Chicken seems to be a popular theme in parliament and the UK press this week for all the wrong reasons, but a simple roast chicken is just about my all-time favourite dish. With just a little love and effort it can also be a true revelation.
The first step is to find a beautiful free-range chicken…definitely not a chlorinated one! I know they are much more expensive than most of the white, flabby chickens you find in local supermarkets but there is a good reason for that.
Free-range birds have unrestricted access to pasture during the day where they can forage and they are reared for longer, and the combination of the outdoor life and a balanced maize fed diet all help to ensure succulence and flavour, and a firmer texture.
If you fill the cavity with lemon wedges, loads of crushed garlic cloves, fresh thyme and lots of seasoning you will add a wonderful flavour and aroma to the finished dish. I also rub the flesh all over with olive oil and season heavily with sea salt before roasting the chicken in a hot oven (220 ºc/gas 7) for 10 minutes and then lowering the temperature to around 190ºc/gas 5 and cooking for 30-40 minutes, with the occasional basting.
Pierce the thighs with a trussing needle or fork to test if the chicken is done and watching to see if the liquid that escapes is clear, then let the chicken rest for 8-10 minutes before carving.
Chicken is great to cook with because its mild flavour doesn’t compete with other ingredients and buying a whole chicken is often much cheaper than buying individual cuts. One of the more popular ways to buy chicken, but also the most expensive, is to buy a breast. Chicken breasts are ideal sizes for a single portion, are easy to use and there’s no wastage, but two breast pieces can sometimes cost as much as a small whole bird.
The meat on a breast is very lean and is at its best when cooked in a sauce or gently poached as in my Goan Chicken Curry. Chicken breast tends to dry out if it’s roasted or grilled without fat, so the legs or drumsticks, although dark and slightly fatty, are a better option for the barbeque as well as casseroles and stews.
Because chicken breasts can sometimes be very bland, marinating them for a couple of hours before cooking can transform them into something special.
Try anything from garlic, parsley and olive oil to ginger, lime and coriander. If you are fed up with chicken dinners, or fancy a change for your Sunday roast, why not give guinea fowl a try. Known as “pintada” in Spain and sometimes called an African pheasant, guinea fowl is similar to chicken, but has a mild game flavour.
For those who are looking for healthy alternatives it is leaner than chicken and rich in essential fatty acids. Guinea fowl is unusual in that it is neither totally wild nor truly domesticated and has been reared for the table in since Elizabethan times.
You can substitute guinea fowl for just about any chicken recipe.
HERB ROASTED GUINEA FOWL WITH COUSCOUS SALAD
- 2 guinea fowl breast
- 2tbsp flat leaf parsley and tarragon, chopped
- a pinch of flor de sal
- a drizzle of olive oil
For the salad
- 3 green asparagus, cooked and chopped
- ½ red onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 1tbsp flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
- juice of 2 lemons
- 200g couscous
- 1tsp rosemary, finely chopped
- 1tbsp olive oil
- 200ml boiling chicken stock
Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7
Stuff the chopped herbs under the skin of the guinea fowl and season with flor de sal. Heat the olive oil in an ovenproof frying pan and fry the breasts for 2-3 minutes on each side. Transfer the pan to the oven and cook for a further 6-8 minutes.
Place the couscous, asparagus, red onion, parsley, lemon juice, rosemary and olive oil into a large bowl and mix together. Pour over the boiling chicken, cover with cling film and allow to steam for 3-4 minutes. Remove the guinea fowl from the oven and transfer to a serving plate. Remove the cling film from the salad bowl, season with salt and pepper and mix well using a fork. Spoon the couscous salad alongside the roasted guinea fowl and serve.
LEMON CHICKEN WITH MARJORAM AND ARTICHOKES
- 4 chicken legs cut in into drumsticks & thighs
- juice of 2 lemons
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tbsp sherry vinegar
- 2tbsp chopped marjoram
- 2 large globe artichokes (cooked and quartered)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 100ml white wine
- 250ml chicken stock
- 1tsp paprika
- 1tbsp chopped parsley
Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. Dust the chicken very lightly with flour and seasoning. Cook over a high heat for a few minutes, until a golden crust has formed. Lower the heat and add the onions, garlic, paprika and bay leaf. Cook for 3-4 minutes without colour until soft. Add the white wine and sherry vinegar to the pan, allowing the wine to bubble and reduce for a minute or two. Add the chicken stock, cover the pan with a lid and braise the chicken very gently for about 30 minutes, stirring halfway through. Just before serving, add the cooked artichokes, chopped marjoram and the juice of 2 lemons. Season to taste, sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve immediately.
GOAN CHICKEN CURRY
- 4 large skinless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 3 garlic cloves, finely sliced
- 1x400ml can coconut milk
For the marinade:
- 1 tsp paprika
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- 1½ tbsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- ½ tsp salt
- 75ml water
Mix together all the marinade ingredients to give you a loose, smooth paste. Add the chicken pieces and marinate for around 30 minutes to 1 hour.Heat the oil in a deep-sided frying pan and add the mustard seeds. When they start to pop and jump about in the pan, add the onion and garlic. Cook until they’re golden brown before adding the chicken and any extra paste from the marinade. Fry over a gentle heat for about 8 minutes before adding the coconut milk. Increase the heat slightly and bring to a simmer. Cook for a further 10-12 minutes until the sauce has thickened slightly before seasoning with salt if necessary and serve with Basmati Rice.