Not to sound nihilistic but I’ve often wondered that if given the chance to enjoy it, what my last meal on earth would be? Without a doubt – roast chicken.

Before I departed this mortal coil I should like to lose myself in a dinner of roast chicken – ideally served with green beans sautéed in anchovy butter, a bottle of excellent red wine and a loaf of very good bread to mop up the roasting liquid left in the bottom of the pan.
Speaking of that liquid, I could also very happily settle for bread and a goodly amount of herby, garlicky rendered chicken fat. That too would suit me just fine. But since I wouldn’t be much of a cook if I advocated the consumption of bread and fat alone (although it seemed to work for Julia Child) I’ve compiled three of my ultimate recipes for easy roast chicken at home.

If asked on the spot what my favourite chicken recipe is, I’ll not hesitate to reply in support of peri-peri! This fiery Portuguese/Mozambican sauce is made with fresh chillies and garlic is my drizzle of choice when craving comfort food. Little beats a chicken basted liberally in peri-peri and left to marinate overnight before being grilled over charcoal and enthusiastically consumed with lemon wedges, crusty rolls and lots of napkins. But since I have my own special recipe for just this featured in my upcoming cookbook (out in the second half of 2019), I’ll be eschewing peri-peri for the present time.

Herb-stuffed chicken

The magic here lies in simplicity and few ingredients, namely the holy trinity found in lemon, garlic and olive oil. After the first of the Autumn rains, my kitchen herb garden is thriving and I’ve got an abundance of oregano, thyme and rosemary, which I finely chopped up and combined with garlic, lemon zest and olive oil to make a paste. This is stuffed beneath the breast skin and over the chicken, infusing it with fresh vibrant flavour. I adore serving the chicken with my fennel and Parmesan gratin, the recipe of which you can find here.

Prep time: 30 mins / Cook time: 1 hour / Serves: 4 to 6

You will need:

  • 1-1.5kg organic chicken, cleaned
  • 25ml olive oil
  • 4 sprigs of oregano, leaves finely chopped
  • 2 sprigs rosemary, leaves finely chopped
  • 3 sprigs thyme, plus an extra handful for stuffing
  • 1 lemon
  • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • Coarse ground sea salt and pepper
  • 250ml dry white wine

Preheat the oven to 220°C. Rinse the chicken and pat dry with kitchen towel. Zest and juice the lemon, keeping the juiced lemon halves to stuff inside the chicken.

In a mixing bowl, combine the olive oil, lemon juice and zest, garlic and herbs and season to taste. Using a sharp knife, remove the preening glands (the two small yellowish nodules) from the chicken’s tail and loosen the skin over the breasts to create small pockets. Stuff the cavity of the chicken with the lemon halves and extra thyme. Place the chicken in a roasting dish and spoon over the marinade, being careful to poke the garlic and herbs into the pockets between breast and skin. Set the chicken breast-side up in the dish and use kitchen twine to bind the legs together to keep the thyme and lemon inside the bird. Pour the wine into the roasting dish as this will aid in creating that delicious liquid. Cover the entire dish with foil and roast for 20 minutes at 220°C before removing the foil and turning the oven down to 180°C for the remaining 40 minutes. The wine in the bottom of the dish will thicken with the roasting juices and get syrupy – perfect for mopping up with fresh bread. If halfway through cooking the dish requires more liquid, simply add in more wine or a little water and continue to roast.

A ROAST CHICKEN ROUND-UP

A ROAST CHICKEN ROUND-UP

A ROAST CHICKEN ROUND-UP

Mediterranean chicken with lemon and dill

Every time I think I’ve found the roast chicken recipe to end all recipes, another ingredient pops up to prove me wrong.

This time it’s dill. That frilly little herb that usually pairs so perfectly with fish lends its fragrant, faintly aniseed flavour to smoky braaied chicken. Keeping things Greek, I marinated my chooks for 12 hours in a combination of lemon, garlic, olive oil and fresh dill from my garden before cooking them over the coals in a kettle barbecue.
Eaten alongside a rustic tomato salad with a generous dollop of tzatziki and warmed flatbread, this chicken truly is a game-changer.

Prep time: 30 mins / Cook time: 1 hour / Serves: 4 to 6

You will need:

  • 1-1.5kg organic chicken, cleaned
  • 50ml olive oil
  • 10 sprigs of dill, leaves finely chopped
  • 2 lemons
  • 6 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • Coarse ground sea salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 220°C. Rinse the chicken and pat dry with kitchen towel. Remove the preening glands (the two small yellowish nodules) from the chicken’s tail and use sharp kitchen scissors to cut along either the back or breastbone to flatten the chicken out. Fit the bird into a large roasting dish. Zest and juice and lemons and combine with the olive oil, dill and garlic. Season the marinade and pour over the chicken. Cover the roasting dish with foil, refrigerate and leave the chicken to marinade for 12 hours or preferably overnight.

To grill the chicken over the coals, a kettle braai works best to achieve a smoky flavour. Using indirect heat, place the chicken in the middle of the grid and replace the lid of the kettle braai. Cook for 40 minutes to an hour, basting often with the remaining marinade.

A ROAST CHICKEN ROUND-UP

A ROAST CHICKEN ROUND-UP

A ROAST CHICKEN ROUND-UP

Chicken with sticky fig, thyme and balsamic glaze

Recently I discovered the joys of basting a chicken in butter flavoured with garlic and anchovies 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 recipe for chicken with sticky fig, thyme and balsamic glaze.

If figs are in season then by all means use fresh although these can be easily substituted with fig preserve – just leave out the sugar. The plump juiciness of figs lends 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.

Prep time: 40 mins / Cook time: 1 hour / Serves: 4 to 6

You will need:

  • 1-1.5kg organic chicken, cleaned
  • 125g salted butter, softened
  • 6 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves removed from stalks
  • 4 large cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 6 fat purple figs, woody stalks removed and roughly chopped (or 4-6 tablespoons of fig preserve)
  • 150ml of good quality aged Italian balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon of brown sugar (if using fresh figs)
  • 500ml water
  • 30ml pomegranate molasses (you can use normal molasses too)
  • Coarse ground sea salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 220°C. Rinse the chicken and pat dry with kitchen towel. Using a sharp knife, remove the preening glands (the two small yellowish nodules) from the chicken’s tail and loosen the skin over the breasts to create small pockets. Finely chop the garlic and half of the thyme and add it to the butter. Season to taste.

Rub the butter mixture all over the chicken, being sure to poke it under the skin of the breast. You can really get messy with this – the aim is to saturate the chicken in the flavoured butter. Perch the chicken on a roasting grid, with a pan beneath to catch any liquids and pour in the water as this steams the chicken and keeps it tender. 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.

While the butter-basted chicken is roasting, make the fig glaze. In a small saucepan over a high heat, sauté the figs with the remaining thyme leaves, balsamic vinegar, water, sugar (if using) 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, return to the grid and roast for another 30 to 40 minutes at 180°C, basting every 15 minutes or so.

When done, the chicken should be 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.

A ROAST CHICKEN ROUND-UP

 

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