Monday, August 23, 2010

Everyone Loves Roast Chicken!

Roast chicken is one of those dishes that most people have learned to cook in their time. It was probably one of the first things I cooked with my mum, along with the beef gravy or maybe a jam tart with left over pastry.

We eat more chicken in this country than any other meat and it is difficult to find a more versatile animal. The pig can offer perhaps more dishes but pigs are harder and more costly to produce and pigs don’t lay eggs!

One of my favourite cookery books by Simon Hopkinson is simply called “roast chicken and other stories” and if you type roast chicken on Google you get 1 million 210 thousand hits.

The most popular restaurant dish in Britain we are told is Chicken Tikka Marsala. I am sure that chicken contributes as much to these sales as the Tikka Marsala element in this dish. Would Mutton Tikka Marsala be as popular?

You can now get many different types of chicken in the supermarkets from the often frowned upon value chicken to the Rolls Royce of chickens “Poulet de Bresse”
The Poulet de Bresse comes from the Bourg en Bresse region of France between Lyon and Geneva. The Poulet de Bresse chicken has its own Apellation d’origine controlee certificate. This means it is protected to the same extent as some of Frances most famous wines.

You can buy 2 value chickens in a supermarket on special offer for £5 but the Bresse chicken will cost about £30 - £35. The price difference is indeed great but is it worth paying the extra?

Generally rare breeds of all animals take twice as long to reach maturity and are half the size of their extensively reared counterparts. These 2 points contribute most to the expense of the raw product. The other and perhaps most important thing to consider is then taste. The more expensive chickens will have a much firmer and more gamey taste than the cheaper version but that might not always suit a pallet that is used to the more tender watery bird.

At the restaurants we buy our chickens from a farm in Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex. This farm produces free range chickens which reach maturity in 16 weeks and is about 3 miles from The Ginger Fox. These chickens are very good quality and have travelled very little in order to be on our menus. In the restaurant business it is always more cost effective to buy whole animals or fish and butcher yourself than to buy joints or fillets (in the case of fish). The problem with this is that you need the skills necessary to deal with whole carcasses and the flexibility of menu to cope with different dishes.

We will buy say 20 chickens at a time and then joint the birds and come up with various dishes in order to get the most out of each bird. Recently at The Ginger Dog we came up with following specials out of our chickens.

The breasts would be plainly roasted and served with a crispy potato cake, buttered runner beans and a roasted garlic cream. The legs we marinated in vegetables, thyme, bay leaf and red wine for up to 5 days and then braised. The cooking juices were then reduced for coq au vin. This dish was placed on our £10 menu and served with mash potato. In the past we have also roasted the legs with “40 cloves of garlic” to recreate the famous French classic bistro dish.

The chicken wings were salted for 2 hours and then cooked slowly in duck fat for 2 hours. The bones were taken out of the wings and then the wings were served with the sautéed livers from the chicken in a salad dressed with Cabernet sauvignon vinegar as a starter.

Finally we made a chicken consommé with the carcasses which we roasted in the oven and then clarified. We served the consommé with some bacon dumplings and a little drizzle of truffle oil.

This practice is the best way to ensure that everything is used up, that little is wasted and that the restaurants can be competitive in this market. This can also be done at home with leftover roast chicken being used in risotto with a stock made from the bones.

Posted by Ben Mckellar