By Catherine Phipps, author of Chicken
Roast chicken is the best way to enjoy chicken in all of its glory - think of that burnished skin, juicy thigh meat, sticky wings, rich and savoury breast meat. And don’t neglect the oysters in the underside, two tender morsels of meat you’ll all fight over. Here are my tips for getting it just right.
1. Take two minutes to store it properly. Take the chicken out of its packaging and put it on a plate. Sprinkle salt over it, inside and out, then leave to dry out, uncovered or loosely wrapped in kitchen towel, in your fridge over night. Take the chicken out of the fridge for an hour before you want to cook it so it comes up to room temperature. This takes no effort at all, and will pay dividends – the skin will crisp up beautifully and the savouriness of the meat will be enhanced.
2. Make your chicken go further. Roasting a chicken without stuffing is a bit of a lost opportunity. Breadcrumbs or sausagemeat will give you a classic stuffing, but you can also use couscous, rice, quinoa, freekah or even mashed potato. Fry a onion in oil or butter, add garlic if you like, fresh or dried herbs, spices, fruit, mix it all together and stuff in the cavity or under the skin at the neck end. You will have created a tasty chicken-imbued side dish, again with little effort. Use whatever you have at hand and it will never be the same twice.
3. Keep it Moist. Breast meat can be amazing as it has a mouth puckering umami quality to it – but it can dry out if you are not careful. The best way to stop this from happening is butter or olive oil - and lots of it. Smear either on the skin or under it. If under it, you can add lots of chopped herbs as well. You can also add liquid to the pan – I like a glass of Vermouth or white wine along with a little water which will reduce and infuse with any chicken juices for a very simple gravy. Finally, lemon juice is always a good thing here – either squeezed over the top, added to the pan, or if you aren’t using stuffing, a squeezed out half in the cavity along with some herbs.
4. Let it sizzle. Cooking the chicken for a short time at a higher heat will also help get you crisp skin. Make sure your oven is preheated to around 230C – if possible, check this with an oven thermometer. Weigh your chicken, including the stuffing if using. Put the chicken in a roasting dish, adding anything else you fancy to the tin – I like sliced onion and unpeeled garlic under the chicken, along with a few sprigs of thyme. Add liquid if you want to. Put in the oven and roast for 20 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 200C and cook for 15 minutes for every 500g.
5. Let it Rest. You can test your chicken for doneness in a couple of ways. The legs should feel loose, when you wiggle them, and if you pierce the thickest part of the thigh, the juices should run clear. It will also smell amazing! Take the chicken from the oven, transfer it to a warm serving plate and cover with foil to rest. This will relax the chicken and the meat will be more tender for it. Make gravy if you like or just simply pour the buttery pan juices into a jug. Then enjoy what is possibly the best meal you could ever make.
Catherine Phipps's 'Chicken', is out now and avalible to buy at Waterstones
Claire Thomson, author of Five O'Clock Apron says...
1. Buy a good quality chicken. A cheap water-pumped chicken will never a good roast make! I would rather have one proper roast chicken a month than 4 cheaper ones.
2. Dry out the skin. There is some controversy regarding the skin of the chicken pre-roast, but I like to make sure it’s really dry by leaving it uncovered in the fridge overnight and patting it with kitchen towel just before cooking.
3. Prep it. I like to smear the outside of the chicken with butter or olive oil, along with some salt, just before putting into the oven. Season the cavity well and add a lemon if you have one, and add a sprig of fresh thyme, rosemary or even some sage or bay leaves.
4. Find your cooking style. Some chefs start low then go high, while others follow more traditional high heat to crisp the meat before turning it down. I can honestly say I chop and change myself. As a big lemon fan, if I’m roasting spuds (always par boil these first!) to serve with the bird, I like to roast the chicken and potatoes along with an unwaxed lemon cut into eighths and squished in amongst the potatoes for some lemony roast chicken potatoes. Cooking time and temperature of the chicken will coincide nicely with the cooking of potatoes. Alternatively, the chicken roasted over rice with cinnamon in my book The Five O Clock Apron is a winning chicken cooking method, with the cooked chicken skin blistered brown with the heat and cinnamon and the roast chicken juices soaking and cooking the rice beneath.
5. Rest it! Resting the cooked chicken is crucial for tender, juicy meat. Don’t cover it though, as this will cause the skin to turn from crisp to soggy – just leave the bird there for ten minutes on the table in a blaze of glory.
Claire Thomson's '5 O'Clock Apron' is now avaliable to buy at Watersones