ROAST CHICKEN. Done properly, it has to be one of my all-time favourite things to eat. The trick of course is the ‘done properly’ part of this statement. It’s incredibly easy to stuff up roast chicken. Having said that, it’s also incredibly easy to get it right – as long as you follow just two basic rules: 1) use the best, but absolutely best free range chicken you can get your hands on and 2) don’t overcomplicate it.
I never buy anything other than free range chicken and eggs because I have major issues with how anything I eat gets treated before it makes it to my plate. I am inflexible in this regard. Now you may very well not share these sentiments and I would not dream of judging, but I would still urge you to only ever go free range. Why? Simple. You can taste it. Happy chickens are just more ‘chickeny’. There are also different levels of free range happiness. The free range chickens you get in SA supermarkets are not a patch on the farm free range chickens I grew up with, so it’s well worth your effort to chat up a few farmers at your local farmer’s market. So, preachy bit over, let’s talk about what you do with a chicken to get the perfect roast. Mostly I do as little as possible – excellent ingredients need space to speak for themselves. A drizzle of olive oil or butter massage, Maldon salt, pepper and into a hot oven it goes on a bed of onions (better yet, leeks) and carrots. The veggies are there to help jumpstart the process of creating an umami-rich simple gravy. If one is fancy, one does not eat the veggies afterwards. Naturally I do.
I rarely stuff my roast chicken because I am almost always disappointed. A notable exception is when I go all French granny for Sunday lunch and make a very classical chicken-liver based stuffing with bacon and sage. The French call it poulet grand-mere. I call it roast chicken heaven.
All I want with this is crusty baguette with loads of salted butter to slather on, a crisp green salad with tangy Dijon-mustard vinaigrette and a glass or two of good Sauvignon Blanc – a wine like the Seasalter Sauvignon from Groote Post that recently came knocking on my door.
It’s beautifully fruit-forward as SA Sauvignon’s tend to be, but overlaying this New World showiness you’ll find a subtle minerality care of its Darling Hills terroir where slope, soil, hot sun and the cooling effects of the nearby Atlantic Ocean combine to deliver something complex and nuanced yet lush. Fifty percent of this wine was aged in French oak, with the remainder staying on the lees in stainless steel. It’s a wine they’ve taken care with, and the perfect dining companion when you’ve taken a bit more care than usual with your roast chicken.
All you need is…
large 1,7kg free range farm chicken
3 tbs salted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup shallots, diced as finely as possible
half a packet (125g) good quality bacon, finely diced
2 heaped tbs salted butter
1 tub (250g) free range chicken livers, roughly chopped
2 cups fresh breadcrumbs (Dry crumbs are not suitable! To make your own, simply remove crusts from 4 slices of white bread and blitz in your food processor.)
large handful flatleaf parsley, leaves only, finely chopped
5 sage leaves, finely chopped
2 onions, quartered (or leeks)
4 carrots, cut into large batons
¾ cup water
1 Woolworths Chicken-flavour Liquid Stock Concentrate Stick
½ cup cream
sea salt (I use Maldon)
Preheat oven to 210 degrees Celsius. Rub the chicken with the three tbs room-temperature butter and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Set chicken aside. Melt two heaped tbs butter and gently fry the shallots and bacon until golden brown. Add the chicken livers and fry for a further two minutes. Remove from heat and add the breadcrumbs and herbs. Give it a generous pinch of salt and six grinds of black pepper too and stir to combine.
Stuff the chicken cavity with this mixture. Use cotton twine to tie together the chicken legs so they help to keep the stuffing inside during roasting. Put onions or leeks and carrot in the bottom of a roasting dish and pour over water. Place chicken on top of vegetables and roast until golden and cooked through – 65-75 minutes. (How long it needs to roast depends on the size, so check after 60 minutes by stabbing the thigh, if the juice runs clear, it is done.) Remove chicken from roasting tray and set aside to rest. Place roaster on top of the stove (if it is safe for cooker tops, otherwise transfer contents to a saucepan). Add a bit more water if need be, you want a generous three quarter cup of liquid in the roaster. Add the chicken stock sachet, stir and bring to the boil. Remove veggies, add cream and heat through, then taste to see if it needs extra salt and pepper.