Anyone who knows me, also knows that chicken would figure pretty much exclusively in my 'last meal' menu. Anyone else play the 'what would be your last meal' game for fun (black humour reigns chez moi)? So whilst my kids take ages choosing between dishes and then negotiating 2 starters and basically way more food than they could possibly stomach, its chicken all the way for me. On the very rare occasions I find myself home alone (plus cat), I'll often opt for a roast chicken, with nothing on the side and that cat has to fight me for a look in!
Chuck chicks come in all shapes, sizes and price ranges nowadays. Though a long way from favouring organic-only generally, I'm definitely not a fan of battery-hen rearing. The free-range option often doesn't suit a restricted budget, but if you can stretch the bird to cover 3 to 4 meal plans, then the extra cost starts to make much better financial sense. Incidentally, free-range rearing definitely does produce firmer and tastier meat, so its well worth the extra few pounds all round, if you can manage it. Here's how I make a chicken work the week for me:
- Roast Chicken
You're going to need:
- 1 decent size (preferably) free range chicken
- ground black pepper and sea salt
- a lemon (optional)
- dried herbs of your choosing – I like oregano but really anything goes (also optional)
- dried chilli flakes (optional)
- potatoes to roast and serve on the side – any size will do. I like the small varieties that require minimal prep
- lemon juice (optional)
- olive oil (not necessarily virgin)
- An oven dish that can sit the chicken in fairly tightly and another for the roast potatoes.
- silver foil to cover
As a chicken purist, I'm a fan of the simplest roasting techniques: those that don't involve any added fat and or distortion of flavour. My favoured method may not immediately appeal to those of you used to the classic roast and baste recipe: be brave and give this alternative a try! Simple, tasty and effective is always a winner in my book, but this 'cuisson' is super easy and also a sure fire way to keep the meat wonderfully juicy and the skin surprisingly crispy, with zero effort. You can always drizzle with olive/lemon/chilli oil or serve with flavoured butter, at the table.
First, pre-heat the oven to about 220C or 200 if you're using a fan oven.
Prep the potatoes. I never peel potatoes unless I'm making mash. I'm lazy, sure, but I genuinely prefer the taste and texture of skin-on roasties. So, wash and scrape off any sharp bits, chop into rough quarters (unless you're using the lovely bite-sized variety) and steam / boil until part-cooked. For me, part-cooked is when a knife will pierce the flesh easily but you still need to apply some pressure to push further in. Drain and shake the potatoes quite roughly, to break up the smooth outer edges. Cover the base of a suitably sized (so that there is no layering) oven dish with olive oil, ground black pepper and salt. Place the part-cooked potatoes in this dish and stir to coat with the seasoned oil. Add a dash of lemon juice and dried herbs if you like a slightly more perfumed roastie or just fancy a change. You can also use chilli oil and lemon juice, instead of olive oil, if you fancy a bit of a kick. Cover with foil and place in the oven on a medium to high shelf.
Thoroughly rinse the chicken, stuff with a whole lemon and place in a nice snug oven dish. Sprinkle with ground black pepper, sea salt and (optional) chilli flakes. Then pour about 2 cm deep worth of water into the base of the dish (not over the top of the chicken). Leave uncovered and sit next to the potatoes in the oven at mid to high level.
Total cooking time should be about 1 and 1/2 hours but you should uncover and thoroughly stir the potatoes after 30 minutes and stir again every further 30 minutes, until lovely and crispy brown. Keep an eye on the chicken and move to a lower shelf if the skin turns totally crispy before the cooking time is up or cover with foil. When the chicken is cooked, lift the bird out of the dish (be careful to tip and release any trapped cooking liquid) and onto a board from which you can carve. Remove and discard the lemon from the chicken cavity, but save the cooking water – pour into a tupperware type container that you can seal and keep in the fridge once cooled. Cover the bird with foil and leave to sit for at least 5-10 minutes before serving.
Serve with a crispy salad and your choice of condiments, though you shouldn't need anything other than a gorgeous glass of red wine to perfect this delicious chicken meal.
Don't throw anything away! Separate leftover meat from the chicken carcass and bones and refrigerate.
