Roast Chicken

This may seem like a no-brainer of a recipe, but there may be some of you out there who’ve never dared to go for it. You’re throwing cash down the drain buying parts of a bird in a plastic tray: you can get a whole bird for the price of two chicken breasts, then eat the leftovers for up to three days, which is easily how long it’ll keep in the fridge. You’re also chucking your money away buying a ready-roast chicken. A basic one from Tesco’s costs £7.50, (and I’m blocking my ears and la-la-la-ing when it comes to M&S prices), whereas the same sized raw chicken is £4.50. There’s no way you’re going to spend £3.00 on oven costs, and the ready-roasted ones have often got… you guessed it… SUGAR on them.

Pre-heat the oven to hot – that’s 220º C. Ignore all other advice. 

Here’s the sort of pre-oven look you want to achieve:ready for a roasting

  • Roughly slice one or two onions of any colour and put them in a roasting tin with the chicken on top.
  • Add a couple of slices of lemon, a couple of garlic cloves, unpeeled, and throw a few grinds of salt and pepper over the bird.
  • Pour a large drinking glass of water in. I may mix it half and half with white wine, depending on whether I’ve drunk it all or not.
  • If you don’t have wine, I do recommend something acidic – your gravy will thank you for it later, so put a tablespoon of vinegar into the water – red, white, cider, probably not chip vinegar.
  • That’s it.

I’ve diligently placed some thyme on it to make it look nice for the photo, but in the real world nothing is obligatory except the onion, seasoning, water, and some kind of acidity. More flavouring ideas are below.

A word on hygiene: Don’t go all fretful about salmonella. Just stop that nonsense right now. All you need to do is to get the chicken out of the wrapping and put it in the tin, don’t let it touch anything else , and don’t wash it, just put it right in the roasting tin and wash your HANDS after every time you’ve touched it. That’s all. See how easy that was? All salmonella is killed by cooking and also by freezing.

Put the bird in the hot oven. After fifteen minutes slide it out carefully, tip the tin to spoon up the juices and pour three or four lots all over the bird.

After another fifteen minutes, slide the tin out and turn the bird over. Do the juices thing again if you can be a**ed.

After fifteen more minutes, turn the bird back over and baste it again, (the spooning over the juices bit).  It has now had ¾ of an hour at 220º.  Turn the oven down to 180º C.  The liquid will be reduced a bit, so pour in another glass of water/wine. You don’t want it to dry out or you’ll have no gravy. 

After a final fifteen minutes at 180º the bird might be done. Get a knife and slice down to prise away the leg from where it meets the body. (underneath where the thyme is sitting in the picture above). If it looks dark pink, put the bird back for another fifteen minutes. If it looks very pale pink, it’s done. 

Take the chicken out of the tin by sticking a long spoon inside it and lifting it out: before removing it try to tip it so that the interior juices pour out  – this adds to your gravy. Now put it on a large plate and cover it quite generously with silver foil. You could eat it right away, but it will rest there quite happily for up to half an hour while you make a gravy and cook some veg. How to make gravy is here.

This photo was a bit un-styled and hasty, as I was desperate to eat my dinner. But here it is done. The food of the Gods.

just before I ate it



Roast Chicken
  1. One chicken. A medium-sized bird of between 1kg and 1.5 kg will easily feed four people.
  1. Put the unwrapped bird in a roasting tin with a glass of water, and any flavouring you like, but at least some roughly chopped onion. Wash your hands after touching the raw meat.
  2. Cook at 220 degrees Centigrade, spooning the juices over the bird every fifteen minutes. Turn the oven down to 180 degrees after 3/4 of an hour.
  3. The rough rule of thumb is twenty minutes per half-kilo of raw weight. I cook a 1.3kg medium chicken for exactly 1 hour and 10 minutes.
  4. Let the bird cook upside down for half an hour somewhere in the cooking time.
The great thing about chicken is it'll taste nice with almost no flavouring, but you can go to town with it if you like
  1. My friend Mary throws in some halves of apricots or peaches. It sounds odd but it makes the gravy really lovely and you can eat the squishy roasted fruit with the chicken almost like having a chutney. Grapes are also good with chicken.
  2. You could add some bacon to the tin to add flavour to the gravy. I tend not to put bacon or pancetta on the bird itself. It looks nice for magazine photos but it means the skin never gets brown.
  3. You can put lime in instead of lemon.
  4. Tarragon goes well with chicken, as does thyme. Don't be tempted to try dried herbs, it's better to use nothing if you haven't got fresh.
  5. Vermouth is good instead of white wine. Red wine... not so much.
  6. I once sloshed some brandy in as I had no other alcohol. It was odd.
  7. Experiment. What have you got to lose?
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