brined roast chicken

alien life forms! (Ok, Yorkshire puds!)
Have you ever walked into your kitchen and felt a slight Twilight Zone moment? (And cue the music . . . ) Da na, na na. Na na, na na . . . I was cooking Sunday lunch and returned to the kitchen with a distinct sense of unease. Something wasn't quite right but I wasn't sure what it was. Nothing was on fire. There was no smell of burning. But I just had a sense that something was up, a prickling sense of unease . . . 

I opened the oven door and was confronted with something out of a 1950s sci fi movie . . . my Yorkshire puddings had evolved into some kind of alien life form and were bidding to escape in a determined attempt at world domination! Hey ho, that's the price you pay for using strong bread flour; they were not the perfection of flying saucers but they were rather splendid nonetheless, if a little misshapen!

I came rather late to roasting  meat as I was a vegetarian for most of my 20s, so a roast meal is often a learning experience for me. But since I like to experiment, I occasionally brine a chicken in a 5% solution as it definitely seems to ensure a juicy, moist bird. (For my American readers, brining isn't a very common cooking technique over here.)

I also used some of my wild garlic pesto mashed up with a little butter to massage into the bird and under its skin, but assuming you don’t have any pesto, then simply mash the butter with a little salt and pepper and some fresh herbs such as basil or tarragon, or lemon zest and crushed garlic.

Some years ago I ended up having to cook my family's Christmas lunch. This is unusual since typically that's my brother's job, and a very good job he does too since he is an excellent cook. But that particular year I got to cook for my father, brother and nephews. What did the boys think of Aunt Rachel's cooking? "Dad's roasties are much better" . . . great, everyone's a critic. (And they seem to be getting younger!)

It turns out that my nephews were used to the way that their father roasts potatoes, which is in their skins. I agree that ptotatoes cooked in this way do have much more flavour. But I like the texture of potatoes roasted nekkid, so I needed to find a way to get that earthy, nutty flavour that the skins impart. A tip I discovered in Heston Blumenthal's In Search of Perfection, was, to put the potato peel in with the cooking water. Admittedly the first time I attempted this I didn't follow his suggestion to put the potato peel in a muslin bag, which meant I was picking bits of peel out for ages afterwards. I learned my lesson and now cook the potatoes with the peel resting in a metal sieve. Works a treat and the potatoes taste sublime!

Serves 4
Skill level: Medium

4 litres water
200g salt
juice of 3 x lemons, reserve the shells
10 x bay leaves
1 x bunch of flat leaf parsley
4 x sprigs of fresh thyme
1 x small garlic head, halved across its circumference
20 x black peppercorns

roast chicken
1 x large chicken (about 2 kg)
40g butter
wild garlic pesto
1 x small onion, quartered
1 x bay leaf
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Yorkshire puddings
125g white bread flour, sifted
2 x large eggs
¼ tsp salt
a grinding of black pepper
200 ml milk