2. Chicken soup / stock
You're going to need:
- the left over carcass and small bits of chicken meat from yesterdays roast dinner. You can also add any larger pieces of meat you have left over, unless you plan to make a chicken caesar salad (recipe below) tomorrow
- 2 red, white or yellow onions, peeled and halved
- as many carrots as you have – at least 7 – peeled and roughly chopped
- about 5 celery sticks, washed and roughly chopped
- 4 bay leaves dried or fresh
- whole black peppercorns or ground if you dont want to be bothered picking them out
- sea salt
- the refrigerated chicken cooking liquid that you saved from the roast dinner
- dried soup pasta (optional)
Place all the ingredients (apart from the pasta) in a large saucepan. Cover the contents with water (at least 2-3 litres), place the lid on the saucepan and cook on a high heat until the soup starts to boil. At this point, turn the heat down low and skim any scummy bits off the surface of the soup (with a spoon) and discard. Stir the soup and replace the saucepan lid, leaving it a touch open. Simmer on a low heat for as long as you have and at least 2-3 hours, stirring occasionally and topping up with water if the soup starts to resemble stew. This really shouldn't happen if you added enough water at the start of the process.
If serving as soup, drain the soup, discarding bones, skin, bay leaves and pepper corns but retaining the meat and veg. Taste and season before adding the pasta if desired. Cook the pasta in the hot soup for a few minutes then serve with crusty bread. Croutons and or chopped parsley optional. You won't need the veg if you're only using the liquid as stock, but don't throw them away! Mash / whizz the lot in a food processor with potato and a touch of butter or olive oil for a delicious vegetable side dish.
3. Chicken caesar salad
- any leftover meat from the roast chicken. Sliced breast meat works best but isn't essential
- romaine lettuce or any other crunchy variety
- any other salady bits you have or can get hold of. Tomatoes and spring onions work well.
- croutons – stale bread cubes, smeared with fresh garlic and toasted in a dry pan with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper
- a big handful of grated parmesan cheese
- caesar dressing. You can buy or make this. I do the pestle and mortar technique to grind loads of fresh garlic with olive oil, a few tinned anchovies, salt, ground black pepper and a bit of yoghurt into a liquid paste. But theres no need to avoid the shop bought variety, which is reasonably priced and a lot easier on the wrists! Just stick to fresh, rather than long life, if you're going for ready made.
Wash and chop the salad. Mix and season with ground black pepper and salt. Pile a small round onto each plate, sprinkle with parmesan, drizzle with caesar dressing and dot with chicken meat and croutons. Repeat for several layers, ending with a generous few chicken slices and a good slug of dressing. Serve with bread or potatoes on the side and a large glass of chilled white wine. Devine !
- Risotto rice
- olive oil (not necessarily virgin)
- your chicken stock/soup (see above)
- 1 large and finely chopped onion
- a glass of white wine or vermouth if you have either
- your choice of prepared vegetable. Pumpkin and courgettes (not together) are my favourites but sweet potato works well too. Roast the veg ( you can halve and roast the pumpkin then scoop out the flesh after) with loads of garlic and fresh or dried rosemary and olive oil until the flesh is beautifully garlicky and soft. Set aside.
- a large handful of grated parmesan cheese
- about a quarter pack of unsalted butter, cubed and cool or at room temperature, but not straight out of the fridge
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 large saucepans. 1 for the stock and the other for the risotto. When cooking, you need to keep both at the same temperature.
- a wooden spoon for stirring the rice
Fry the chopped onion in a generous amount of olive oil, on a low to medium light, until soft and translucent but not brown. Sit your stock in a separate saucepan alongside the risotto pan and at the same level of heat. The stock should be simmering not boiling. Add enough risotto rice to cover the onion in the bottom of the risotto pan and stir for about a minute. Add the wine or vermouth to the rice and stir until the alcohol evaporates and the liquid is absorbed. Add a few large spoons of stock to the rice and stir until absorbed. Add the vegetable mix to the rice with another few spoons of stock and stir until the liquid is absorbed. Keep adding stock slowly to the rice mixture, a few large spoons at a time and stir continuously. Repeat until all the stock has been added or for about 20 minutes. Taste. The rice should be firm but not hard. When the process is complete, take the rice off the heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the parmesan cheese and the cubed butter. Stir thoroughly but not too aggressively. Place the lid on the pan and leave to sit for 5 minute. Serve with a crunchy salad or just as is and delight in your silky, creamy and delumptious creation. Risotto isn't exactly effortless to prepare properly but is truly wonderful when made from scratch. Your fresh chicken stock will make all the difference. Prepare to excite your taste buds. Bon appetit !