Keep your fine dining and your fancy foods – when I’m craving comfort, there’s only one dish that will do. In itself, roast chicken has to one of the Western world’s most basic recipes. It was one of the first that I learnt how to make myself and still remains a winner, whether eaten solo with a hunk of bread to mop out the bottom of the roasting pan or served with aplomb as a Sunday evening dinner.
Recently I discovered the joys of basting a chicken in butter flavoured with garlic, lemon and herbs pre-roast, but for this version I wanted to go one step further by twice-grilling the bird – a method not unfamiliar to those who are fond of ribs. Enter my Roast Chicken with Sticky Fig & Balsamic Glaze.
Figs are currently in season and their plump juiciness lends itself perfectly to a sticky marinade that can be basted on to the chicken as one would with a barbecue sauce. To lessen the sweet factor, I’ve paired these purple figs with the tang of balsamic vinegar and the fragrance of fresh thyme. When reduced down, this trio becomes a wonderfully oozy mixture that hits home on both the savoury and sweet fronts. Let’s not forget about the flavoured butter – I’ve found that a chicken basted in butter tends to never dry out and turns previously unpopular cuts like the breast into sought-after servings. While this recipe would seem that it’s built for the barbecue, I reckon that you’d get a nicer finish just letting your chook bubble along in the oven.
Butter-rubbed Roast Chicken with Sticky Fig & Balsamic Glaze
Prep time: 40 mins / Cook time: 1.5 hours / Serves: 4 to 6
You will need:
- 1 large free-range chicken, giblets removed
- 125g salted butter, softened
- A few sprigs of fresh thyme
- 4 large cloves of garlic, peeled
- 6 fat purple figs, woody stalks removed and roughly chopped
- 150ml of good quality Italian balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon of brown sugar
- 200ml water
- 30ml pomegranate molasses (you can use normal molasses too)
- Coarse ground sea salt and black pepper
Finely chop the garlic and thyme and add it to the butter then season with salt and pepper. Place the chicken on a large plate and using a very sharp knife, slice out the tail glands* and make small incisions into the thighs, like pockets. Carefully loosen the skin over the breast so that it creates a flap that you spread the butter mixture underneath.
Take the flavoured butter and rub it all over the chicken, being sure to poke it into all the little pockets that you’ve made and under the skin of the breast. You can really get messy with this – the aim is to saturate the chicken in the flavoured butter. Lay the chicken on a roasting grid, with a pan beneath to catch any liquids and pop into a preheated 200°C oven. The chicken will sizzle away but don’t be tempted to turn the heat down. Roast for about 20 minutes then turn the oven down to 180°C and roast for a further 10 minutes before removing from the oven and allowing to stand.
*These are the small yellowish preening glands that are located just under the skin on the top of the tail – they don’t make for good eating so it’s best to cut them out.
While the butter-basted chicken is roasting, make the Sticky Fig & Balsamic Glaze. In a small saucepan over a high heat, sauté the figs with the balsamic vinegar, water, sugar and pomegranate molasses until slightly reduced. Pour the mixture into a high-powered blender and whizz until smooth. Return the glaze to the saucepan and cook over low heat until further reduced and sticky. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Baste the buttery chicken generously with the sticky fig glaze, making sure to get into all the nooks. Place the chicken back on to the roasting grid and return to the oven for another 30 to 40 minutes at a temperature of 180°C. After 15 minutes or so, baste the chicken again to ensure an extra sticky exterior.
When done, the chicken should be almost falling-apart tender and have a sticky glazed skin with juicy white meat. I love serving this version of roast chicken with crispy oven potatoes, a rich blue cheese dressing and a simple salad of peppery rocket leaves.