Roast chicken: New ways with a favourite dish

Spatchcock, a different twist on a classic dish

Spatchcock, a different twist on a classic dish - Credit: Archant

Roast chicken is such a simple dish and yet sometimes a challenge.

Remember the old saying “you get what you pay for”? It’s particularly appropriate in relation to food. A whole chicken can cost as little as £3 but where has it come from and do you care? Do you choose free-range, organic or cage-free?

All these terms can be confusing.

If you’re concerned about the amount of antibiotics fed to chickens, purchase poultry and eggs labelled free-range and no-antibiotic-added. Cage-free means the brids were not kept in cages within a warehouse but does not mean they necessarily had access to outside areas. To ensure you’re purchasing meat and eggs from chickens that foraged in a natural environment, look for packaging indications that the chickens were pastured, or find poultry with the “Animal Welfare Approved” label.

The alternative is to buy locally from someone you know. As the recent horsemeat scandal proves, the label on your food may not be as truthful as you would like to think.

Whatever chicken you buy, you need to know how to cook it.

French roasting involves an inch or so of water, unpeeled garlic cloves, lemon wedges, and a few choice veggies, a few parsley stalks, twists of black pepper and flakes of salt. The chicken is turned about half way through to finish with the breast side up. Once the bird is cooked, the cooking liquor is used to make the gravy. English roast chicken tends to be cooked breast side up throughout and has stuffing in the neck cavity, and perhaps between the skin and breast. This keeps the breast moist and it absorbs the lovely flavour of the stuffing.

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One of my favourite ways to prepare a chicken for roasting is to Spatchcock, or to remove the backbone, enabling you to flatten out the whole chicken. Use a good pair of scissors either side of the backbone and then place the chicken on a board and press firmly on the breast to flatten and slightly break the bones to make sure it remains flat. This helps it roast evenly and cook a little quicker. As all the chicken skin is facing upwards, it browns all over.

I prefer to cook my potatoes around the chicken and I pop them in about half way through, once I have par-boiled them. Cutting them quite small means they will cook in time and they soak up some of the delicious juices.

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