By popular demand – by which I mean one person suggested it twice, and that’s enough for me – I’m starting a new series of posts focussing on some of the basics for beginner and first-time cooks. It’s called (drumroll, please): The Basics. So creative! It lives in the menu under The Recipes, above. I’ll be building up the section with recipes that are (or can easily be) in most home cook’s repertoires.
I’m taking requests for it, too, so drop me a line if you want to suggest something. I can’t think of any better place to begin than with the simple magnificence of a beautiful roasted chicken.
When I teach people how to cook, I always start with a roasted chicken. It delivers the satisfaction of producing something substantial and wonderful with a minimum of technique and equipment. Even if you’ve only ever used your oven as extra storage space, you can make this. It’s very simple and pretty much foolproof. This low-and-slow method takes a long time – nearly 4 hours, all up – but your actual hands-on time is less than 10 minutes.
I could write pages about how roasted chicken fits into my cooking life and still not cover the subject completely. It’s a rare week that I don’t make one, and I make them in lots of ways: hard-roasted, spatchcocked, stuffed, marinated … and on. Then there are the hundreds of ways you can use it. But here, for once, I’ll cut to chase and stick to the task at hand: how to make a plain, slow-roasted chicken.
You’ll need a chicken, of course. Buy the best organic, free-range chicken you can find. It will taste better. Much better. Start with a mid-sized bird, something around 1.4 kg (that’s a number 14 in Australia; elsewhere, about 3 pounds).
For equipment, you can choose from varying levels of fanciness. A disposable foil roaster, placed on a baking sheet, is fine if this cooking thing is going to be a one-time-only deal. A roasting tin, large enough to accommodate the chicken and with sides about 8cm (3 inches) deep, will prove itself a good investment in other ways. A roasting rack to lift the bird up and allow air to circulate around it, should be considered if you intend to roast regularly.
You’ll also need 2 tablespoons of regular olive oil, 2 teaspoons of sea salt flakes, 125ml (½ cup) white wine or chicken stock, and some foil.
All set? Let’s do this.
1. Set your oven, with a shelf in the centre, to 140°C (285°F). While the oven heats up to the right temperature, take the chicken out of the fridge, unwrap it if necessary and pat the skin dry with kitchen towel.
2. Place the chicken, breast side down, in your roasting pan. Drizzle over a tablespoon of olive oil and rub it gently, with your hands, all over the skin. Sprinkle a teaspoon of sea salt flakes over.
3. Turn the chicken over, so it’s breast-side up, and repeat: a tablespoon of olive oil, massaged over, and a teaspoon of salt. Wash your hands.
4. Pour the white wine or chicken stock into the base of the pan. Cover the chicken and the pan in foil, crimping it to secure it onto the edges.
5. Check that your oven is up to temperature and put the chicken in. Close the door and leave it alone for three hours. Take a bath, do some laundry, read, whatever: the chicken will be fine and the oven is doing all the work.
6. When the time’s up, take the foil off the chicken. (Don’t throw it away just yet.) The chicken will be cooking nicely but very pale. Don’t worry: it’s about to get a tan. Turn the oven up to 190°C (375°F) and let the chicken cook, uncovered, for another 40 minutes.
7. Smells like your chicken’s done, right? Take it out of the oven. The skin will have browned up beautifully. Check that it’s cooked properly by inserting a small sharp knife or skewer into the thickest part of the thigh: the juices should run clear. If not, or you want it a little browner, just put it back into the oven for 10 more minutes.
8. Take it out and cover loosely with the foil you saved and a clean tea towel over that. Let it sit, undisturbed, for at least 15 minutes, even 30. It won’t go cold in its little tent.
9. Unveil. Your chicken is ready to serve.