Roast chicken, with all the trimmings or just by itself, is a delightful meal to cook and eat; I find that I make it at least once every two months.
I'm not sure where my liking for roast chicken started: pleasant memories of family Sunday roasts, maybe; a scene in the film "Amelie" in which a particular character cooks one every week; it could have been from an article about the book "French Women Don't Get Fat", in which one annoyingly svelte French woman talked of how she was wont to cook and eat a whole chicken by herself - and not put on a pound. In any case, I got my particular cooking technique from Nigella Lawson's "How to Eat", which has served me well both for me, family and friends. Until now.
When I cook, I'm a rule follower and am in awe of those who can go to their larder, look at what they have and conjure a delicious meal, while I am still following a recipe to the letter. Past birthdays have seen me being gifted many a cook book; I am happy to pore over them and follow their rules. However, for my birthday this year, I was fortunate enough to be given a Flavour Thesaurus that has made me take a few baby steps into what I refer to as... adventure cooking.
What follows is such an "adventurous" recipe. It isn't adventurous by long chalk really, but for me it was a voyage into the unknown that I hope will lead to greater risk taking in future. The thesaurus mentioned the excellent flavour combining of chicken and mushroom: I love both, so I felt this was a good place to start.
Anointing the chicken in lemon juice
I took a medium chicken of about 1.5kg, which I washed then smeared in the juice of half a lemon; the other half I shoved up the chicken's bottom in order to give the roast a lemony fung inside and out. Turning the oven to 190ºC, I put it in a roasting tin and placed it in the oven for an hour while I prepared my vegetables.
These were three carrots and two parsnips, peeled, halved and quartered. And mushrooms. Lots and lots of mushrooms. About a kilo to be exact; in this case, large and small button mushrooms. If I were truly adventurous, I may have used portobello, chestnut or shiitake mushrooms, but for now quantity was the adventure. I washed these and left them whole.
After an hour, I took the chicken out, basted it in its own juices then put the vegetables in the roasting tin. The chicken juices would give, I hoped, a lovely flavour to the vegetables as they roasted together.
Another hour went by with occasional basting before I took the roasting tin out. Letting the chicken rest for a few moments, I took the well cooked, yet firm vegetables out into another pot (the mushrooms retained their form beautifully) while I spooned as much chicken fat out of the roasting tin, leaving the delicious caramelised chicken juices, before placing it on a hot plate.
With the chicken juices, also left in the roasting tin was liquid from all the mushrooms and lemon juice, which I aimed to boil down to a gravy. If I had a bottle of white wine handy, I would have added a glass too, but on this occasion, I decided to make do with what I had. The heat on high, I stirred the various juices until the meat juices had dissolved into the lemony mushroom liquid.
Ten minutes later, I added this gravy to the fall-off-the-bone chicken and roasted vegetables, along with a green salad to one side. Lovely.
Well, it was a small start, but as I work through the flavour thesaurus, I can dare to imagine more improvisation or off-recipe cooking. In the meantime, I've discovered a new way to make one of my favourite dishes.