Why is it a Sunday roast? Why not a Monday, or Tuesday, or even Wednesday roast? Yes, yes, I get all the likely history and the fact that most of neither have the time or energy to think about a big roast dinner in the week. But the time involved in a roast is a fallacy; at least it is if you cut out the time-consuming stuff (roasting the potatoes, steaming or mashing the veg, fine-tuning a gravy). The meat itself is one of the simplest and most economical meals you can make, both in terms of time and energy.
Take, for example, a chicken.
Roasting a small whole chicken will take you about an hour, and cost you, depending on its provenance and size anything from £4 to £14. But even without the ya-dah-yah-dah-yah of the stock you can make from the carcass, and the likely leftovers, if you compare the cost of four chicken legs (usually anything from £4 to £8, again depending on provenance and size) that whole bird starts to look like a bargain. The more a bird, or a piece of an animal has been faffed with, the more expensive it gets. Which is why a skinned chicken breast is practically worth its weight in diamonds these days. Same with pork, beef and lamb: no one’s going to bother mincing their own (are they?) but a loin, shoulder or whole fillet of any one of them is going to be a better price than steaks.
And every smaller cut, it seems to me, needs more work. Which is why roast meat is a perfect midweek treat. It needs nothing but salad or steamed veg to make it into a meal and while it’s in the oven you can do something else, which is more than you can say for most steak or chicken breast recipes. My favourite roast chicken recipe came from an American magazine years ago and, with a bit of digging on the Internet I discovered that it was by Marcella Hazan from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. Incredibly simple, it involves chicken, two lemons and salt and pepper. That’s it; no oil, no butter, no herbs.
Her only complicated instruction is to tie the bird’s legs with string but I have never bothered with that, concentrating all my effort on the lemons. The trick is to prepare them as follows: use lemons that have been in the fridge, roll them hard on a chopping board and puncture the skin over and over again with a fork. Stuff into the chicken and roast. This results in the most gorgeous lemony chicken without any fuss. I’ve barely ever roasted a chicken any other way in the fifteen years since I discovered this. If you want something even faster then we’re into the world of Donna Hay and spatchcocking but that is another recipe, another blog.
Classic two-lemon roast chicken (adapted from Marcella Hazan’s recipe)
You will need:
Cupboard (or things you may already have)
sea salt and black pepper
a whole chicken, about 1-1.5kg (if you buy one much bigger than this you may need three lemons)
lemons, two, preferably stored in the fridge for a couple of hours
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan-assisted/gas 4.
2. If you’re the type to wash your chicken before cooking it (I’m not) then make sure it is thoroughly dry afterwards.
3. Season the chicken inside out with salt and pepper.
4. Roll the lemons hard on a chopping board or a worktop several times and then fill them with holes by stabbing through the skin with a fork. You want a cartoon pin-cushion effect, nothing too delicate.
5. Put the lemons inside the chicken, tie the legs together if you wish, then place breast-down in a roasting tin and roast in the oven for about 30 minutes.
6. Turn the chicken over and continue to roast it until it’s done (you should allow about 40 minutes per kg, 20 mins for 450g plus another 10-20 minutes). Best easiest roast chicken ever.