roast potatoes
vegetable oil

wine or vermouth 

  1. Make the brine the day before you need it. In a very large saucepan, add the salt to lightly boiling water and stir well to combine, ensuring that all the salt has dissolved. Add the rest of the brine ingredients including the lemon shells. Bring back to the boil, and then simmer for 2 minutes. Set aside to cool completely.
  2. When the brine has cooled, add the chicken and make sure that it is completely submerged - a small plate resting on top of the chicken will help to keep the chicken completely covered. Cover the pan and leave in a cool place. Don't leave the chicken in the brine for more than 12 hours.
  3. I like to get my roast potatoes started early, often the night before. Nothing like prior planning! Peel the potatoes and cut into chunks. Keep the potato peel and put into a metal sieve that will fit over the saucepan you will be boiling the potatoes in. Put the potatoes into a large saucepan of salted water and nestle the sieve on top. As the water comes to the boil, it simmers through the potato peel and injects the potatoes with even more flavour. I promise! Simmer the potatoes for 15 to 20 minutes or as long as you dare. They need to cook until they are almost, but not quite, falling apart.
  4. Drain the potatoes into a metal colander and then rest the colander on the saucepan. Place a tea-towel or saucepan lid over the potatoes and leave the potatoes to steam over the lowest heat. Try to make sure that as much water has evaporated as possible. Give the colander a good couple of shakes to roughen up the surfaces of the potatoes. This increases the surface area of the potatoes and means you will end up with crunchier potatoes. Set aside to cool then put in the fridge overnight.
  5. Remove the chicken from the brine and rinse under cold running water. Dry thoroughly, and then set aside.
  6. Preheat the oven to 200C / Gas Mark 6.
  7. Season the inside of the chicken with freshly ground black pepper.
  8. Mash the butter with a generous tablespoon of the wild garlic pesto. Use about three quarters of this flavoured butter to smooth under the skin of the chicken. The rest of the flavoured butter can be massaged into the surface of the chicken. If there is any left over, pop it inside the chicken together with the bay leaf and the quartered onion. Retrieve 2 or 3 of the brined lemon shells and stuff them into the cavity too.
  9. Put the chicken into a roasting tin and roast for 20 minutes for every 500g plus and extra 25 minutes.
  10. After the first 20 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 180C / Gas Mark 4. Baste and return to the oven for the rest of the cooking time.
  11. Check every 20 minutes or so. Baste again if you want to.
  12. If it looks as if the chicken is burning, then cover in foil.
  13. The chicken is cooked when the juices run clear when the flesh is pierced with a sharp knife or skewer.
  14. Wrap in foil and allow to rest for 20 minutes, just enough time to perfect your gravy, cook the Yorkshire puddings and sort out the rest of the vegetables.
  15. To make the gravy, pour off any excess fat but keep the pan juices. Place the roasting tin on the stove top, over a moderate heat. Add more wine, or vermouth or water. Heat through, scraping up the caramelised bits sticking to the bottom of the pan. Season with salt and pepper.
  16. Quite often I add these juices to my mushroom and sherry sauce, which makes the perfect accompaniment for roast chicken.
  17. The roast potatoes will take about 40 to 45 minutes to roast perfectly. Place a roasting tin with vegetable oil, about ½ to 1 cm deep, on the bottom shelf to heat up.
  18. Remove the potatoes from the fridge and sprinkle over the semolina. Make sure the potatoes are well coated. Add to the hot oil and turn to coat. Roast for 40 to 45 minutes, turning occasionally. Cover with foil if they look as if they may be burning. When you have removed the chicken from the oven turn up the heat back to 200C / Gas Mark 6.
  19. Yorkshire puddings only need about 15 to 20 minutes, but you will need to prepare the batter in advance. It needs to rest for about 30 minutes before using. Combine all the ingredients in a jug and whisk thoroughly to get rid of any lumps, and then set aside.
  20. Use a muffin tin and put about ½ cm of oil in each hole. Preheat the pan; the oil needs to be smoking hot to get the best results. Pour in a little of the batter into each of the holes and cook at 200C / Gas Mark 6 for 15 to 20 minutes.


Working london mummy said...

OOOH I do love Yorkshire pudding, whatever shape it turns out...! and the chicken sounds delicious

Donkey said...

i've done any brining but I do like the sound of this and I love "wild" yorkshires.
I am very much like you and haven't done many roast dinners due to being a veggie for 12 years.

Northern Snippet said...

Greta idea plenty of wild garlic around this time of year.
Re the Yorkshire's-its the taste not the shape that matters:)

Petra08 said...

It looks fantastic. I often put the chicken in brine and I absolutely adore wild garlic!

Janice said...

Sounds fab and who wants uniform Yorkshires.

Marmaduke Scarlet said...

Hi all! I think we are all agreed that Yorkshire puddings are a taste sensation, no matter what they look like; wild garlic is one of nature's wonders and there is nothing like a good roast chicken!

Thank you all for commenting. Yet again, you have made my day! :)

Jacqueline @Howtobeagourmand said...

Nice tip about the potato peel - who knew! I've never tried brining chicken before but I will keep it in mind!