Roast chicken is many people's desert island dish. Crisp and golden skin, juicy and tender flesh, and the bits that go with it to complete the picture such as gravy, roast potatoes, maybe a bread stuffing and so on - perfection.
Rory says: "The quality of the chicken will be immediately obvious in this dish, so try and get a free-range bird and if you wish an organic one. The basic roasting of the bird is simplicity itself. A little seasoning, a few herbs in the cavity, in to the oven on a roasting tin and off you go. I am going down the bread sauce route here, but not the tepid, thick and gloopy type but a warm, slightly softer more flavoursome one that I hope will appeal to all.
"Let’s face it bread sauce has as many sworn enemies as friends, so this is an attempt to convince a few more of the detractors that this sauce is worth a chance. A simple sauce of redcurrants, which is delicious served with most poultry, is a sweet and sharp finishing touch."
- The chicken should be the best you can find. A free-range and organic chicken will be significantly more expensive than a factory reared one, so if you can extract a second meal from the bits left on the carved carcass, all the better. The carcass, picked clean, should be made into a chicken stock.
- Thyme and lemon pair beautifully with chicken. Use fresh thyme here and pierce the lemon a few times before putting into the chicken cavity.
- The breadcrumbs for the sauce can be fresh or frozen. Freeze slices of stale left over white bread for this purpose or make into breadcrumbs and then freeze.
- The redcurrants for the sauce can also be fresh or frozen. This sauce will keep in your fridge for up to a month in a covered jar.
- 1 x 2kg free-range chicken
- Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 lemon
- 1 large sprig of thyme
- 10g soft butter
- 500ml chicken stock
Bread and Thyme Leaf Sauce:
- 450ml milk
- 110g white breadcrumbs
- 1 onion studded with 2 whole cloves
- 1 large sprig of thyme
- 50 g butter
- 50 ml cream
- Chicken gravy
- 110g Redcurrants, fresh or frozen
- 170g Sugar
- 120ml water
- Preheat the oven to 180c / 350f / gas 4.
- Smear the soft butter over the chicken skin and season with salt and pepper. Prick the lemon a few times with a skewer or a needle and push into the chicken cavity with the sprigs of thyme. Place on a roasting tin and into the oven. Roast for 1 ½ hours. Check to ensure that the chicken is fully cooked before removing it from the oven.
- Place the cooked chicken on a platter and return to the oven with the temperature reduced to 100c / 200f /gas ¼.
- While the chicken is cooking, prepare the two sauces.
- For the bread sauce, place the milk, breadcrumbs, onion, thyme and butter in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook on a very low heat for 30 minutes. Give it a stir two or three times during the cooking to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the saucepan. Remove from the heat. The sauce can be made up to this point several hours ahead and will be reheated and finished just before serving.
- Place the redcurrants, water and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Stir gently to dissolve the sugar and cook at a simmer on a gentle heat for 5 minutes more. The sauce will look quite thin, but thickens slightly as it cools. This sauce can also be made several hours or indeed days ahead.
- To make the chicken gravy, degrease the roasting tin by straining off the fatty liquid into a small bowl. Place this bowl in the freezer to encourage the fat to set on top so you can remove it and get at the chicken juices for adding to the gravy. Deglaze the tin with chicken stock, scraping the bottom of the tin with a whisk or wooden spoon to dissolve the caramelised meat juices into the gravy. Season with salt and pepper. Strain the gravy into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. You could squeeze a very little of the juice from the collapsed lemon in the chicken into the gravy if that appeals to you. Taste and if the flavour is thin and light, continue to cook to reduce the liquid and thereby concentrating the flavour.
- To serve the dish, carve the chicken on to hot plates or a large hot platter.
- Place the bread sauce back on the heat and remove the onion and the thyme stalk. Many of the leaves will have fallen off the thyme stalks into the sauce. That’s perfect. They are exactly where you want them to be.
- Add the cream and about 4 tablespoons of the chicken gravy and stir to mix well. The consistency of the sauce should be neither too thick nor too thin but like softly whipped cream. Bring to a simmer, taste and correct seasoning and place in a heated sauceboat.
- Finally remove the fat from the chilled chicken juices and save for roasting potatoes or vegetables another day. Add the juices to the gravy. Bring to a simmer.
- Serve the carved chicken with the bubbling gravy and the two sauces on the side.