Three-Day Roast Chicken

I don’t mean Chicken that takes 3 days to cook, Heston style, with brining and skimmed milk powder and such’n’such. Roast chicken is my absolute favourite example of kitchen thrift and also a great Friday night dinner that keeps on giving all through the weekend. I feel quite ‘Mad Men’ calling “Honey I’m home” as I roll in on a Friday evening with the comforting aroma tendrils of Roast Chicken permeating my nostrils, Bisto style.

Lovely wife is wonderfully English, having grown up in a number of villages in various ‘Shires where she seems to have learned the dart art of complex cooking which serves to squeeze all the flavour (and most of the colour) out of the food.

I thought it might be a relic of Empire where the food was a danger and needed to be neutralised, and was accompanied by formalities to ensure the food was stone cold upon consumption; cook to destruction in secret, don’t correct seasoning, transfer to serving dishes, call family, serve a little of everything to everyone, pause to make sure food is genuinely cold, eat functionally.

Our Italian household is completely different; upon arrival at my mothers we inspect the stove and sample everything with a spoon (like entering a church and crossing yourself), we then provide feedback and make minor tweaks, and as soon as it’s ready the pans hit the table and everyone digs in ‘homestyle’. For my mother it’s a compliment that every diner is diving in and attempting to enjoy the food at its absolute best. It might seem rather savage behaviour but Italian cooking is designed to bring attention to food (French cooking to the chef and English cooking to the formalities?). I even tried serving a warm chorizo and butterbean salad (brilliant for BBQ’s as you make in advance and fry/grill the sliced chorizo when you get there) which I got from Moro ‘homestyle’ in a massive bowl in the centre of the dining table with no plates but my poor mother in-law didn’t get a bite; she just sat back stunned as we hoovered it all up Simpsons-style.

Anyway, lovely wife makes a mean Roast Chicken, c.180 for 90 minutes on a bed of ever-changing vegetables [current favourite mix is thick sliced onion, garlic bulb, carrots cut in three] which are served rather than squished to make gravy. The chicken starts breast down and is turned after 30 minutes, at which time a good glass of white wine, quartered red peppers and whole mushroom are added.

My favourite parts are the oysters [‘sot l’y laisse’ in French which I think means ‘the fool leaves it there’, a reference to poor carving] and the heavily seasoned skin of the chicken breast under which my lovely wife has placed thin slices of lemon which have caramelised and exude a thick dark brown syrup similar to pan scrapings. The meat is anointed with the pan juices which are light and delicious and best of all require no work at all.

Incidentally, I bought a magnificent lemon last week in E H Booths which cost £1.08!!! it was an IGP Amalfitano lemon which seemed weird because IGP [indication geographically protected] normally indicates production in a designated area with raw material from a non-designated area as opposed to DOP [denomination of origin protected] where the relevant consortium defines both the method of production and the designated area of origin of raw material. Prosciutto di Parma is DOP because it can only be produced in the Parma area AND the legs come from a designated area; most of Italy, all the way down to Lazio. This is no surprise as 10 million legs of Parma are produced each year and 5 million pigs wouldn’t fit in Parma whereas Bresaola della Valtellina IGP must be produced in Valtellina but the raw material can come from anywhere [mostly Brazil]. I checked the Amalfitano consortium website and they do specify the zone of production and anyway this lemon was a monster, I grated the skin with my nail for the rest of the day as a natural air freshener and stimulant and the slices of this lemon caramelised under the heavily seasoned and blistered skin were an absolute joy.

Back to the chicken and number 1 son [age 4] attacks a drumstick as he likes meat on the bone (he recently replied “ a dead animal” when asked what he would like for breakfast and ended up with a Parma ham sandwich) which he dips in Grandmas jellies, little miss [age 1] likes the mushrooms and I sit back and relax with a tall and frosty glass of white.

Variety is the spice and lovely wife will mix and match the vegetables; potatoes, parsnips, sweet potato (although I’m trying to minimise evening starch), leeks, fennel, whatever is in the fridge. Cabbage and brassicas can be added but only close to end as they are a bit whiffy if over cooked.  

Seasoning can be as simple as salt, pepper and olive oil or anything else that takes your fancy; from herbs such rosemary, thyme, sumac through compounds such as za’atar (wild thyme, sesame seeds, sumac which is amazing with chicken), ras el-hanout which is just mental if the chicken is then sprinkled with pomegranate after its rest, gremolata (garlic, pasley, lemon zest) added at the end, compound butters [blood orange zest & tarragon is a winner] and best of all tapenade which is spread under the skin and provides a deep, dark savour. Sometimes sliced chorizo & olives are added after 1 hour (make sure they don’t burn) and bacon, salami, prosciutto or chorizo can also be added to the cavity with a half a lemon and lots more seasoning.

Once we have filled our boots, tided up, bathed and bedded the kids then the fun starts. First pull the meat off the bones and submerge in the remaining juices which will solidify to super tasty jelly in the fridge. Similarly transfer the chicken drippings to a small dish [yummy griebenschmaltz]. Pile all the bones into the pan, add a carrot snapped in half, a rib of celery [or lots of parsley if you don’t have celery as it gives a similar result], an onion peeled, a garlic bulb cut in half, a big squirt of tomato puree, the rind of a piece or parmesan or grana. A sprinkle of whole black peppercorns and a bay leaf, fill the pan with water and let it bubble for 3-4 hours. Sometimes the wine overtakes me and I forget to make the stock until the next day, it’s a fun activity which keeps little dude occupied as he snaps and squirts and sprinkles. 

Saturday lunch can be Asian root vegetable [celeriac, parsnip, even carrot] gratin, loosely based on this example.

with blue milk instead of cream, a fair amount of minced chicken, turmeric, fish or soy sauce. 

Dinner is likely to be Quinoa [used to be couscous but I’m cutting down on carbs as I think they make me sluggish and my eyes gluey], toast it first and then cook in stock. Once it’s soft, thick and unctuous and the little white tails have come out of each seed, add all the leftover vegetables and some more minced chicken, parsley, pine nuts, raisins and a big squeeze of lemon.

Off to my Mothers for Sunday lunch and then after over-eating Asian chicken soup provides a light and delicious finale to the weekend. Bill Granger [I wish I was that happy] has an Asian soup with orange peel.

Depending on the weather, my mood and mainly what’s in the cupboard during the weekend I might also make Fesanjan, a brilliant salad to take to a BBQ, a stupidly named  Ghetto! pasta, any number of variations on chicken and veg pies (heres one), corn-wrapped spicy Mexican hand food; fajita, quesadilla, burrito etc and the ever forgiving Indian or Asian curries; chicken, coconut milk, decent curry paste, a bit of stock, peas, coriander. 

The Schmalz even enables me to make a passable and tasty Cassoulet style bean stew topped with breadcrumbs. I was told the secret to this Cassoulet which I ate [family portion] in Toulouse is not the Toulouse sausage but the rind sausage (Saucisse de Couennes).

I much preferred it to the Cassoulet in Castelnaudary which I risked my life for by crossing the black mountain in the fog (its that thing in the background which you cant see).

The Schmalz also gives us a respite from the bacon/pancetta substrate that runs through all my cooking, its applied liberally as a base flavour for the lentil/grain stew/soup/sludge which takes me through the week. And then its ‘Don Draper’ Friday again.  

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Recipes, Lifestyle