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Friday, 26 April 2013

the chicken post #2- the one with the recipe

I was glad to see last week's impassioned (crazed...?) rant hit a nerve. It's not that I enjoy riling readers up (or ruining their dinners, as was the case with my auntie... sorry about that), more that I was pleased to hear that one or two people might pause to think about what they're buying in future. And I hope I don't come across as too smug when I say that- like my good friend Lucy remarked, none of my post came as any surprise, it's just that it's all so very easy to ignore what you already know. Unless you happen to be best mates with a chicken obsessed food blogger like me, that is. Lucky girl.

So now you know what chicken you should buy, what the hell do you do with a whole one? It's easy to see why people are so tempted by breasts (of the poultry variety, obviously). Anyway... Yes. Breasts. They're boneless, a fairly uniform shape, pale (I'm still flummoxed as to why some people find the dark, juicy parts of the chicken repulsive), and easy to dice. They're also, for the most part, dry and tasteless. Especially when cooked away from the rest of the bird. A whole chicken can seem daunting- there might be the lingering concern you're going to kill someone, and they can seem tricky to carve. But this recipe should convince you that a decent roast chicken is as easy as pie, and possibly tastier. Until I decide to do a pie post, that is.

As you could imagine, I'm going to tell you to buy a decent chicken. Mine was a Traditional Free Range bird, and cost me £16.50 for two kilos. It wasn't cheap, but it will feed five to six hungry people, with the possibility of a chicken sandwich or two the next day. If you can't justify spending that amount on a bit of poultry, then you can get a Free Range equivalent for around a tenner, or an RSPCA Freedom Food bird for £6.50 onwards. Any lower, and it starts getting mean. An RSPCA bird ensures you a guilt-free dinner.

On a completely unrelated note, I went to a local farm to grab some milk yesterday. It struck me as quite a fun place, and it was nice (and cheaper) to cut out the middle man, and buy all my milk, cream and eggs directly from the farmers themselves. It's not something I'll be able to do everyday, but I will be making a concerted effort to pop by once a week, if only to remind myself that there are some benefits to living outside London... Anyway, the upshot of this, is that there are a lots of farm, egg, and chicken related photos in this post, so I've tried to keep the recipe down to its bare bones for sake of brevity. So here it is:

The feather was there already- I didn't add it for aestheitics.

Butter Stuffed Chicken

Not as indulgent as it sounds, but then you know my thoughts on butter. If you don't, see here.

What You Need:

  • 2kg high welfare chicken
  • 1 leek, trimmed. Or, if there are still some around, perhaps some baby leeks.
  • 2 unwaxed lemons
  • 4-5 decent sized cloves of garlic
  • New potatoes, scrubbed and halved
  • A couple of shallots, finely chopped
  • A handful of mint leaves, roughly chopped
  • A handful of parsley
  • A sizeable knob of room-temperature butter (similar in proportions to a child's fist- that's the most apt description I can think of right this minute) for the chicken, and as much as you think you'll need to coat the potatoes.
  • Watercress and peashoots
  • A few stems of fresh tarragon
  • A small glass of white wine
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt and black pepper

What You Do:

1. Remove your chicken from the fridge about an hour before you want to cook it. This allows the meat to reach a level temperature throughout, and means it will cook more evenly- just remember to keep it away from the cat. Preheat your oven to 240 degrees, or as hot as it will go. 

2. Bash your garlic cloves (peeled) with the zest of two of your lemons and a hefty pinch of  salt until it's a coarse paste. Add your finely chopped parsley, and beat furiously into your room temperature butter.

3. Remove all string from your bird, and score on the underside (see photo) so you can create 'pockets' between the skin and the flesh across the thighs, and on the topside underneath both breasts. Make these pockets carefully, ensuring you don't rip the skin if you can. If you do, it's no real biggie. It just means you'll lose the butter as it melts in the oven. Stuff with your butter mixture, smearing any excess across a couple of well placed gashes you might want to add on non-stuffed parts of the chicken. 

Gashes on the underside of the bird...
4. Slice one of your zested lemons in half, and place inside the cavity of the birds with your tarragon. I've chosen this particular herb because it's fresh, clean, and faintly aniseed-y, so works beautifully when the sun's out. But you can stuff anything you like in here- bay, thyme, and onions all work equally well. Quarter your remaining lemon, and scatter across the bottom of a (very) snug-fitting oven tray.

5. Slice your leek lengthways, creating long ribbons about half an inch thick. Don't forget, the white part is the tastiest. Layer these around the lemons in your oven tray, and place your chicken on top. Drizzle the skin with olive oil and indecent amounts of salt and pepper.

6. Place your chicken in the middle of your oven, and cook at this temperature for twenty minutes. After which, turn down to 200 degrees, opening the door to speed up the process. Your chicken skin should have already turned an enticing golden-brown colour. Don't be tempted (like me) to poke it to see if it's crispy. It will be, and you will burn yourself.

7. Cook for a further hour and fifteen minutes, putting the kettle on for the potatoes after an hour. Get the water boiling, and pour into a pan with a handful (yes- and handful, NOT a pinch) of table salt. Boil your new potatoes until tender, and drain. Leave to steam dry in a sieve or a bowl somewhere while you return the pan to a low flame with a knob of butter, your shallots and your mint leaves. Soften and infuse gently, before adding your potatoes to coat thoroughly.

8. Remove your chicken from the oven, and transfer to a plate with a utensil big enough to handle it... two forks will not work. Pierce the fattest part of the breast with a sharp knife, and check the juices run clear. Skim the fat from the oven tray and remove the lemons without squeezing (the remaining juice will be quite bitter), and test for taste. Feel free to add and cook off a bit of wine, salt and pepper to taste. Pour into an attractive vessel.

9. Rest the bird for ten minutes or so, uncovered. If you cover it, the steam will soften the skin. If you rest it for much longer, it won't stay warm. Now for the carving: place your chicken on a board, and gently tug the legs away from the body. Carve along this fleshy part, and place onto an attractive serving platter of some sort. Now cut along the breastbone, one side or the other. Gently carve the breast away from the body- it should be moist and tender, not tough and dry.

10. Dig your fingers in to strip the carcass of the rest of the meat. Fight over who gets the oysters (the slippery, most tender pieces at the back of the bird, above the thigh), and then sulk when you lose the wishbone-pulling. Pile onto your platter with heaps of watercress and peashoots, dressed with a little freshly-squeezed lemon juice, salt and pepper. Serve with your gravy-esque juice, and don't judge anyone who adds a dollop of Hellmans. Where there's a New Potato in sight, it simply has to be done.

Don't forget to keep hold of your carcass- chuck it into a pan of simmering water for a couple of hours with some herbs, a couple of carrots and an onion, and hey presto- stock. Freeze it into an ice cube tray, and pop it out as and when you need it.

The chicken sandwiches are on me,

mrs hunt.x


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