Category Archives: chicken

This is the way.

Good chickens are – like true love, reliable plumbers and excellent espresso – hard to find. They are also, when you finally get your hands on one, costly things! Quite right too! We should be deeply suspicious of cheap (even modestly priced) chickens, they almost certainly have the darkest, dirtiest story etched into their tragic flesh. The chicken above, the one sitting in my new enamel roasting tin from Emanuela, is a good chicken. A blooming good chicken in fact, from my butcher Marco who in turn procured it from the blazing beacon of conscientious husbandry: Azienda San Bartolomeo. Having parted with the best part of 16€ (an investment in our sustenance for the next three days) and taken possession of our bird, we – that is Luca and I – also picked up half a dozen San Bartolomeo eggs, a fat pat of butter, five lemons, some bitter salad leaves and a piece of Lariano bread. After all, good chicken deserves good company.

We walked home the long way, following the deep arc of the river, which meant there were leaves to crunch and dogs to bark at! I crunched and Luca barked. We stopped, as we usually do, at Giolitti for an espresso before crossing our vast echoing courtyard and barking some more. Time was taken climbing the stairs, after all it’s important to peer between every other railing. It’s also important to ring the doorbell 17 times, especially when there is nobody at home. Then while Luca played with something inappropriate and slightly dangerous, I set about roasting.

Roast chicken is one of my favourite things both to make and eat. It’s also a significant meal for me, maybe the most significant. We ate roast chicken and then soup made from the leftovers and carcass, at least once a week when I was growing up. It’s a meal evocative of home, the kitchen in Kirkwick Avenue, my family and the meals we shared. Over the years roast chicken has bought us – parents, relatives and three Roddy kids in turn doe eyed bundles, eager fat-fingered toddlers, grasping children, grubby rascals, sullen teenagers and floundering/flourishing adults – together again and again and again. A burnished bird has the capacity to stir deep (food) memories, some crisp and golden, others as dark and sticky as the juices stuck to the bottom of the roasting pan.

I think of my mum and my granny Alice when I roast a chicken, especially at the beginning when I wash it in very cold water and then pat it absolutely dry with a clean cloth. My granny was – and my mum still is – a great believer in very cold water, clean cotton cloths and patting things absolutely dry. I rub my chicken, as my mum does, with butter. Butter I’ve remembered to leave out in the kitchen so it’s smearble. I’m as liberal with the salt and freshly milled black pepper as I am with the gin in a Gin and tonic: very.

I put a lemon up my chicken’s bottom (that was for you Ben) long before I came to Italy. However it was cut in two so the juice could be squeezed over the chicken and the hollow halves tucked inside. Now, as taught by my old neighbor Mima and guided by Marcella Hazan, I roll a lemon vigorously around the kitchen counter so it is soft. I prick it 37 times with a toothpick and then stick it up my chicken’s bottom just so.

I roast my lemon filled chicken with its breast down for 20 minutes. I then turn it breast up, crank up the oven a notch and roast it for another 40 minutes. I don’t baste. Then  - as taught by Simon Hopkinson in his aptly named book Roast chicken and other stories – I turn the oven off, open the door a jar and leave the chicken sitting in the cooling oven for another 20 minutes. These twenty minutes are vital. It is during this time, the cooking equivalent of a perfect vinyl fadeout, that the cooking finishes, the skin dries and flesh relaxes but clings to the precious juices making for a roast with properly crisp skin, succulent, tender flesh and easy carving

Actually carve is not the right word for a bird like this – a bird with runner’s legs and a lean breast – pull and tear is more appropriate. Using my hands, a knife and my poultry shears, I pull and tear my chicken to pieces. I do this in the roasting tin and then roll the pieces in the best sort of gravy: the buttery, lemony, nut-brown juices that have collected at the bottom of the tin.

Did I mention how I feel about the smell of roasting chicken? Oh you know! Of course you do, because you feel the same way! Excellent. Today we ate our chicken with mayonnaise (see below), a mixture of bitter and sweeter salad leaves and bread. What a good lunch! I had some wine too, an inch, maybe two and raised my glass to us, to my family – who seem a long way away these days – the whole delicious, tender, dark, messy, sticky lot of us.

Roast chicken with lemon

With advice from Granny, Mum, Simon Hopkinson and Marcella Hazan

Notes. A good roasting tin of the right size is pretty vital. It should be large enough to accommodate the chicken comfortably but small enough to contain the precious juices. I like, really like, this tin. You do not need to baste the chicken.

Serves 4 or in my case serves 1 and a quarter (Luca) for 3 days.

