Ollie’s Roast Chicken 101
Quite literally, the meat of French chickens and English is almost incomparable. That of our Gallic counterparts has a density of flesh that our birds are just not imbued with. Even when raw they have a clearly different shape: lithe & lean, much like comparing wild salmon to the farmed variety. The French birds are Olympic triathletes to our Halfords Sunday league centre backs. This has an impact on a practical level, most notably that the legs take much longer to cook. Even when roasting whole English birds, the legs will always be undercooked if you want the breasts to be perfect, or you have to slightly overcook the breasts for the legs to be edible. This is point-blank science and no bullshit blogger tip will solve this, other than cooking them separately. It won’t have the same generous look and golden glow as the Hollywood Thanksgiving turkey, but what you sacrifice in table “impact” you more than make up for in sheer deliciousness and mouthfeel. And even though presentation is important, it is taste and pleasure that you always remember, not the aesthetic value of a dish.
I always remove the legs, wings, wishbone and undercarriage. Removing the wishbone makes carving much easier and allows you to get much more from the breast. The wings and undercarriage should be chopped up and made into gravy. I also sacrifice the drumsticks for this. The thighs I season well, wrap in foil and bake at 140℃ for about 2 hours until tender.
What you are now left with is the crown to roast: the two breasts on the bone with the rear of the undercarriage and wingtips attached. This should be brought to room temperature and seasoned at the same time so the salt can penetrate and permeate, giving delicious meat rather than something just superficial. Then rub well with butter or oil (do this after seasoning or the fat will form a barrier between the salt and the meat) and place in a roasting tray with the cooked thighs, and blast at 200℃ for just 20 mins until golden all over, then rest for 30 mins. The core temp should be around 64℃ after resting. I know it seems like not much time but it does continue to cook outside the oven as the heat spreads. You could also rest it in the top oven at 60C if you're worried. The thighs will roast to golden deliciousness in this time too, but will already be tender from the baking in foil beforehand. These times are for LMDC Label Rouge Whole Chickens (1.7-2kg) - do vary the times if your bird differs from this.
I like to cook the chicken with other vegetables that will soak up any fat or juice that comes out. If doing roast potatoes, they can go in the oven at same time as the chicken and keep them in for the extra 30 mins of resting. That will be perfect for timing.
The gravy you will have already made and feeling smug about, rather than trying to make it last minute. To make this, chop the undercarriage, wings and drumsticks, season and roast in a pan with some quartered onion in a hot oven in a pan until light golden (if you get a deep golden colour on chicken bones and skin it actually tastes a bit burnt though it doesn’t look it). Deglaze with half a glass of white wine (or red, or some Sherry or Madeira) then just cover with water. Add a handful of mushrooms, finely sliced, and simmer for about an hour. Do not skim off the fat. You actually want to keep this to enrich the sauce. Pass through a sieve and thicken with a little cornflour solution, then infuse for 5 mins with a clove of crushed garlic, some thyme or tarragon, bruised and maybe a strip of lemon peel. Pass through a sieve.
One final note would be to always have some wilted greens with a roast to lighten the plate and offer some variety from the rich textures and inherent heaviness of the dish.