... I was talking with a friend about life, blogging and my blog the other day and she mentioned to me that although she loves the blog she feels that sometimes I write with the assumption that everyone knows how to do everything. It wasn't that my recipes were complicated - that's clearly not my style - it was just that my 'bung-it-in-the-oven' style can be a little daunting for those who may not have as much confidence in the kitchen... and so it got me thinking about creating a series of basic recipes that cover the recipes and meals that we all love and that come completely naturally to many of us but that some people find a little bit terrifying, so these are my Belleau Kitchen Basics. This could be anything from baking a classic victoria sponge to perfecting pizza... and i'm not saying I have the ultimate answer for this, these are simply my ways to do it, the ways that have always been successful for me and have usually been taught to me by my mum, which has of course given me the confidence in the first place. I'd love you all to share your thoughts and techniques on how you create the same dishes so that between us we can build the ultimate guide of how to cook the basics... I will try my hardest to show step-by-step instructions so do bear with me, many of you will know this stuff already but you never know, I may show you a technique or method you've never thought of before and hopefully we'll all come away from this with a little more love for this whole cooking thing...
roast chicken and all the trimmings
I adore roast chicken...it was always a basic Friday Night Dinner at home when we were growing up and to me, it's one of the ultimate comfort food meals. I also find it an absolute joy to make... I love taking the time to prepare it (although it really doesn't take that long) and the aroma of roasting chicken and steaming vegetables that fill the house is beyond divine... now I have no special tricks here on how to achieve that ultimate crispy chicken skin, I am just showing you how I make it, the way that's always successful for me but I promise you, if you follow these instructions you'll have fail-safe roast chicken, every time
for roasting the chicken
1 medium free-range chicken - prepared as outlined below
1 large onion - peeled and sliced into wedges
2 or three sticks of celery - chopped
1 or 2 carrots - chopped
3 garlic cloves - unpeeled
fresh herbs such as rosemary and thyme
butter and olive oil
salt and pepper
a little white wine
for the veg
a large bag of potatoes - roughly 3 per person - peeled and cut into large halves
4 or 5 parsnips - peeled and cut into wedges
carrots - peeled and cut into batons
cabbage or brussel sprouts
you will need a large enamel or metal roasting tin and a pre-heated oven set to 180C
I never try and plan my meal so that it all comes out of the oven at the same time ready for the table... life never works like this and this is where stress comes from. I much prefer to cook it all at roughly the same time and then when bits are ready they come out of the oven and are set aside and then go back into the oven at the end for a final blast... for instance, the chicken goes in the first and then I prep the roast potatoes and stuffing balls but these go in straight away and when they're done they're done and set aside...
... only call your guests to the table when the chicken is ready to carve or serve... then I bung my potatoes back in the oven to crisp up. By the time everyone has served themselves veg and taken a piece of chicken the potatoes and yorkshires and stuffing balls come out all hot and crispy!
place the chicken in a bowl of boiling water for 10 minutes
our little bird ready for the oven
let's start with the chicken
please try and buy free-range or at the very least farm-assured care-risen chicken. It's pennies more that your nasty caged chicken but well worth it for taste and of course the welfare of the bird itself. All the decent supermarkets sell free-range chicken. I always buy a medium bird, no matter how many i'm cooking for... a medium chicken will feed 4 people with nothing left on the bones. If you have more than 4 guests then buy 2 medium birds and roast them side by side in a larger tin. To me, this is so much nicer than a larger bird. Cooked chicken will last for at least 3 days in the fridge and can be used in a billion different dishes from the basic chicken sandwich to chicken soup and chicken risotto
there's been a lot of negative media about prepping chicken recently... i'm not going to advise you when it comes to health and safety in the kitchen, that's not my job but i'm just showing you what I do ... I don't wash my chicken, I leave it to soak in boiling water for about 5 minutes. Don't ask me why I do this, it's a version of what my mother does and it works for me but I do it with care for spreading germs:
- place a large bowl in the sink and put your chicken in the bowl
- pour boiling water over the chicken until it's covered and leave it for a few minutes whilst you prepare your vegetables
- spread half the onion (in pieces) and all the chopped veg and garlic on the bottom of the roasting tin
- carefully lay the chicken, breast-side-up on top of the veg and stuff the rest of the onion, in pieces, inside the cavity along with a sprig of lemon thyme or thyme
- gently pull the breast skin away from the bird and slide your fingers under the skin
- take some soft butter and push this under the skin along with a little seasoning and some fresh thyme
- season the whole thing really generously with salt and pepper and wrap the whole thing in foil
- roast it in the oven for 40 mins on 160C (fan) then carefully remove the tin from the oven, remove the foil and using two large forks, turn the chicken over so it's breast down. Place it back in the oven, turn it up to 180C and roast for another 30 mins, then remove from the oven one last time, turn the chicken back over so it's breast-side-up and pop it back in the oven for a last 40 mins or until the skin is a glorious golden brown... to tell if the chicken is cooked through, pull the leg aside gently and puncture the flesh in the crevice between the leg and the breast... if the juices run clear then your chicken is done... if it's cloudy or a little bloody then pop the chicken back in the oven for another 10 minutes.
- you can serve the chicken straight away but it's likely you have veg and other stuff to do so I cover the chicken with foil and a tea-towel and set it aside whilst I finish up.
keep the kettle boiling so that you always have hot water to hand... every time the chicken comes out of the oven, pour a little hot water over the bird to keep it nice and moist
the other stuff:
I think you're supposed to use certain potatoes to make extra special roasties but I don't think i've ever looked at the potato bag and just go for white potatoes... I use extra virgin olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper and rosemary. The potatoes are always peeled (unless they're very small) and then cut into large chunks. I boil them in salted water until they are soft around the edges and still firm inside, then drain the water, tip in the peeled and chopped parsnips, drizzle generously with olive oil, season well with salt and pepper and then place the lid on and rattle the pan vigorously until the edges of the potatoes are fluffy. They then all get tipped into a large roasting tin and will be roasted in a hot oven for 40 minutes... they usually go in once the foil comes off the chicken so they're done before the chicken and I set them aside whilst I make the rest of the meal... they then go back into the oven for a final blast just as we sit down at the table.
many people think that 'Yorkshires' are meant for roast beef but we rarely eat beef here in Belleau Cottage so I serve them on a Sunday with chicken... this is my fail-safe recipe and it comes from saint Delia so it must be good, although I use olive oil and not beef dripping so they're veggie friendly.
75g plain flour
3fl oz milk
2fl oz water
1 large free-range egg
salt and pepper
sieve the flour into a bowl, break in the egg and then, using a large balloon whisk, start to whip it together as you slowly pour in the milk... it should be the consistency of single cream... season and set aside
I use a 12 hole muffin tin to make my yourkshires... pour roughly a tablespoon of olive oil into each muffin tin and then pop the tray into a very hot oven for 15 minutes until the oil is smoking hot, then carefully pour in the pudding batter and roast for 20 mins until the yorskhires are risen and dark golden
I tend to half-cheat here... the chicken and vegetables are removed from the roasting pan and I add two teaspoons of Bisto onion gravy powder and stir it all in... it tastes amazing and is very quick and easy.
all the other veg is steamed... just make sure you have a rainbow of veg such as carrots and beans and cabbage.
eat and of course, enjoy!