I love a roast chicken for Sunday lunch. The whole (rare) ceremony of gathering the whole family (and possibly a stray Grandma) around the table for a feast, plus the delicious possibilities of what to do with the leftovers, is my idea of heaven. Roast chicken with lemon and pepper is so easy – a brilliant not-much-faff showstopper if you have people for dinner, and very easy to stretch out if unexpected guests arrive. Add some stuffing (try my pork and apple), roast potatoes and a ton of veg, and you can easily feed 6-8 with a free range 2kg bird (about a tenner), or four with leftovers for another meal, plus stock or soup.
My one rule with a chicken is that it must, must be free-range. We owned chickens when we lived in Ireland, and they’re intelligent, perky little creatures, quickly made miserable by horrible surroundings. I couldn’t have that on my conscience.
So firstly, put the oven on at 190 degrees/gas 5, then pop your lovely chicken into a roasting tray. Dribble with a little oil, then cut a couple of lemons in half, squeeze them over the meat, then shove them into the cavity of your chicken (feels a bit weird, but it’s necessary). Sprinkle over about a teaspoon of salt and LOADS of freshly ground pepper – enough so that the top looks black and speckly.
1 large free range chicken
Generally, your chicken is going to be about a kg or two. I tend to follow the easy rule that if it’s about 1kg, I cook it for an hour. If it’s 1.5kg I cook it for an hour and 15 minutes or so, 2kg about an hour and a half.. and so on. If you check it ten minutes before and it’s done, then just whip it out. Not quite there? Leave it another ten. To double check doneness, give the leg a wiggle – it should be loose and wobbly with a small amount of pressure, or stab it in the thickest part of the thigh, catch the juices in a spoon, and make sure they’re clear. If there’s any blood, pop it back in for a while. Leaving it to rest for a while (it will stay warm for ages, covered in foil and maybe a tea towel or two) will ensure a really juicy bird, and make it much easier to carve.
Once your chicken is cooked, there will be all manner of lovely juices in the bottom of the pan. Drain these into a jug. The oily stuff at the top is perfect for roasting your potatoes (par boil them first so they’re fluffy,whack the heat up nice and high, and they’ll take about 45 minutes) and the underneath juices are perfect for gravy.
Take a spoonful or two of the oily top part of the meat juices and put it into a saucepan. Add a tablespoon of flour and stir well over a gentle heat (this will remove the really floury taste), then slowly mix in the meat juices. Pour in about 250ml stock and leave to bubble and thicken. The resulting peppery, lemony gravy will be so amazing, you could slurp it from the spoon.
Here’s where the fun begins. Monday’s dinner is ripe with possibilities: pilafs, risottos, wraps, quesadillas… Depending on how large your chicken and how many people it fed, you can even get a chicken and ham pie out of it. Don’t be afraid to really pick – there’s a huge amount of meat underneath the chicken so roll your sleeves up and get stuck in!