The enticing fragrance of roast chicken wafting around the house is the essence of a family Sunday; a Sunday roast with roast potatoes and steamed vegetables is one of those classic British meals that can’t be bettered and is actually not hard to cook once you get the timing right. But roast chicken can be more than just a Sunday lunch. It goes just as well with salad and new potatoes for an evening meal or can be cooked ahead of time and served cold as part of a buffet.
Roasting a chicken is simple, but you have to find a way of stopping the breast meat from drying out while the legs cook through. One traditional way is to drape the breast with streaky bacon which bastes the chicken with its fat as it cooks. A very tasty low fat alternative that works brilliantly, is to stuff the chicken with a whole lemon and start the cooking with the chicken breast down in the roasting tin. This results in beautifully moist and tender meat with plenty of lemony juices to make the gravy.
Recipe for Lemon Roast Chicken
1 whole chicken
1 small to medium lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic
sprigs of thyme
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 200C / 400F. Make sure the chicken is clean and dry before you start, patting it dry with kitchen paper after rinsing with cold water. Choose an enamel or other metal roasting tin for best results.
Pierce the lemon skin in several places with a skewer, so that it will release its juice gradually to baste the chicken as it cooks. Put the lemon and clove of garlic into the chicken cavity. If the lemon keeps falling out, tie the drumsticks together with string or wool to keep it in.
Rub the oil all over the chicken and season it with salt and pepper. Place the chicken breast down in the roasting tin. Cut the onion into quarters, leaving the skin on if it is clean, drizzle it with a little more oil and tuck the quarters around the chicken. The onion should caramelize slightly when cooked and adds colour and flavour to the gravy later. Tuck the herbs under the chicken.
Calculate the time needed to cook your chicken according to its weight. The old rule of 20 minutes per pound plus 20 minutes translates to about 40 minutes per kilo plus 20 minutes. Always check if the chicken is cooked by inserting a skewer in the leg meat; the juices should run clear when it is cooked.
Cook the chicken breast down for about 20-30 minutes, then turn it over carefully, trying to avoid tearing the skin and let it finish its cooking the right way up and turn a deep golden colour. The lemon bastes from inside so you don’t have to worry about basting it.
When the chicken is cooked, transfer it to a carving dish and cover with foil to keep warm. It should rest for at least 15 minutes before carving. Meanwhile make the gravy.
Pour off as much fat as you can from the top of the juices in the roasting tin. You should be left with intensely flavoured juices and caramelized bits of onion clinging to the tin. Put the roasting tin over a high heat on the hob and pour in a generous slosh of white wine. As it bubbles, scrape off all the residue from the onion, which should colour the gravy a dark brown. Use some of the water that the vegetables or potatoes were cooked in to add to the gravy a little at a time until the intense flavour has been diluted to a tasty jus. Add any juices that come from the chicken as it is carved.
Serve the lemon roast chicken with roast potatoes and steamed vegetables or salad and new potatoes.
Don’t feel like cooking a roast at home yet? Why not try the delicious Sunday lunches at Masa restaurant in Derby.