How do you roast a chook?
Do you make a stuffing for the cavity or pop half a lemon in there? What about the skin - do you have a trick for getting it brown all over?
Given Australians eat more poultry than any other meat - 43.9 kilograms per person each year, according to the Australian Chicken Meat Federation - it’s safe to assume there’s a fair bit of roasting going on in our kitchens this winter. Having perused the cookbooks on my own shelf, plus run a straw poll of my colleagues, I think it’s also safe to assume every household has a preferred cooking method, favourite flavourings and mandatory side dishes.
Daniel Wilson, chef/owner of Melbourne restaurant Huxtable, takes a traditional approach to his roast chicken, inspired by those cooked by his mother and grandmother. He keeps the flavours simple - lemon, thyme and garlic or perhaps some tarragon. Vegetables can be added to the roasting tray when the chicken is cooking so they soak up the chicken fat; and gravy is a must.
‘‘A roast isn’t a roast without gravy, in my eyes,’’ he says.
To start, he says to choose ‘‘the best chicken you can afford’’ and let this sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before roasting. This will help it to cook more evenly. Trussing will also aid this, as well as improve the presentation. This packages the legs and wings tightly against the chicken. Rather than truss the traditional way with string, he employs a little ‘cheat’. First tuck the wings underneath.
‘‘[Then] Take away [some of] the excess fat and then cut a slit in the middle point of the [remaining] fat on each side, about 1cm long, and put the opposite ankle through,’’ he says.
‘‘Don’t cut it too close to the edge of the skin because as you’re putting it through, it can rip. Make the hole slightly smaller than the ankle so when you put it through it sticks.’’
The rest of his approach I have compiled into a recipe format below.
Daniel Wilson’s roast chicken
1.6 kg chicken (for a family with teenagers, perhaps consider a 2kg chicken)
1 small lemon
A few sprigs of thyme
2 cloves garlic
Sea salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 200C (fan-forced is best). Rinse the chicken, including the cavity, and pat dry.
Chop the lemon into about a dozen small pieces. Toss these with a pinch of sea salt, a few grinds of pepper, the sprigs of thyme and the garlic cloves. Use these to fill the cavity (don’t worry if it doesn’t fit, just omit the excess). Truss, using the method outlined above.
Rub the chicken with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place in an oiled baking tray, breast-side up. Roast for 15 minutes.
Turn the heat down to 160C (again, fan-forced) and roast for a further 45 minutes to an hour, basting with the pan juices every 20 minutes.
Remove the chicken from the oven once cooked. Rest it in a draught free place for 15 to 20 minutes, uncovered. Use this time to make the gravy. Reheat the chicken before serving, if required (160C is a good temperature for this).
Note: If you don't have a fan-forced oven Wilson suggests increasing the temperatures by 15 - 20C.
How to tell when the chook is cooked
Wilson has the kind of confidence you’d expect from someone who cooks professionally - he just gives the flesh a press under the legs to tell if it’s cooked.
‘‘It should be nice and firm,’’ he says.
A method that may be of more use to a home cook is to pierce the thigh with a skewer. If the juices run clear, the chicken should be cooked.
Road testing the roast chicken
Photo: My first attempt with no trussing.
This is a nice, simple recipe that produces a tender and flavoursome roast chicken. ‘‘Best ever’’ was Plain Eater’s verdict. Although looking at the photo of Wilson’s attempt, I think I’ve got some work to do on browning the skin. Perhaps rubbing it with lemon juice would help? That’s my usual approach so one to try next time. Wilson’s advice is to ‘‘flash it’’ just before serving. This can be done under the grill, or in a 200 -220C oven for five to 10 minutes. Just be careful you don’t end up overcooking the meat.
The only only thing I had a bit of difficulty with was the trussing - but it turns out this was just a miscommunication. I tried it again with a second chook and was able to truss one leg fine, but not the other as there wasn’t enough loose skin on one side.
I was still happy with the result on both occasions, so am curious to see how, or if, a full-truss will improve the end result next time.
What’s your tried and tasted method for roasting a chicken? Do you truss? How you ensure the bird is evenly browned?
Huxtable is holding an "old school roast" dinner on June 27 as part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival's Roast Collection.