I love a roast. I am not convinced of the whole ‘a roast is so easy! Just pop it in the oven and off you go!’ – maybe because of the number of mouths I’m feeding, maybe because of all the Big Pan washing up afterwards, maybe because sometimes, in this house, a roast can be devoured and other times its just pushed around the plate. But when it works, and is devoured, hoooboy am I on a winner.
In the last couple of weeks we’ve returned to having a chicken roast – I archived it as a dinner option after one too many half eaten dinners and Felix complaining that chicken tasted too chickeny (I believe this was not long after the lamb tasting too lamby) – and it has been demolished, DEMOLISHED as a dinner option.
I believe that a roast dinner falls into the same category as bolognaise sauce and lasagne – everyone has their own recipe, their own version, their own secret tricks and tips – so this is merely mine, take from it what you will.
Chooks ready for roasting. Butter under the skin, one of these has homemade stuffing in it, the other some herbs from the garden (sage and rosemary) shoved up its clacker.
My stuffing is a varied beast, changing every single time I make it. Basically it starts with breadcrumbs made from either stale bread or some random loaf I’ve found in the freezer that’s been there for an indeterminate time. I tend to make a lot and then freeze whatever doesn’t fit in the bird – handy.
Then, in a food processor, blitz an onion, a garlic clove, finely grated lemon rind, herbs and a very generous pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper. Sometimes I blitz the lot at once, ie the bread and all the above, just because I can.
Mix the breadcrumbs and onion mix together – have a bit of a taste to check for seasoning. IF I have it – and I know many of you gastronomes will shake your head at this revelation – I shake in a good dose of Masterfoods Chicken Seasoning (instead of the salt and pepper). It is a childhood thing ok? Mum’s stuffing would be an onion, breadcrumbs and a shitload of that seasoning, then all moistened with a little water. I still could eat that until my head fell off.
Shove the stuffing into the cleaned cavity of the bird (I just hold my bird under the faucet and run cold water through it, giving a bit of a gouge while I’m there, and then pat dry with a paper towel) but not too densely. Something to do with internal temperatures, food poisoning and the like.
Squeeze some lemon juice over the bird, jam wedges of the lemon into the leg joint and the arse end of the bird, rub generous amounts of salt and pepper into the skin, drizzle with oil and bung in the oven on 200C. Now I tend to follow the Maggie Beer rule of 20 minutes for each side of the bird, ie 1hr 20 minutes but I never bother turning the bird as she advises. Who could be bothered?
So then, onto the spuds.
Take one large metal bowl and lace with olive oil, herbs, lashings of salt and pepper. Set aside
Peel your vegetables for roasting. I, on occasion, don’t peel but really I just can’t abide by it. Roasted veggies need peeling.
Place in a saucepan with water and a pinch of salt and bring to the boil. Cook for 5-10 minutes depending on how big (or small) you’ve cut them up. You want there to be a bit of give on the outer edges but not soft the whole way through.
As the potatoes come to the boil put your baking tray in the oven with a few lugs of olive oil.
Drain thoroughly. Like, drain and then try draining again. Put the lid back on, hold the lid onto saucepan with layered up tea-towels and give a really god shake to make all the outer edges of the taties smooshy.
Topple into the metal bowl and toss with the herbs and oil and then spread them around on the baking tray you put into the oven with the now hot olive oil. (This is why my oven door is never ever clean) Give them all a good roll around to ensure they’re all covered in some oil. Then bake, giving a toss every so often until they’re beautifully golden and crispy.
(Now if you’re not cooking for 500 people like I am, you can always just pop these into the baking tray with the chicken.)
Timewise, this should all tie in to the chook being done but it’s no biggy if they take longer or are done sooner. I learnt this trick from Nigella Lawson – pretty much everything in a roast dinner can be luke warm so long as the gravy is piping hot. Sorted.
So, here we are at the pointy end. Making gravy. No roast is allowed in this house without it. Yes, it can be scary but with my little trick put your fear back on the shelf and get stirring.
Take the chooks out of the baking dish, drain off most of the fat but leave the good crunchy, crispy, burnt bits. Put the baking pan over a flame on your stove-top. Add a couple of heaped tablespoons of plain flour and smoosh around the pan, scraping up all the burnt bits. What you’re doing is browning the flour, cooking out the floury taste. Meanwhile boil your kettle or get your stock ready (seriously, I just use a litre of Campbell’s here).
My mum used to say to me that you could tell a good cook by whether they could make gravy or not. Following that theory I am a crap cook because try as I might no matter how I try, it is virtually impossible for me to make non-lumpy gravy the traditional way – ie, browning your flour, adding water or stock and stirring like hell. Chef offered up the valuable tip of adding like temperature to like temperature so adding hot/boiling water instead of cold but even so, still lumpy. Not inedibley lumpy but lumpy all the same. So now, once I’ve browned the flour, I scrape it all up, tip it into a canister like the one above, add some stock and stick-blend it. THEN I return it to the pan, stirring all the time and add more liquid until it’s the right consistency (thick but pourable).
Smooth, tasty gravy with none of the ‘there’s lumps, LUMPS! Can’t stir any faster!’ panic.