How to take your roast chicken to a new level

Aim to create an amazing meal for Christmas without much hassle and just a little forward thinking

Brine a chicken this week and I promise you you will be converted. Photograph: Emma Jervis

Brine a chicken this week and I promise you you will be converted. Photograph: Emma Jervis

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Exactly one month to go to the biggest and most daunting roast dinner of the year. Yes, the time has come, and if it makes you feel just a little uncomfortable now is the time start putting a few things in place.

I run my life on lists, a slightly problematic addiction which involved extensive investment in clipboards and markers. Over the last few years I have developed a habit of making a list of all the things that are stressing me and, amazingly, when written down some of them do not deserve to stay under the “stress” heading anymore, and then we can start working through them more effectively.

The weeks running up to Christmas tend to be very busy for most of us, and often by the time we get to Christmas Day we are exhausted – and we still have to cook dinner.

The next couple of weeks are your chance to get a few ideas together, and get a step ahead with some preparation.

I like to work backwards from the day and work out what I can do now to make it a more relaxed experience. It’s the best gift we can give ourselves, and those who have joined us, to actually be present on the day.

If you have not brined a bird before give it a go over the next couple of weeks, and then the prospect of a turkey will be less daunting. The better the chicken the better the gravy, and no need for anything out of a packet.

The iced soufflé can be made well in advance and frozen. Having one course ready to go on the day is a big relief, and will make dessert all the more joyous.

Jane Grigson describes this soufflé as “the lightest, whitest (when done with pear) and most poetic pudding” in her book. Is there a better way to finish Christmas dinner than with a light and refreshing dessert?

On my fridge door I have a quote from Oscar Wilde which reads: “After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relations.” So with this in mind let’s aim to create an amazing meal without much hassle and just a little forward thinking.

Chicken brined in garlic and herbs

Brine ingredients
Brine ingredients. Photograph: Emma Jervis 

Brining turkey is so popular in the US and once you try it there is no going back. The flavour is outstanding, the meat moist and skin crisp. So this week I am suggesting you give a chicken a try, and I promise you you will be converted and will be adding a stainless steel bucket to your shopping list (available at any good hardware store).

Ingredients

  • 2,300ml water
  • 1 cups salt
  • 3/4 cup honey
  • 10 bay leaves
  • Cloves of 1 head of garlic, skin on and smashed
  • 2 tbsp black peppercorns
  • 3 large rosemary sprigs
  • bunch thyme
  • bunch parsley
  • Zest and juice of 2 unwaxed lemons

Method

1. Put all the ingredients into a pot and bring to the boil. Boil for one minute, stirring to dissolve salt

2. Allow to cool completely, and add the chicken or chickens ( will take two but will have to be turned during the process) and leave for max of six hours.

If you brine two chickens and are only cooking one you can freeze the other for another time. Remember to keep this recipe for Christmas.

Roast chicken and gravy

Ingredients

  • Average 2kg Chicken – sit at room temperature for 30 minutes
  • Butter or olive oil
  • 1 large onion chopped with the skin on
  • 1 head of garlic halved across the middle
  • 2 Sticks of celery
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 medium carrots roughly chopped
  • About 3/4 litre of tap water, potato water or vegetable water

Method

1. Set the oven at 250ºC/gas mark 9. Take a low-sided roasting tray or an oven-proof frying pan that the chicken will fit snugly into. If your pan is too big your vegetables will get too black and will not make a nice gravy. This is important.

2. Roughly chop all the vegetables and place, along with the bay and garlic, in the low-sided roasting tray or the oven-proof frying pan and season with salt.

3. Place the chicken, breast side down on top of the vegetables and put in the preheated oven. The high heat at this stage is important to caramelise the vegetables as this will help sweeten and colour the gravy.

4. Roast for 30 minutes, then turning the heat down to 200ºC /gas 6 and roast for another 15 minutes.

5. Remove your pan from the oven and place the chicken breast side up on the oven-proof plate or tray, turn the oven temperature up to 220ºC to finish cooking and to brown and crisp up the skin.

6. The chicken is ready – when the juices run clear when the flesh is deeply pierced with a skewer remove it from the oven and let it rest for 15 minutes while you make the gravy.

7. To make gravy place the oven tray directly on the hob and scrape the juices and the caramelised vegetables free over a medium heat.

8. Add the liquid and bring to the boil, while you squash the vegetables into the sauce, especially the garlic cloves, to get the most out of their flavour.

9. Let it all bubble away and reduce until you are happy with the flavour, so keep tasting as you go. Do season with a little salt if you feel it needs it to bring the flavours together. 10. Strain directly into a warm jug.

Iced fruit soufflé

This recipe comes form Jane Grigson’s fruit book, and I have been using it as a base for iced soufflés for many years. For this article I used damsons as I am lucky to have customers who have an abundance of them in their garden. Good dark plums will have the same great flavour and look particularly lovely. When using soft fruits just process and sieve them to remove pips.

If you do not have eau de vie (worth picking up on your next trip to France) Jane recommends gin instead.

Iced soufflé Is there a better way to finish Christmas dinner than with a light and refreshing dessert?
Iced soufflé Is there a better way to finish Christmas dinner than with a light and refreshing dessert? Photograph: Emma Jervis 

Ingredients

  • 250g sugar
  • 125ml water
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 500g of your fruit of choice
  • 1 lemon
  • 300ml double cream, whipped to to soft peaks
  • 4 tablespoons eau de vie

You will also need

  • Soufflé dish, about 1.5 litres
  • Parchment paper
  • String
  • Electric mixer
  • Sugar thermometer

1. First make the Italian meringue by dissolving the sugar in the water over a medium heat. Stir it gently, and when it’s clear bring to the boil and boil hard.

2. Now place the thermometer in the saucepan and continue to boil until you reach the hard ball stage.

3. Meanwhile, whisk the egg white, and when they start to firm up pour on the syrup in a steady flow and continue whisking until the meringue swells to a cloudy mass. (You can make it to this stage a week in advance and keep it in the fridge).

4. Peel, core or stone your fruit, and cook with lemon juice until just tender. Crush into a puree with the back of a spoon or a crusher, taste and add more lemon if it needs a bit of edge. Allow to cool.

5. Fold the whipped cream and eau de vie into the meringue followed by the fruit puree.

6.To create the soufflé look cut a strip of parchment to fit around the bowl, lightly oil the facing-in side and use string (or tape) to hold it in place.

7.Turn the mixture into the soufflé dish and give it a little shake to help settle it into place.

8. Store in the freezer and remember to remove it 20 minutes before serving.

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