Lockdown tips on the best roast chicken and making the perfect stock

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"While we used to have a traditional Sunday lunch about once a month (maybe more in the autumn and winter), it


A few weeks ago in his weekly column Consumer Trends, Thisismoney’s Lee Boyce examined what the coronavirus crisis has meant for our cooking habits and attitudes to waste. 

Adrian Lowery takes up the ‘waste not, want not’ baton with some tips on roasting chicken and making stock in a perfectly economical way.

The Lowery household rarely used to do weekly shops, preferring to pick up small amounts of groceries several times a week, as and when needed. We found there was less waste that way – plus you could eat what you felt like eating, rather than what was about to go off.

And no need to waste any precious weekend time in the supermarket.

“While we used to have a traditional Sunday lunch about once a month (maybe more in the autumn and winter), it’s now become the cornerstone of our ‘food week’. Something about the comfort of it, probably – a wholesome reminder of less fraught times.”

Lockdown has however imposed more structure on our ‘home economics’ (as it used to be called) – based around a weekly trip to the supermarket early on Friday afternoon.

I’ve discovered one happy equation here: the amount you can carry on foot and on the bus, in a small rucksack and two large high-strength bags (i.e., not plastic ‘bags for life’, but the step-up big ones with proper handles, which are probably also made of plastic but of a different sort – bags for the after-life), is roughly what two people need for a week.

As long as you get your booze on an as-required basis from the corner shop.

While we used to have a traditional Sunday lunch about once a month (maybe more in the autumn and winter), it’s now become the cornerstone of our ‘food week’. Something about the comfort of it, probably – a wholesome reminder of less fraught times.

Anyhow, due to a) a lack of imagination on my part, and b) a drive to eat less, or no, red meat, it always ends up being roast chicken. And I always use the leftovers and carcass to make stock, which is then used as a base for the gravy of the following week’s roast.

As a discerning diner and a devotee of detail, I reckon I’ve perfected these symbiotic processes over the years – but I am happy to be advised otherwise in the reader comments section below…

PERFECT ROAST CHICKEN

First, a crucial admission: I don’t like chicken skin, crispy or otherwise.

Add herbs if you have plenty - but using the packs you get from the supermarket  is a bit of a waste as they don't make a massive difference.

Add herbs if you have plenty – but using the packs you get from the supermarket  is a bit of a waste as they don’t make a massive difference.

There’s a bonus to this: it frees you up to roast the bird however you like. If you’re not expecting golden, crispy skin then the dilemma of drying out the breast with high-temperature, uncovered roasting disappears – as does the need to baste.

Take the chicken out of the fridge 30 mins before cooking – fridge-cold meat shouldn’t be suddenly heated in my book. If you forget, don’t pre-heat the oven.

Put the chicken breast down in a roasting dish (ceramic for me) that isn’t too big for it. Get rid of the string tying up the legs, and place two quarters of a small onion, two quarters of a small lemon and two garlic cloves, lightly crushed with the side of a knife and peeld, in the cavity. 

This filling of the cavity will add 10 or 15 minutes to the cooking time.

Place the other two quarters of onion, two quarters of lemon and another two garlic cloves into the dish around the chicken. Add herbs if you have plenty – but I tend to think it’s a waste of the packs you get from the supermarket.

Make 200-400ml of stock – depending on the size of the chicken and the dish – with a good quality cube or concentrate (Kallo Organic for me) and pour into the cavity and the dish. Season the chicken and then wrap a large sheet of kitchen foil over the whole thing so it is mostly enclosed.

Roast for two-thirds of the necessary time at 180-200 degrees. Uncover, turn over the chicken so it is breast up, replace the foil on top and roast for the remaining time.

There is no need to slather the bird in butter or oil – all that does in my experience is put lots of fat into the cooking liquids that then needs to be removed before making gravy.

A good Sunday lunch has become all the more important during lockdown.

A good Sunday lunch has become all the more important during lockdown.

The only way butter adds anything is if you can be bothered stuffing it under the skin of the breast. Which is even better if you have time to crush garlic and grated lemon zest into the butter. But that really is a faff.

When done (pull the legs away to check for any redness), tip the chicken upright so all juices run into the dish, and place the bird on a cooling rack above a tray of some sort with shallow sides. Cover it tightly with foil for 10-15 mins to rest – time to deal with the vegetables etc – before carving.

If you have ‘real stock’ from last week (see below), put this in a small saucepan on a high heat to reduce by half.

No Bisto here please.

No Bisto here please.

Pour off the liquids from the roasting dish through a sieve into a glass jug. Skim off fat from the surface. Pour into the saucepan with the reduced stock and keep on a simmer. 

Put a heaped dessert spoon of cornflour or plain flour into a small glass with a splash of warm water and stir thoroughly into a gloop. Add this to the gravy and whisk in. Bring it back to a simmer until serving.

Unless you’ve got a very large chicken, dispense with the old 12-inch carving knife and just use a well-sharpened small / medium kitchen knife – it’s a lot easier. Pour any juices released by the resting and carving from the tray into the gravy.

THE PERFECT STOCK

If you can’t be bothered making stock on Sunday evening – or you don’t have the ingredients for it – just put the carcass and leftovers into the fridge or freezer until you can / do.

Try to get rid of any skin and fat first though.

If you want a richer, darker stock, first ‘re-roast’ the carcass – together with any lemon, onion etc that is still in there – for 20-30 mins on a high heat so it is sizzling, golden and slightly charred.

Put it into a large saucepan along with at the very least a carrot or two and an onion halved. And if you have it, celery and leek. Throw in a couple of garlic cloves, some peppercorns and bay leaves.

Don't skimp on the herbs and spices.

Don’t skimp on the herbs and spices.

But don’t stop there with the spice cupboard: cardamon pods, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, star anise, cloves, a cinnamon stick, juniper berries, mustard seeds – all can (and should) go in, in small amounts. Cumin and fenugreek are possibly too curry-ish though.

It’s basically a great way to use up all those spices and herbs that are near or past their use-by date. Rosemary, thyme, oregano, parsley – dried or fresh – chuck it in.

Cover the pan’s contents with boiling water from the kettle, put on the lowest heat possible and cover with a glass lid with a steam hole. Simmer as gently as possible for three hours, occasionally stirring and topping up with boiling water.

You can try to skim off any scum and fat during this stage – but with all the stuff floating around, it’s a faff.

Once done, filter the stock in three stages: first pour the whole lot into a colander or steamer over another pan or bowl and let it run dry – squeeze the contents of the colander down with a masher or spoon to speed it up. Then pour the drained stock through a large sieve back into the original pan.

Then empty the sieve and line it with a folded muslin cloth and pour the stock through that slowly.

Put the filtered stock back in the saucepan and simmer to bring scum to the surface and skim off. Leave to cool and skim fat off the surface. If you put it in the fridge at this stage any remaining fat or scum will solidify on the surface and can be easily scraped off.

Now you have at least two pints of stock that can be used for soup or risotto. If you want to make gravy with it, reduce by half first so it’s thicker and richer (see above).

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