I love roast chicken but strangely enough we rarely eat it. Perhaps it is the knowledge that after the meal is over and the washing up done, there is still a carcass to pick over. Perhaps it is that, although I know how it ought to be carved, in practice I usually end up with a pile of bits rather than neat slices: tastes good but looks awful. From time to time however I do buy a chicken, especially as a whole bird is very economical and can be stretched to several meals, so when I saw this delicious sounding recipe I took the plunge. (Sure enough there were leftovers which became Chicken Fricasee and a Chicken Salad for one, as well as delicious stock made from the remainder of the carcass – plus a few bits for our persistent puss-cat!) I know I have included a recipe for Roasted Lemon Chicken in the past, but that was for chicken pieces (I usually use thighs) whereas this recipe is for a whole bird and includes spices and a lot of garlic as well, so it is a variation rather than a repeat. I am sure that it would also be an excellent way to cook individual chicken pieces/thighs.
The recipe comes from Mediterranean Food by Christine France, an excellent charity shop find that originally came from Tesco supermarket. I have given the original cooking times in the instructions below but all my Sunday Roasts have to fit around going to church (in our case leaving home at around 9.30 and not usually back until well after 1pm, such is vicarage life!) I have to put any roasting joint in the oven on a much lower heat as I go out, turning the temperature up and (usually) uncovering the meat when we return giving it a final burst of heat before allowing it to stand for a briefly before carving. Perhaps this is why my meat breaks up, however the flavour is rarely spoiled, just the appearance.
Aromatic Lemon Roast Chicken
1.25kg/2lb 12ozs Roasting Chicken
1 whole head of garlic
4 cardamom pods
1tsp cumin seeds
2tbsp olive oil
Salt & black pepper
200ml/7 fl ozs chicken stock or water
1. Preheat the oven to 180oC/350oF/Gas 4. For the original cooking times follow the instructions at Step 8.
If cooking in the oven for a longer time, do not preheat the oven. Follow the instructions in step 9
2. Cut the garlic head in half horizontally. Cut the lemons into wedges. Lightly crush the cardamom pods, cumin seeds and cloves in a mortar and pestle.
3. Lightly oil the roasting tin to stop the meat from sticking. Place the half of the garlic with the root end and half of the lemon wedges in the bottom of the tin and sprinkle over the crushed spices.
4. Check inside the chicken and remove any giblets. These can be cooked gently in a little water for chicken stock and/or chicken gravy. Carefully rinse the chicken, running water through the cavity.
5. Gently ease the skin on the chicken breast upwards to create a cavity. It should be easy to put your fingers in at the edge of the neck/chest cavity. Be careful the skin does not tear. Push half of the remaining lemon wedges underneath the skin.
6. Place the remaining wedges inside the chicken along with the remaining half of the garlic.
7. Put the chicken, breast side downwards, into a roasting tin. Rub over the remaining oil and season well. Add two tablespoonfuls of stock or water. Cover with a well fitting lid or lightly oiled foil to prevent sticking.
Follow either the cooking instructions at Step 8 (original timings) or Step 9 (longer, slower cooking time – useful when going out)
8. Cook for one hour at preheated temperature. Turn the chicken over and baste by spooning the collected juices over the meat to help browning and moistness. Return to the oven and roast for a further hour, or until cooked. Remove the lid or cover for the last 30minutes to allow the chicken to brown and crisp, but watch that it does not burn and the tin does not go dry – add a little water or stock if necessary to prevent this. When it is cooked the juices should run clear when a knife is inserted into the thickest part of the thigh.
9. If leaving this to cook in the oven for a longer period, then set the oven on to 140oC/275oF/Gas 1 when you put the chicken in. After about 2-3 hours take the chicken from the oven, turn it over and baste it well. Be careful as it can start to break up while being turned. Increase the heat to 180oC/350oF/Gas 4 and return to the oven, uncovered, for about 30 minutes to allow the chicken to brown and crisp, but watch that it does not burn and the tin does not go dry – add a little water or stock if necessary to prevent this. When it is cooked the juices should run clear when a knife is inserted into the thickest part of the thigh.
10. Remove the chicken from the tin and allow the meat to rest, uncovered and in a warm place, for about 15 minutes before carving. (The resting time can be omitted or cut short if necessary, but it does make carving a bit easier and is always recommended for meat.)
11. While it is resting strain off the chicken juices from the pan, skimming off any excess fat. This can be reserved for roasting potatoes if you wish and will give a subtle garlic and lemon flavour. Dissolve the cornflour in a little water and gently combine with the strained juices and the remaining stock or water. Cook in a pan over a gentle heat stirring all the time until slightly thickened. Pour this gravy into a jug and keep warm.
12. Carve meat and serve. Excess meat can be kept for several days and eaten cold or cooked into other hot dishes. The carcass can be made into stock along with the giblets if not already used: cover with water and gently cook with added vegetables (carrot, celery and a bay leaf, along with the roasted garlic heads if you wish) – freeze until needed.
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