cooking times are not precise. My timings here are based on putting the chicken in the oven at breakfast time and having it ready for a late Spanish lunch. My mum cooks it for longer at a slightly lower heat – it can even be cooked overnight.

Whatever you do, resist the temptation to uncover the chicken for the last 20 minutes or so to brown the chicken, as you will undo all your hard work and dry out the white meat.

Seasoning mixture
You can season this with just about anything. Because the chicken is wrapped in foil, it stays moist, so you don’t need to use oil, but you should use plenty of salt to help make the skin nice and crisp. Here are a few suggestions:
  • mustard, garlic, salt and pepper
  • salt, pepper, rosemary and balsamic vinegar
  • a good quality curry powder or spice mix
  • ginger, ground coriander, garlic and salt
  • lemon juice, cumin, salt and pepper

This method is basically one I learnt from my mother. I assume that the original method was to cook it covered in a pot, and I’m sure it was the only way to roast a (relatively young) bird back in the days before modern farming produced the soft slobby chickens which are generally sold today. Chicken is one thing which I think it’s really worth spending a bit more on in order to buy free range. When I bought my chicken from the butcher in the market and told him not to cut it into portions because I was going to roast it whole, he blanched and politely told me that he really didn’t think it was a good idea. “This is a country chicken,” he explained, “not like the ones you get in the supermarket. You can’t roast it – it’ll be too tough.” But it came out perfectly – meaty but tender, with lots of flavour.

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