One thing which has changed since I became I food blogger is how instead of instantaneously sharing what latest delight has wafted out of my oven the very moment I finish my last bite is how I now have to curb my enthusiasm and wait until the time presents itself to cobble together a new blog post.
Usually, I’m brimming with excitement at sharing something else I’ve discovered, devoured and delighted in but can contain myself long enough to blog it before blabbing all over Facebook. This week’s creation however had me positively biting my tongue, hiding my iPad and camera from myself to prevent me sharing before I’d even finished the whole project.
I feel so guilty for keeping such a first-class foodie find to myself! So here is myself purging my guilt and pausing for breath long enough to tell you – stop what you are doing immediately. Get thyself to a kitchenware store, buy a meat thermometer then head directly to your butcher and buy yourself a free range and/or organic chicken then come straight back here. Do not pass go, do not collect £200. You can thank me later….
I give you – the most perfect roast chicken I’ve ever eaten.
Imagine, if you will, the first time you used vanilla extract instead of artificial essence. Or perhaps, even more extravagant the first time you use a whole vanilla pod. Allow the homey, heady, simply beautiful scent to fill your nasal passages and the sweet, delicate perfume melt on your tongue. Wasn’t that a magical moment? Didn’t you ask yourself why you had settled for less before?
Now let’s extrapolate to poultry.
Imagine a bird so brimming with intense flavour of chicken that you wonder if its been injected under the taut, crisp, browned skin. The very essence of chook. Next, lets imagine soft, tender, melting meat glistening with juices which stays that way, even after slicing or shredding from the bone and refrigerating for a day or two. Have you ever had a roast chicken like that? Don’t you long for one like that? Well, lets not imagine any longer and get cracking with this remarkable new method I’ve finally tried out from Heston Blumenthal, molecular gastronomy chef extraordinaire. Like him or loathe him, let me tell you – once you’ve tried chicken this way, you’ll never look back!
It’s quite possible a lot of you are turned off immediately by the mere mention of Heston – he is, after all, the King of Kitchen Faff. Someone you may admire but never aspire to be Heston-like in your own homely kitchen. Please disregard any preconceived notions that this chicken will require over the top cheffy preparation and ludicrously recherché ingredients and/or culinary gadgets. It could not be easier.
And apart from the aforementioned meat thermometer, you need nothing else more specialised than a roasting tin and your common or garden oven. Now, I’ve simplified Heston’s methods slightly to suit my own preferences and prejudices – for instance, he started by brining the whole raw chicken overnight in the fridge in a saline solution of 60g salt to each litre water.
Apparently it increases the moisture content and makes for a more succulent chicken but honestly, my take on Heston’s perfection was none too shabby if I do say so myself, sans heart-stopping amounts of salt (literally). Do as you please and do tell me what you found if you brine yours. So after slathering with a heaped tablespoon of butter, a smattering of salt and pepper and shoving a squeezed lime into the cavity along with some garlic cloves and the sprig of rosemary my butchers bird already came with. Simples. Do substitute for lemon and thyme if you prefer.
Now here comes the magic method, ooo!…
You need to cook the chicken in a low oven until the internal temperature reads 60°C. This will vary from oven to oven and size of bird in how long it took – for me, I cooked my 1.4kg bird in a 120°C oven for 2.5 hours. As Heston warns – do not expect wafting delicious smells of roast chicken as it is too low a temp to do so. You’ll just have to be patient and wait to eat your delicious bird instead of smelling her roast.
See – she’s like my red-headed Hungry Hubby on our honeymoon in Mexico – milk bottle white with all her freckles starting to sneak out! Remember free range and organic birds have darker dark meat so their thighs are more ruddy in appearance than supermarket birds. You will see the juices run clear from the thickest part of the breast even cooked so low and slow. Heston does point out that the traditional internal temperature of a roast chicken should be 75°C but he says in his TV show and book he goes with 60°C and has never had a problem. Please do make up your own mind what you feel most comfortable with.
Now we leave the bird to rest uncovered for 45 minutes and turn the oven up to full whack. Which gives us an excellent opportunity to use those deeply delicious roasting juices to cook our veg to go alongside the chook.
I can’t tell you how incredible these veggies were! Use whatever you have with some cubed potatoes and you have a genuine one-pan dinner that is imbued with the very essence of roast chicken in every mouthful. This meal is one of those meals that makes me weep for the times I have done it any differently before! After the veg has cooked in the very hot oven for 45 minutes, whip them out and plonk the chook back in. It took 10-15 mins for the skin to crisp and develop an eye-appealing suntan. Please join me, sink your teeth into probably one of the best home-cooked meals you’ve ever had…
This was a meal eaten in slow motion by me and the Hungry one. Every bite was savoured and experienced to the full. I will never cook a whole chicken another way. I will serve it to all my friends and family for the foreseeable future – it’s so good I just have to share the secrets with as many folks as I can! It’s a crime I had Heston’s book on my shelf so by long and was not brave enough to try it out sooner.
Just one more note. The meat is so brimming with succulence that it does not need gravy in my opinion. The juices the veg cooked in add some lubrication but we were more than happy to eat the meal without a gravy boat beside us. I would say, try it before you declare me bonkers! ;).
As for the leftovers, they found a home in Heston’s chicken pie. Another sublime recipe from the same book.
- One free range +/- chicken spoil yourself and buy the best you can afford
- 1 tbsp heaped of soft butter
- A lime or lemon
- A sprig of rosemary or thyme
- 2-3 garlic cloves smashed a little with the flat of a knife
- Sea salt and cracked black pepper
- A selection of veg to roast
- A meat thermometer
Preheat your oven to 120°C.
Rub the butter over the chicken then season well.
Sprinkle in your herbs into the cavity of the bird and toss in the garlic.
Slice the citrus of your choice and squeeze it a little into the cavity, throw in the halved fruit.
Ensure the trussing string has been removed and spread the legs wide to allow air circulation and even cooking of the chicken – I used my Le Creuset buffet casserole dish as its suitable to use on the hob later to start the veg off.
Cook for 90 minutes before removing from the oven to check the temperature of the fattest part of the breast (don’t poke it so deep it touches the one as this will read hotter than the flesh). You’re aiming for 60°C (my 1.4kg bird needed 2.5 hours to reach 60°C – simply return to the oven and check at 30 minute intervals to ensure it does not over cook).
Baste with the juices each time you remove it from the oven to test the temperature.
Once at 60°C in the fattest part of the breast with clear running juices, remove from the oven and sit on a rack uncovered for 45 minutes to rest – drain off all the juices from the chook and reserve in the dish you cooked it in to do the veg.
Meanwhile, turn the oven up as hot as it will go.
Bring the juices to a bubble on the stove top and carefully toss in some vegetables – baby courgettes, quartered onions, baby carrots and parsnips then some cubed potatoes is a lovely combination.
Add a few bay leaves and dried herbs of your choice (I went with a little sage, rosemary and a pinch of oregano) then season and cook in this hot oven for 45 minutes as the chicken rests.
Now, pop the chicken on a oven tray and return to this hot oven for 10-15 minutes to bronze up the skin – you could use a blow torch if you like instead (the ones from a DIY shop are better than a cook’s one as they are more powerful and it will therefore brown faster). This ensures you get the heavenly match of perfectly cooked, moist meat and crisp, golden delicious roast chicken skin.
Keep the veg hot by putting on the bottom of the oven as the chicken browned – cover with a lid or foil as necessary to prevent them getting too brown.
Slice thinly and serve with your veg, spooning over any juices left if you wish.
Adapted from Heston Blumenthal's book Heston At Home