Top 10 Steps to Making a Perfect Roast Chicken
As you know, we have done many food related lists – but one thing lacking which I think would make a great list, is a step by step instruction on preparing a single meal. If this list goes down well I will consider doing more in future to help people who don’t do a lot of cooking to build up a repertoire.
This meal is a full roast chicken with roast potatoes, broccoli, and carrots. It is a French style meal – each component of the dish is cooked according to the traditional French method. Do not be afraid – it is very easy – I have especially chosen easy vegetable preparations. This meal is for four people but you easily refrigerate the left-overs and have them later if you are cooking for fewer.
10. Go Shopping!
First off, you need to go shopping. This is what you need to buy (prices are estimates):
1 fresh chicken (around 900 grams though up to 1.5KG is fine) $6.00
1 head of broccoli $1.50
4 large carrots $1.00
4 potatoes (King Edward potatoes are best) $1.50
1 container of heavy (double) cream (about 500ml) $3.75
1 container of fresh chicken stock $1.25
2 sticks of unsalted butter (500gm) $2.00 (pack of 4)
1 bulb of Garlic $3.00
Fresh thyme, and bay-leaves $3.00
Total Shopping Cost: $23 ($5.75 per person – compared to a McDonald’s Big Mac meal at around $6.75 upsized). Additionally, this meal is around 1,297 calories per person, versus 1,800 for the McDonald’s meal.
You will also need to make sure you have sugar, salt, and pepper in the house.
9. Prepare your vegetables
Before cooking you should always do your preparation – it makes it easier when the heat starts. Preparing your veges in advance is called “mise en place” in French, which literally means “put in place” – ie, get everything ready! I will do this in steps.
1. Peel your potatoes and cut them in to quarters
2. Cut your broccoli in to individual pieces (each section of a broccoli is called a floret)
3. Peel your carrots, cut off the top and bottom, and slice in to rings about 5mm thick.
Wash and dry the chicken inside and out. Remove any giblets (that is the bag of guts) inside the cavity. Put one clove of garlic (with the skin removed) inside the cavity. Put one bay leaf in the cavity, and put 3 or 4 sticks of thyme inside. Salt and pepper in the inside of the bird.
Salt and pepper the outside of the bird then smear it with soft (but not melted) butter. The butter should be put on thickly – if you have an extra large bird you could use nearly a whole stick of butter.
Tie the legs together tightly and tuck the wings underneath.
Turn your oven on to 200C (400F, Gas 6) – make sure the highest rack is just below the center of the oven.
7. First Stage of Cooking
We need to do a little bit of prep work on the veges now. Put the potatoes in a pot of cold water which has a large pinch of salt in it – you should be able to taste the salt in the water, but it should not be overpowering. Use just enough water to cover. Put them on a high heat on the stove and let the water come to the boil – boil them for 5-10 minutes – we are doing this to soften the outsides – this will not fully cook them. This is called parboiling. Once the cooking is done, drain the water from the potatoes, put the lid on the pot, and shake the pot firmly four or five times. Remove the lid and put the potatoes aside. This adds a fluffy outer layer to the potatoes which will give more surface area for crisping during roasting.
While the potatoes are boiling, put another pot of unsalted water on the stove and bring it to boiling point. Once it starts to boil add the broccoli and boil for 1 minute. This will turn the broccoli a bright vibrant green. Remove the broccoli immediately and run under cold water. Set aside for now. This is called blanching.
If your chicken is 900 or so grams, you will be cooking it for 45 minutes – if it is larger, use this formula to work out the cooking time: 15 minutes per 450 grams, then add 15 minutes extra to the total.
Take a roasting dish large enough to fit the chicken AND the potatoes. You don’t want it too much larger if possible. Put two tablespoons of goose fat (if you don’t have goose fat, use lard, and if you don’t have lard, use olive oil) in to the roasting dish and smear it around. You want the fat to melt so help it on the stove if you need to. Add the potatoes and turn them so they are completely coated in fat. If you need more fat, add it.
Move the potatoes to the sides of the dish to make room for the chicken (try to keep space between each potato). Place the chicken breast side down in the roasting dish – this means it will appear to be upside-down. The reason for this is that the breast has very little fat on it while the underside has a lot – we want the fat from under the chicken to flow through to the breast.
