Heston’s roast chicken

In my last post, I admitted that I’m a 95% person. I think I should also add that I’m inherently a bit lazy. I’m quite resourceful at being lazy – I’m always looking for the easiest and quickest way to do something, and if that means that the thing isn’t 100% perfect, well, that’s OK. It’s worth taking a hit on perfection if I can make more time to do other things (or just sleep). It’s why I often say I’ve “adapted” a recipe. What I mean is, I’ve tried to cut as many corners as possible (put a risotto in the oven/put all the vegetables in the food processor/add ingredients all together instead of in stages) while still hoping that the recipe turns out vaguely as planned.

Most successful chefs do not do this. Some tirelessly seek out the “best” way of doing something, and the most famous exponent of that is Heston, when he did his series of how to make The Best Chips or Burger or whatever. On one of those programmes, he did a thing on how to make the best roast chicken. I love Heston (as you can see – we’re on first name terms) but I really don’t have the time or inclination to do most of the stages in his recipe. Also, I haven’t had roast chicken the way he is recommending (and I never will, because it includes butter), but I don’t totally believe it is The Best because, in his extensive survey of what makes the best roast chicken, I don’t believe he was invited to dinner at my parents’ house in France, where my mum roasts these amazing organic French (kosher) chickens which are incredible and cannot be improved.

However, I do think he knows what he is talking about with flavours and moisture and sciency things, so I did want to sort of attempt the recipe. Google “Heston’s roast chicken” if you are interested, but i think the principle, in a nutshell, is that cooking it on a very low heat for a long time helps to seal the flavours in and keep the chicken moist, resting it keeps the juices in the chicken and lets them percolate back into the meat, and then roasting on a very high heat crisps it up. Also, obviously Jon loves Heston’s scientific approach, because Jon shouts “that’s science!” whenever he comes up with a plausible rational explanation for something, and because Heston has confirmed some of Jon’s own techniques, such as rinsing potatoes before doing anything with them to remove excess starch.

The stages in his recipe involve:

  1. Brining the chicken overnight. I got all excited about brining, when I first read about it some time ago and was determined to do it. But then I discovered that you shouldn’t brine a kosher chicken (or turkey) because essentially it has already been brined as part of the koshering process. Not to the exact Heston specifications, but the purpose of the brine is basically to lock in moisture through soaking it in a salty solution (my GCSE biology tells me this is through osmosis), and kosher chickens have to be salted in this way to make them kosher. I even read somewhere else that sometimes people buy kosher chickens as a shortcut. I never thought there would be a bonus to buying over-priced kosher chickens, but perhaps this is it. So I skipped several hours of Heston’s recipe without having to do anything at all!
  2. Putting lemon and thyme inside the chicken and rubbing the bird with butter. Well, I don’t agree with this. I’ve tried putting lemons, garlic and other things inside chickens before (dead ones, mostly) and they never seem to give much flavour. Not compared with putting an onion inside, which really does. Herbs, like thyme, rosemary, etc I think do add a lovely flavour and also make it smell amazing. So I put an onion inside instead. Now, on to the butter. Generally, when roasting a chicken I don’t think it needs any extra fat, so I season it but that’s it. However, over the summer, whenever that was, we did a barbecued chicken on a couple of occasions, using a very nice recipe and technique from America’s Test Kitchen. Since that was going on the barbecue, it did require some fat on it, and the recipe used a rub made from olive oil, thyme, rosemary and lemon (see below), and it was fragrant and delicious. So I decided to make this rub again, and put it on the chicken where Heston was calling for butter. I also made a bed for the chicken of sliced onions, as this creates a delicious onion gravy-ish thing that everyone loves.
  3. Cooking the chicken for 3-4 hours on a very low heat. As in, barely hot – about 90C or 70C in a fan oven. You can hardly smell anything while it is cooking, but apparently this is a good thing because when something gives off a strong smell, it is losing the flavour along with the smell.
  4. Resting the chicken for 45 minutes. You take the chicken out, cover it with foil and let it stand. My grandma always “rests” chicken after roasting and we always used to get annoyed about it – “I like HOT chicken”. But, it turns out she was right in this, as in so many things!
  5. Basting the chicken. You melt butter and add white wine and then brush it over the chicken, now breast side up. I didn’t bother with this – partly because I missed it in the recipe the first time round, but also because it just didn’t seem necessary. Next time, I might try it using the olive oil from the rub that I just put on the onions in the base when I did it last time.
  6. Putting the chicken back into a very hot oven. I think this is what makes it excellent. You turn the oven up as high as it will go and put the chicken back in, breast side up, for about 10 minutes, or until it is golden brown. The only problem with this, for me, was that I was juggling putting the chicken in with the other things in the oven, like roast potatoes. So I haven’t actually done this as instructed. I have put the chicken back in at a hot temperature (but not the hottest), and left it in there for about 20 minutes, when it is golden brown.

The result was a very delicious roast chicken. It honestly wasn’t THAT much more amazing than my regular roast chicken, but it was very good and very moist, and the moisture and flavour really stood out when it came to eating the leftovers cold the next day.

This is the recipe for the rub:

  • 75ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 1 tsp grated zest plus 2 tbsp juice from 1 lemon
  • Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • 4 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 3 tsp chopped fresh rosemary leaves
  • Coarse sea salt and ground black pepper
  1. In a small saucepan, combine the oil, garlic, lemon zest and pepper flakes. Simmer and stir frequently over medium-low heat for about 2 minutes.
  2. As soon as it reaches a simmer, add 3 teaspoons thyme and 2 teaspoons rosemary. Cook for 30 seconds more.
  3. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve over a bowl, making sure to push the solids with a spatula to remove all the oil. Transfer the solids to another bowl and set both aside.
  4. Mix together 1 tablespoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Mix 3 teaspoons of that salt mixture with the cooled garlic mixture.
  5. Spread the salt and garlic mixture under the skin that you loosened earlier. Sprinkle the rest of the salt mixture on the underside of the chicken.
  6. Whisk the lemon juice into the olive oil and either drizzle onto the onions or rub on the chicken, or use as a baste before putting the chicken back into the oven at high heat, OR use as a dressing to serve with the chicken.

This recipe is totally baby-friendly – just don’t give pieces which have the salty rub on them.

*Approximate nutritional values*

  • Calories: 240 kcal
  • Carbs: 0g
  • Fat: 12g
  • Protein: 30g
  • Sugar: 0g
  • Sodium: 560mg
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