It’s blinkingly hot outside. I’m up north for a week doing a cooking job at a rather wonderful 13th century house just south of Ripon, and while cranking out endless lemon polenta cakes (or ‘lemon placenta cake’ as one of my brother’s friends once called it when waitering for me) is just about bearable on a drizzly day, when the weather is like this it is not much fun. I want to be swimming in the river, or fishing, or, ideally, sitting with a book and a beer. Even sitting in the window writing this has given my forehead a light sheen – us northerners just aren’t built for the heat. I’m dreading my return to London and my stuffy bedroom. There it’s a toss up between the unbearable wetness of sweating and the excruciating noise that greets me when I open my window onto the Hackney Road. It’s like trying to get some kip on the hard shoulder of the M1. Industrial earplugs and an industrial fan are probably the only ways to get through this heat wave. But I’m not complaining. Last summer was utterly miserable, and I vowed never to complain about good weather again. Bring it on.
Somewhat counter-intuitively, pot-roast chicken, as I discovered a couple of nights ago, is a better summer feed than your standard roast chicken, which is associated with root vegetables, bread sauce and a roaring fire. This pullet, juicy in its light broth and perky with the accompaniment of broad beans and peas, was just the ticket.
A little groundnut oil
6 rashers of streaky smoked bacon, sliced finely
2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
4 sticks of celery, trimmed and roughly chopped
A handful of whole and unpeeled garlic cloves
200ml white wine
A chicken, 2kg in weight or so
A bouquet garni
As many new potatoes as you think you can eat – they are fantastic cold the next day with a little Maldon sea salt
Salt and pepper
In a large saucepan (one large enough to house your fowl), heat the groundnut oil over a medium heat and add the bacon. Fry until golden, then add the butter, onions, celery and garlic, season, stir, cover and soften for 5-10 minutes, giving them a poke occasionally.
Slosh in the white wine and scrape up all the bacon bits from the bottom of the pan. Season the chicken generously, inside and out, and place on top of the vegetables. Add enough water to come halfway up, along with the bouquet garni and potatoes, and bring to the boil. Put a lid on and gently simmer for 1 hour.
After 45 minutes or so, preheat the oven to 220C. When the hour is up, remove lid and potatoes (keep them warm somewhere – they don’t need to be stinking hot), and put the pan in the oven for 20-30 minutes until the skin on the chicken has crisped up (you made need to add a little oil to help it along).
Rest the chicken for 15 minutes, during which time prepare any other vegetables you want to accompany – broad beans/peas are perfect, sauted courgettes would be lovely too. Serve with the spuds and green veg, with a generous ladleful of broth.