The Nigella Diaries – Roast Chicken

Photo not by me

You could probably get through life without knowing how to roast a chicken, but the question is, would you want to?

Nigella asks this question in her preamble to Section 1 of How To Eat, a section (it’s so much more than a chapter) titled Basics. It’s a section that deals with – amongst many other things – sauces, dressings, pastries and custards. It does, however, start with good old roast chook – a dish that is possibly my desert island comfort food dish…well, either that or Hainanese Chicken anyway.

When I was growing up roast chicken was a treat. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not talking about inkwells in the school desk days or having to walk barefoot in the snow for 5 miles or anything like that. We’re just talking about Australia in the 70s and 80s.

A meat and three veg household, Mum used to buy her meat in bulk – a half a side of beef and a half of lamb – or something like that – and package it up in meal sizes in the freezer. I’ll always remember those days – the corgi standing guard ready to growl at any of us kids who got too close to the wonderful smells (wonderful, that is, to a dog) that Mum was putting into freezer bags.

Chicken, therefore, was a treat reserved for special occasions, such as birthdays. Somehow my mother used to make one chicken – and they were smaller back then – feed all six of us, with leftovers for sandwiches that we’d then fight over.

The other favoured birthday dinner in our house was what my father still refers to as a party party – with little sausage rolls and party pies, mini frankfurters and those little balls of mashed potato you cooked in the oven – pommes noisettes, I think they were called. I have no idea whether you can still get them, but they sounded so much more exotic when said with an Aussie-French accent than they actually tasted.

Anyways, I have no idea how my mother used to cook her chicken, but Nigella tells us that she cooks her roast chicken the same way that her mother did – with half a lemon up the cavity, a smear of oil or butter on the breast, and a sprinkling of salt. It’s then cooked at 200C for 20 minutes per 500g plus 30 minutes and once out of the oven, it’s “rested” for about 20 minutes or so.

I’ve always done mine in a similar way – with the lemon – although I smear butter underneath the skin of the breast. I have no idea why I started to do this – although I think it was probably back when it was more difficult to get good free-range chickens than it is now. I used to add some chopped herbs or garlic to the butter then too – just to give the meat some more flavour; goodness knows it probably needed it.

And to go with the chook? Well, gravy obviously, but Nigella also serves roasted shallots and garlic alongside her chicken. They’re cooked (unpeeled) in the same pan as the chicken and pretty much are steamed inside their skins before being squeezed onto the plate. They taste surprisingly sweet and well worth doing.

In line with Nigella’s recommendation, we kept the potatoes unpeeled. They were simply chopped into much smaller pieces, tossed into a baking pan, drizzled with oil, sprinkled with sea salt and with a few sprigs of rosemary from the garden tucked in to keep them company. I popped them into the oven when the chicken had about 40 minutes to go and they were perfectly cooked by the time the chicken had rested and had been carved.

Too easy.

Once finished, Nigella would, of course, pop the bones into the freezer for stock – and sometimes I do that too…but not before I’ve liberated the “oysters” from it… These little morsels really are the absolute best bit.

And the photo in the main pic? Obviously, I didn’t take it and it’s not of my roast chook – although it very well could have been if I’d cooked the chook during the day and styled it beautifully under some natural light. The reality is I cooked it for dinner and it was badly lit as a result. Such is life…

I’ve taken on the challenge to cook my way through Nigella Lawson’s How To Eat. You can find other episodes here.

Author: Jo

Author, baker, sunrise chaser

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