  • 1.5 – 2 kg / 3 – 4 lb chicken at room temperature
  • 50 g / 2 oz good butter at room temperature
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large unwaxed lemon

Set the oven to 180° / 350 F.

Wash the chicken both inside and out with cold water. Leave it sitting on a slightly tilted plate for 10 minutes or so, to let all the water drain away. Pat the chicken absolutely dry with a clean cloth.

Put the chicken in a roasting tin that will accommodate it with room to spare. Smear the butter with your hands all over the bird and then season it liberally with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Wash, dry and then soften the lemon by rolling it back and forth across the kitchen counter while applying pressure with your palm. Prick the lemon 37 times with a cocktail stick or trussing needle.

Tuck the lemon in the chicken cavity and then close the opening with two cocktail sticks. Don’t make an expert job of closing the opening or the chicken might just puff up and burst.

Turn the chicken beast side down in the roasting tin and place it in the upper third of the preheated oven. After 20 minutes turn the chicken the right way up. Do not baste.

Turn the oven up to 200° / 400 F and continue roasting the chicken for another 40 minutes. Turn the oven off, leaving the door ajar and let the chicken rest in the cooling oven for another 20 minutes.

Before carving tilt the chicken slightly so all the juices run into the tin. Stir the buttery, lemony, nut-brown juices  – scraping the thick dark ones from the bottom of the tin – with a wooden spoon. Carve, rip, tear, pull the chicken in the roasting tin letting the pieces and joints roll in the juices.

And may I suggest you make some mayonnaise!

mayonnaise

  • 2 egg yolks (at room temperature)
  • salt
  • 150 ml sunflower or grapeseed oil
  • 150 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • juice of half a lemon or dab of Dijon mustard

In a heavy bowl (which doesn’t require too much effort or holding to keep it firm) start whisking the egg yolks with a generous pinch of salt.

After a minutes, when the yolks are thick and sticky, start adding the groundnut oil very gradually – by very gradually I mean drop by drop and then a very thin stream. Do not rush and keep whisking as you add the oil.

Keep adding the oil until the mayonnaise seizes into a very thick ointment, at this point you can relax and add the sunflower oil in a slightly thicker stream.

When you have added all the groundnut oil, add the extra virgin olive oil (again in a thin stream) and keep whisking until you have a smooth, silky and firm mayonnaise. You may not need to add all the olive oil. Add a few drops of lemon juice or a dab of mustard, whisk, taste and then, if necessary a few drops/dab more. Add salt as you like.

Eat.

77 Comments

Filed under chicken, Eggs, fanfare, food, In praise of, Rachel's Diary, recipes

Alla Romana

I had no intention of staying in Rome, I’d spend a month at language school before taking myself and my newly acquired command of the Italian language back to Palermo to continue my demented not-very-grand-tour, eat more granita di mandorle and parley with the locals. However as the days got longer and warmer and as May drew to a close it became painfully clear that a month of intensive lessons was no match for my linguistic inaptitude and that never mind chinwagging with the locals, if I was to even scratch the surface of this beauteous but baffling language I was to be here all summer.

Alice on the other hand suffered no such linguistic ineptitude. A month at Centro linguistico Dante Alighieri in the class above me was more than enough to sharpen her vernacular, and off she went in search of work and lessons in the preparation of Puntarelle. Fortunately, even though we’d only talked briefly at school, affinity was felt and we’d exchanged numbers and promises of lunch. And Lunched we did! Sometimes at Volpetti but mostly at Da Augusto In Trastevere, with its cramped confusion of marble-topped tables, rustling paper table cloths, robust Saturnia crockery, offhand service and typically Roman fare.

I’d already begun my education in the distinct, deliciously robust, gutsy Roman cooking at the Trattoria Augustarello in Testaccio. This continued at Da Augusto with Alice. We quickly learned it was best to skip i primi (pasta and minestra) which were better elsewhere, in favour of i secondi (the second courses) which in true Roman style were mostly the more humble cuts of meat and offal cleverly and slowly stewed or braised.