Once your oven is pre-heated, add the roasting dish with the chicken and potatoes. You will need to roast it for 25 minutes. After 15, turn the potatoes and baste the chicken with the fat if it is looking dry.
5. Chicken Step 2
After the first 25 minutes of cooking, you need to remove the roasting dish from the oven and turn the chicken over so its breast is now facing up. Take this opportunity to also turn the potatoes. Put the roasting dish in to the oven and cook for a further 20 minutes. After ten minutes turn the potatoes again.
We now have two vegetables to cook. I will give you the instructions for them one by one. We will start with the carrots.
Take a deep frying pan and add the carrots to it. Add enough water to cover (use sparkling water if you can – otherwise plain water is fine). Add a very generous pinch of salt and two pinches of sugar and a knob of butter the size of a walnut. Turn the heat on medium high. These can now be left alone without a lid – the aim here is for the water to completely evaporate, leaving the carrots covered in a light sweet glossy coating and a sharp knife should easily pierce the carrots. This method of cooking carrots is called Vichy carrots. Once they are cooked you can set them aside and reheat them when serving if you need to.
Now it is time for the broccoli. Take 50 grams of butter and put it in a frying pan. Melt it on a medium heat until it begins to brown – but don’t let it burn! While it is heating up, take your cold broccoli and chop it up in to very coarse chunks. Once the butter is ready, pour in 150 mls of double (heavy) cream. Cook at the same heat for a short time – the cream will be starting to darken a little in color. Add the broccoli and a generous pinch of salt and some pepper. Stir well and leave it to simmer (gentle bubbling) for 10 minutes. Once it is done cooking you can take it off the heat and leave it aside – you can easily reheat it before serving if it gets cold, and if it gets too thick you can add a little more cream. This is called Broccoli a la creme and it is just as good (if not better) than broccoli with cheese sauce. It is also far easier than broccoli with cheese sauce.
3. Remove the chicken
Once the final 20 minutes of cooking has finished, remove the chicken from the roasting pan and put it on a wire rack – cover it with aluminum foil. This needs to be left for at least 15 minutes so that the meat can relax and allow the juices to settle – the result is a far more tender bird. NOTE: to make sure the bird is cooked properly, the juices should run clear when you pierce the inside of the leg with a knife (there should be no pink in the juices).
Take the potatoes out of the roasting dish and put them in a single layer on a baking sheet – put that back in to the oven while you do your final preparation.
This is a very easy gravy – it is a jus (pronounced zhoo). Put the roasting tray on top of the stove and turn the heat to medium high. Once the juices in the pan begin to bubble pour in a little of the chicken stock and, using a wooden spoon, scrape the bottom of the pan until all of the little bits have come up. Add more stock (about 1 cup) and keep stirring. You need to let the juices reduce a little. Once it has reduced, taste for salt (if your stock is unsalted you will almost certainly need to add salt) and add pepper. Strain the sauce through a sieve in to a gravy boat.
You can enhance this gravy in two ways (optional) – before adding the stock to the juices, pour in a wine glass of port or madeira and set it alight while you stir the bits up from the bottom – then proceed with the recipe as above.
The second option is to whisk one knob of butter (the size of a walnut) in to the gravy when you have completed the main procedure – this will make the gravy slightly thicker and will give it a gloss.
1. Put it all together!
First we need to carve the chicken – but we are not going to do it the hard way – the best way to do this is mostly with your hands. Tear off the legs and wings and put them on your serving plate – you can separate the thigh from the drumstick if you like. Tear off the breasts and cut the meat in to 1 inch thick chunks – you are doing this against the grain – it makes a better bite in the mouth. Put this on the serving plate and use your hands to remove any other meat from the carcass. When done, sprinkle a little extra salt over the meat on the dish – diners should not need to salt and pepper a properly cooked meal.
Put your hot vegetables in to two separate serving dishes and remove the potatoes from the oven – put those in a separate dish as well. Put everything on the table and let people serve themselves.
Your chicken will be moist, your potatoes will be dark and crunchy on the outside but fluffy in the middle, your carrots will be sweet and brilliant orange, and your broccoli will be bright green and creamy. A perfect roast!