This is pretty much my desert-island dish – plump roast chicken with crispy skin and juicy fall-off-the-bone flesh, nicely scented with garlic and herbs, served at room temperature on a crisp colourful salad of just-picked leaves tossed with a tangy dressing. Of course I’d have spuds simply because I am like that. This dish is nothing short of spectacular, and the one to make this weekend, or sometime soon, or even right now!
Chicken 1 size 14 free-range chicken (approx. 1600kg/ 3½ pounds) Sea salt 1 lemon Small bunch of thyme ½ cup or more chicken stock 1 radicchio lettuce Small bunch sorrel leaves, optional Large bunch rocket leaves 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil 1 Tbsp lemon juice ½ tsp salt 1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed ½ cup verjuice 1 Tbsp snipped chives 1 Tbsp torn chervil 1 Tbsp torn parsley leaves Herb butter 50g (1¾ ounces) butter, softened 1 tsp creamy Dijon mustard 1 clove garlic, peeled and finely crushed with a little sea salt 1 Tbsp chopped chervil, 2 Tbsp chopped parsley, and 2 Tbsp snipped chives Sea salt
1 Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F). Remove any lumps of fat from inside chicken cavity, then rinse chicken inside and out. Drain briefly then pat dry with paper towels. Season inside cavity with a little sea salt. Rub cut lemon all over chicken skin, then put lemon halves inside chicken cavity with a clump of thyme.
2 In a small bowl blend butter, mustard, garlic and chopped herbs with a few pinches of sea salt. Slip the fingers and thumb of one hand between the chicken breast skin and flesh on one side of the breast and squeeze in 1 Tbsp of the butter seasoning, massaging it around so that it is even. Then repeat with the other side of the breast.
Tie a piece of string around the parson’s nose, then tie the legs together pinning the wings in place, bring it back to the parson’s nose and tie it in a tight bow.
3 Put chicken breast uppermost in a small roasting dish or shallowish casserole. Gently melt remaining herbed butter and brush over chicken. Sprinkle chicken with sea salt and pour around ½ cup stock.
Roast for 45 minutes, basting once, then turn chicken over and cook for 15 minutes. Turn breast up again and cook for a further 30 minutes or so, until juices run clear when pierced with a skewer and when the legs are wiggled, they move freely; top up with more stock if necessary, and remove any accumulation of sticky goo if it looks like catching and burning. Remove chicken from oven and leave it to rest in the cooking dish for 30 minutes. Tilt chicken and let juices run into casserole. Transfer chicken to a board and let it rest draped in tin foil while you finish the sauce and salad.
4 Have the salad leaves trimmed, wash and dried (keep them perky in a plastic bag lined with paper towels in the fridge until required). Break into bite-sized pieces and arrange on a platter big enough to fit the chicken. Whisk extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic together in a small bowl.
5 Scoop fat off pan juices, or use a fat separating jug. Reheat juices and pour in verjuice, bubble up, then add herbs.
6 Carve chicken into joints. Remix salad dressing and spoon over leaves and toss gently. Arrange chicken on salad and spoon over juices. Serve immediately.
It’s not difficult to roast a chicken like this, but there must always be stock in the dish or any juices will catch and burn, and you don’t want that to happen because the juices are the basis for the jus which is an essential part of the dish.
Verjuice is the juice of unripe green grapes used as an acidulant in the same way you would use lemon juice or vinegar, but it’s milder than both of these, with a sweetish fruity presence. While it can be used in place of lemon or vinegar in dressings such as vinaigrette, its greatest role is in deglazing a pan after cooking chicken, game or fish. Splash it into the pan the same way you would wine or stock, dislodging any flavour-filled crusty pieces, then let it reduce down until syrupy. Either pour the juices over the cooked food, or return cooked food to the pan and turn it to coat in the juices. It adds another dimension to the finished dish. Try to get chervil if you can (or use tarragon in summer).