There are two things that might put you off roasting chicken midweek…no, make that three: the time, the mess and the expense. However, if you own a good casserole dish (a Dutch oven to you ‘Mericans) you can a) make it in an hour, b) make it with only one pot and the plates and cutlery to wash (give or take a knife and a chopping board) and c) well, c) is pretty relative. What is a reasonably priced meal to me will seem cheap to some, ridiculously overpriced to others. I can’t, obviously, judge your budget. But since supermarkets often try to do this (offering a meal for two for a tenner, including wine, main course and dessert; both M and S and Waitrose do this sporadically) then let’s use that as a guideline. This afternoon I bought a 1.6kg free-range chicken for £7.73 (organic is beyond me), three onions (50p), four carrots (44p) and a bag of potatoes (£1.15): total cost £9.82. If I use those ingredients to make this dish, I’ve spent (just) less than a tenner on dinner for four, not including wine and dessert, and I still have some vegetables left. So with a bottle of cheap wine I can match the supermarkets’ deal, since it works out at £4.91 for two. Without the dessert, agreed, but I do have leftovers, the makings of a chicken stock and some spare vegetables. I’d say that was quits.
Ah, how though, you ask, can you match the speed and lack of mess provided by those neat little cardboard and plastic packets? Again, I don’t know how long the reheating time is on the ones available but this dinner involves an hour and one pot, and that pot will be very easy to clean because, since the lid is on, this is a dish that barely dirties the sides.
The recipe is an amalgam of several, including one from Floyd on France and one from Around my French Table and, because it is so adaptable, you can use the technique with some or all of the ingredients (basics are the oil, chicken, garlic, alcohol, salt and pepper and herbs). I have now pot-roasted a chicken with garlic, lemon and white wine, with garlic and sherry and, as per this recipe, with brandy, garlic and vegetables. The basic method remains the same: soften some veg/garlic in some oil/butter in a lidded casserole dish, season and add the chicken (brown it if you want but it doesn’t need it), squeeze on lemon juice if using, add some herbs, tip in some alcohol, cover with a lid, cook in a hot preheated oven for an hour. It has yet to fail me: it is perfect for two with lots of spare for the next day, for four as a complete dinner (with the veg), the sauce makes itself with barely any last-minute faffing and, as long as your chicken is about 1.5kg and fits in your pot, you should be done in an hour. The meat is juicy, the veg soft and, even better, the possibilities for adapting it to make it fancier or simpler are endless. If you want warm, fuss-free food on a wintry night, for you and your beloved, or you and a few friends, this is just perfect.
Midweek roast chicken
For four you will need:
Cupboard (or things you may already have):
garlic cloves, 5-6 (or, if using just garlic, you can use about 20 cloves, ten peeled, ten unpeeled for a lovely garlicky chicken)
olive oil, 1 tablespoon
sea salt and black pepper
bay leaves, 2
good chicken, 1.5kg
carrots, 2-3 (depending on their size)
white onions, 2-3 (depending on their size)
potatoes, 4 medium
brandy, white wine or dry sherry, 150ml
fresh thyme, a couple of small sprigs
fresh rosemary, a couple of small sprigs
You will also need a lidded casserole big enough to hold the chicken and vegetables.
1. Preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan-assisted/gas 8.
2. Top and tail and peel the onions, carrots and half the garlic. Leave the garlic whole, thinly slice the onions and thickly slice the carrots. Peel the potatoes and cut into four lengthways.
3. Warm the oil in a lidded casserole over a medium heat and add the vegetables and unpeeled garlic. Stir to coat with the oil.
4. Season the chicken inside and out, put the unpeeled garlic inside it then put it in the middle of the vegetables in the casserole. You might find it easier to tip some of the vegetables out first, then put them on the top of the chicken once it’s in, depending on the size of your pot.
5. Add the herbs, tip in the alcohol, put the lid on tightly and put in the oven to roast for an hour.
6. Remove the casserole from the oven and, ta-dah!, beautiful roast chicken and veg! At this point you have several options. The simplest is just to serve it as is. The second simplest is to put the chicken and vegetables into a serving dish, skim the fat from the sauce, then bubble it for a minute to reduce and thicken then pour it over the rest. Or, as Dorie Greenspan suggests, put the chicken and vegetables in a serving dish, skim off the fat, add 240ml of water to the sauce, heat up and stir to amalgamate then tip the sauce over the rest. Whichever way, it will be delicious.