Friday, March 5, 2010

The first roast chicken & heating a UK kitchen:

My first shot at roast chicken was as a traveller living overseas in the UK in 1999. We liked to refer to ourselves as 'dirty backpakers', despite the fact that we had a fixed address most of the time, for most of the year.

It was Easter and I was homesick. My girlfiend and I considered ourselves to be not half bad in the kitchen. So in a bid to feel closer to our roots at this family time of year, we invited the local priest of the girls boarding school we worked at round for dinner. Father D was a lovely guy in his 50's with a penchant for whiskey and telling bad jokes. We loved him and he certainly had time for us in the holidays when the girls from the boarding school were home with their families. 
We all shared mango for dessert as a nod to our homesickness for sunshine and beaches- sadly it was unripe and tasted remarkably like fruity cardbaord- still, the spirit was there.
What I remember most about our flat in Ascot was the kitchen.
Windows down one end overlooked the large flat lawn leading to the woods behind the house. We were three floors up, top floor hidden under the eves- but the kitchen window was bright and clear with a perfect view of the squirrels and the back-burning below. Burning off days were my favourite, with the groundsmen in their gumboots piling bonfire heaps of refuse and then watching it smoulder away in the mist.
Somtimes I didn't even mind being on the weeks washing-up duty because of that view. 
The heating in our flat was intermittent at best- wall heaters would fail in the night and hot water was questionable and limited for a house of five girls. Do the washing up and there were no hot showers for a while. On really cold days I would turn on the oven and sit in the kitchen with the door sealed shut, reading a book. Somtimes I might even bake a cake while the oven was on, depending on what groceries we had. Homemade croissants were a favourite after we'd all done a cooking class on them. No wonder we all put on weight. 

Still, the roast chicken Easter lunch was a success- despite the poor tools we had and the unripe mango. In many ways getting this dish right through pure luck and a 'lets just do this' attitude was a right of passage. It proved to me that with the right kind of will, you can cook anything, anywhere.
You don't need fancy pots, good knives, matching plates or even an oven with even temperature. What you need is the desire to do it, people around you with a good sense of humour and a willingness to at least give it a go.
Being sensible about reading the way your oven distributes heat also helps- a little jiggle and shift here and there got our bird evenly browned and cooked through, without burning it to a crisp.

To this day the memory of that meagre and somewhat haphazard feast is one of joy and it stands as one of the better meals I have eaten in my time. Nothing quite like a roast with friends to banish homesickness and enjoy the moment.

Roast Chicken with salt and lemon:
The best rule with roast chicken is always just to keep it simple.

  1. Rub salt on the chicken inside and out and leave covered in the fridge for a few hours until ready to cook.
  2. Thoroughly preheat the oven to 190degC
  3. Rub the chicken with oil and season with salt and pepper
  4. Stuff the cavity with two halves of a whole lemon- feel free to squeeze the juice around the cavity 
  5. Place the chicken on a wire rack over a tray of water (use boiling water so it's up to temperature)
  6. Place the chicken dish on the middle tray of your oven and bake for 45 mins
  7. Turn the chicken and leave for another 40min
  8. Turn the chicken right side up again for another 5mins
  9. Rest for 5min and the joint and serve with a salad/veg of your choice

NoteMango for desert is a geat idea, as long as it's ripe.
Chook chook.

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