So lunch was braised beef, pecorino dusted tripe, rabbit with rosemary, slow cooked lamb, pollo alla Romana or bollito. Imposing sounding lunches I know, but remember portions of secondi are (usually) small in Italy as they are intended to follow a pasta first course. Having eschewed the pasta we’d feel entitled crowd the table with small plates of contorni (vegetable side dishes) broccoli romanesco cooked until unfashionably soft, deliciously bitter cicoria wilted and tossed with oil, potatoes roasted with rosemary and if the season was right, our favourite, a dish of Puntarelle - the peppery dandelion-like greens dressed with anchovies. Half a litre of questionable white wine and a basket of bread not long out of the oven of the nearby bakery La Renella and we were replete

Ever since I started this blog and having eaten at Both Augustarello and Da Augusto when he visited, my Brother Ben has been telling – and more recently pestering – me to write about Roman food more, particularly the distinct, bold secondi. Finally, seven years after declaring I ‘d no intention of staying, a respectable number of good, bad and indifferent meals in boisterous trattorias, copious advice, numerous cooking lessons, the birth of a little Roman,and a fair bit of experimenting later, I’m taking his advice! Again. Lets begin with Pollo alla Romana.

Pollo alla Romana or Chicken Roman style, is best described as joints of chicken, fried until golden in olive oil (maybe with a little pancetta) and then simmered with wine, tomatoes and red peppers. It’s a marvelously simple dish which, if made with care and good ingredients, is absolutely delicious. There is a moment of cooking alchemy when the peppers, after a little encouragement and nudging around the pan, release their abundant juices creating a carmine bath in which the chicken can simmer until tender and richly flavored. Then, as the chicken simmers, the juices thicken. The rich complexity of the sweet, rounded, unfashionably oily, deep red sauce by the end of cooking is both a joy to behold and, more importantly, to sop up with bread.

Views, unsurprisingly, about how best to make this stout Roman dish, are passionately held and vary. This version, taught to me by Alice, who was taught by her Roman Boyfriend Leo who was in turn taught by his (formidable sounding) Nonna is, after a fair bit of experimenting, the one I like most. Reassuringly, it is almost identical to the recipe in the dependable tome, my reference book of choice, Le ricette regional Italiane.

It’s all very straightforward.  In a heavy pan you fry some diced pancetta in olive oil. Once the pancetta has rendered its fat and made your neighbour question his vegetarianism, you add the chicken pieces skin-side down to the pan and fry until the skin forms a golden crust. Next up salt, several grindings of black pepper the garlic if you so wish and an unruly slosh of wine. Once most of the wine has evaporated you add the roughly chopped tomatoes and the peppers to the pan. It will seem very full! Now put the lid on the pan. You need to keep an eagle eye on the pan for the first 10 minutes, lifting the lid and stirring every now and then to prevent sticking. But once the peppers have released their abundant juices your work is (nearly) done. Half cover the pan, make yourself a Campari and put your feet up while your supper bubbles over a modest flame for another 45 minutes (the odd stir wouldn’t go amiss) or until the tomatoes and peppers have collapsed and reduced into a dense, rich sauce and the chicken is tender.

Serve your pollo alla Romana warm but not hot.

A nice plump chicken is a good place to start. The pancetta is optional but a good addition. The garlic too is optional – keep an eye on it, as if it burns it will be bitter. The peppers can be red, yellow or orange but not green.  The wine should be white, dry and rough at the edges. One variation I will note is skinning the peppers before adding them. This means scorching your red lobes and peeling away the thin skin carefully. I don’t, but you might like to.

Pollo alla Romana  Chicken Roman Style

serves 4

  • A nice plump chicken weighing about 1.5 kg / 3 lb
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 50 g pancetta, diced (optional)
  • salt and pepper
  • a plump clove of garlic (optional)
  • a glass of dry white wine
  • 300 g tomatoes or passata
  • 4 large red peppers

Clean the chicken and cut it into 8 eight pieces.

In a large heavy based fry the diced pancetta in the olive oil until it renders its fat. Add the chicken pieces skin side down and cook until the skin forms a golden crust, then turn them and fry the other side.

Add salt, several grindings of black pepper and the garlic and turn the pieces over three or four times. Add the wine and let it bubble away until most of it has evaporated.

Coarsely chop the tomatoes and deseed the peppers and cut them into chunky pieces. Add the tomatoes and the peppers to the pan, stir, cover the pan and leave over a over a modest heat. Keep an eagle eye on the pan for the first 10 minutes, stirring every now and then to prevent sticking. Once the peppers release their juices, half cover the pan and cook for another 45 minutes or until the tomatoes and peppers have collapsed into a dense, rich sauce and the chicken is tender.

Allow the pan to sit for about 15 minutes or better still a couple of hours or overnight (in which case you can just reheat it very very gently over a low flame until it is warm but not hot.) Serve with good bread and a glass of wine.

27 Comments

Filed under chicken, food, rachel eats Rome, Rachel's Diary, recipes, Roman food, tomatoes