Bird watching

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 November, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 November, 2009, 12:00am

I rarely order roast chicken in restaurants because it's usually dry - breast meat cooks faster than the legs so will be overdone if a bird is cooked whole. The easiest way to avoid this is to cut the chicken into large pieces before cooking. This way the chicken doesn't need to be carved when hot; the breast meat is on the bone and in one piece, so it remains moist; and all the chicken parts are exposed to the heat, meaning the skin will become evenly golden and crisp.

Roast chicken with garlic and potatoes (right)

I buy whole local chickens, which have more flavour than frozen birds imported from Brazil or Denmark.

1 whole fresh chicken, about 1.3kg

500 grams small new potatoes

2 or 3 whole heads of garlic

Rosemary sprigs

Olive oil, as needed

Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Remove any visible chunks of fat from the cavity of the chicken. Cut off the neck as close to the body as possible then use kitchen shears to remove the feet where they meet the drumstick joint. Cut off the wing tips then remove the wings (drumette and middle joint). Cut off the legs (thigh and drumstick) then pull the lower back (with the tail) from the rest of the carcass. Use the shears to cut the upper back from the breast. Set aside the neck and head (the head can be removed), feet, upper back and wing tips for stock (see recipe below). Put the chunks of chicken fat in a small pan, add about 30ml of cold water and bring to a simmer over a medium flame. Lower the heat and cook until the water has evaporated and the fat has been rendered out. Set aside. The rest of the chicken should be in six pieces: two wings, two legs (thigh and drumstick), the lower back and the breasts (attached at the breastbone and with the wishbone intact). Dry the pieces with paper towels, lay them on a cooling rack and season evenly with salt and pepper. Leave uncovered at room temperature for an hour.

Preheat the oven to 220 degrees Celsius. Put the potatoes in a pan with enough water to cover, season with salt and place over a medium flame. Bring to a simmer then cook uncovered until the potatoes can be pierced with a fork but are still firm. Drain the potatoes; if they are larger than 2.5cm, cut them in halves or quarters, depending on size. Toss the potatoes with about 60ml of the rendered chicken fat (if there isn't enough fat, add some olive oil) and season with salt and pepper. Spread the potatoes in a roasting pan that's large enough to hold them in one layer and add two or three sprigs of rosemary that have been broken into smaller pieces. Cut off the tops of the heads of garlic, far enough down to expose the cloves, leaving them intact at the base. Drizzle olive oil lightly over the top of each head of garlic and place in the pan with the potatoes. Roast at 220 degrees for 30 minutes, mixing the potatoes occasionally so they brown evenly. Lay the chicken pieces skin side-up over the potatoes. Lower the heat to 200 degrees and continue to roast for about 30 minutes or until the meat is cooked. The roasted garlic will be as soft as butter and delicious spread over bread or eaten with the potatoes.

Chicken stock

My friends Sherman and CSY told me about this way of cooking soup stock, which is similar to Chinese 'double boiling'. After trying it once, it's now my preferred method because the results are amazing - the only drawback is that it's time-consuming. The ingredients are cooked gently - poached, in fact - so the stock is as clear as consomm? and there is no need to skim or clarify it with egg white or shell. Because the aromas are sealed in an airtight jar and don't dissipate, the flavour of the stock is intense.

This recipe makes a light stock for soups. If you want a stock for sauces, roast the ingredients at 200 degrees until they're well browned, then proceed with the recipe.

The spare parts from one fresh chicken: wing tips, neck, feet and upper back

1/2 a medium-sized carrot

1/2 a stalk of celery

1/2 a medium-sized onion

Place the ingredients in a Mason jar (a heat-proof glass jar with a rubber seal) that holds two litres. A squat jar is preferable to a tall one. Add just enough water to cover the ingredients. Lay a folded kitchen cloth in the bottom of a large saucepan and put the jar on the cloth, so it has no contact with the bottom of the pan. Add warm water, almost to the top of the pan (unless your pan is very tall, the water level will be lower than the liquid in the jar - this is fine). Put the pan over a medium flame, bring to a simmer then lower the heat. Gently simmer for about six hours, adding more hot water as it evaporates. After six hours, turn off the heat and let the water cool to lukewarm. Remove the jar and carefully unseal it without shaking the contents. Pour the contents into a fine-meshed sieve over a bowl. Discard the solids and let the stock cool. To remove the fat, refrigerate the stock - the fat will float to the surface and harden and can be scraped off.