Everyone has to know how to roast a chicken, pork, beef game, lamb: what to do with slabs of meat…
And so it begins. How to Eat‘s first chapter, aptly named basics etc. kicks off with a swift lesson in roasting a chicken.
This was a good way to start for two reasons:
1) I have roasted a chicken a few times before (even using the Nigella method)
2) I really love roast chicken.
Nothing cheers up a gloomy Sunday in January quite like a roast dinner.
Growing up, we always had roast dinners on a Sunday. Which is odd, because no one in my family likes roast dinners.
Nevertheless, for me the smell of roast chicken feels like home.
Nigella insists on using the “highest quality produce you can afford”.
As we’re desperatly trying to claw our way back to financial sanity after our wedding, we’re very much on a budget at the moment (probably not the best time to start cooking your way through a cookbook), so my 1.65kg bird came from Aldi and cost less than a fiver.
I stuffed half a lemon into the centre of the chicken then massaged it with handfuls of butter as if it were relaxing in a spa. This isn’t quite what is advised in the recipe ( which is to anoint the bird with a tiny amount of oil as if “putting on very expensive hand cream”).
A little sprinkling of Maldon sea salt and into the oven it went.
I always struggle to calculate roasting times, but after circling the face of a clock several times, I concluded that the chicken needed just under two hours in the oven and about 15 to 30 minutes to rest.
Some time ago, I discovered that resting meat is the key to its juicy, tender success. So now I always leave meat to rest – usually for far longer than advised by recipes.
One perk of leaving meat to rest is that you finally have plenty of space in the oven (along with some extra time) to cook everything else. If there’s one thing that stresses me out about cooking roast dinners, it’s timing it so that everything is ready at the same time.
I never caught my mum stress-juggling the shelves in her oven to keep cooked food warm and still have space to cook everything else. Although this is probably because my mum owned the domestic gem of the seventies: the hostess trolley.
Along with most of my generation (hipsters not included) I don’t have a hostess trolley. Which is why it remains a mystery to me as to how most other non-hostess-trolley-owning makers of roast dinners magically cook everything in their oven at once.
To combat this issue (and cut corners) I cooked frozen roast potatoes, microwaved frozen veggies, and I made stuffing from a packet like a dirty, unskilled heathen.
Not the Nigella way…
However, an omission in our weekly shop meant that I had to make my own Yorkshire Puddings.
Good Yorkshire Puddings require dripping or lard, a stupendously hot oven, patience, and skill. I had none of these so disappointment was inevitable.
Making do with butter and olive oil (olive oil being too heavy to ever reach the super hot temperature required for YP success), I knew I was off to a bad start.
Once the bird was cooked, I squeezed the remaining lemon half over the chicken, covered with foil and left it to rest for a good half hour.
Then turned the oven up to eleven, shoved the bun tin full of batter in and hoped that something reasonably edible came out.
At several points during the 20 minute cooking time I had to restrain myself from opening the oven door and completely sabotaging my efforts.
In the end, they weren’t as terrible as I had anticipated, even though they were a little dense and, well, almost cake-like in texture.
Before long, the meat was carved, the Yorkshires were done and everything was piled high onto our plates (presentation is not my strong point).
A swift picture of the mountain of food and we were ready to eat. Except I’d forgotten the peas (not pictured). They were still in the microwave.
I had to unbutton my jeans after eating, and lie on the sofa for about half an hour before I could face tackling the greasy abandoned mess that was my kitchen.
But! My first recipe was a success – even the super dense Yorkshire Puds that were destined to be a flop, turned out edible.
Someday, I’d like to not have to rely on frozen veggies and packet stuffing, but all in good time.