Chickening out [roast chicken]

I’m surprised more songs haven’t been written about roast chicken. Plenty of good songs about whiskey (Doors ‘Alabama Song’, Van Morrison ‘Moonshine Whiskey’); good songs about bakery (Rolling Stones ‘Brown Sugar’, The Beatles ‘Honey Pie’ (not one of their best)) and, of course, Kings of Leon stunning ode to the dairy cow, ‘Milk’; but dammit, I can’t find a single song about roast chicken. What the hell is going on? Arguably the most perfect, beautiful, and, dare I say, sexy thing to put in front of someone and no one has bothered to strum two notes about it.

Because is there anything more perfect than a well roasted chicken? A juicy steak, charred on the edges, bloody in the middle, might be challenging for a bronze, and sure, a leg of lamb roasted medium rare, on the right day will take the silver no problem (I really hope you’re enjoying my Olympic metaphor here), but nothing can put a smile on my face quite as consistently as a chicken fresh from the oven – the earthy undertones of herbs, the pungency of the lemon you have stuffed up its bottom, and the pop and crackle of the skin make it the ultimate crowd pleaser – the ‘Brown Sugar’ of the meat world?

In terms of bells and whistles I think a chicken responds extremely well to most seasoning, within reason – by this I mean a variety of herbs, garlic, shallots or onions etc etc…I do not mean pineapple or apricots. What I happen to do on this occasion is largely due to what I have at hand – although the unpeeled shallots are a Nigella Lawson touch, and an excellent one.

Roast chicken

Serves 4

A medium sized free range organic chicken
15 shallots
2 heads garlic
a handful of rosemary, thyme and tarragon
half a lemon
Olive oil
100ml vermouth or white wine
100ml water

Preheat the oven to 200C (fan 190C).

Make sure you take the bird out of the fridge an hour before cooking. Putting a cold bit of meat in a hot oven only lengthens the cooking time (quite considerably if it is a large bird). Season the bird inside and out with salt and pepper and stuff the herbs and lemon up its backside. Place it in a roasting dish and throw the (unpeeled) shallots around it. Cut the garlic heads in half horizontally and add to the tin. Drizzle liberally with olive oil, both the shallots, garlic and the chicken, and place in the oven for an hour.

Pierce the thigh, if the juices run clear you have a cooked chicken. Remove it, the shallots and the garlic to a warm plate to rest, and place the roasting tin over a medium heat. Add the vermouth and scrape up all the lovely juices from the chicken. Add the water and simmer for 5 minutes till desired consistency. (If you like a thicker gravy, whisk in a tablespoon flour).

Carve the bird and serve with the gravy and a couple of shallots, and whatever vegetables you are having.

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