Saturday. I’m writing music, using my pencil. I’m copying extensive cues from one part of a concerto for two keyboard instruments by J.S. Bach into photo copies of the second part, in preparation of a rehearsal on Monday, where I will be the only keyboardist present, and where I will have to fill the gaps left by the absent other soloist.
This act of severe retro-geekiness – writing Bach with a pencil – costs a lot of time; time I cannot spend on cooking (one may wonder where I get the time to write this blog entry). In anticipation of all this, I bought a whole organic fresh chicken (these things are possible in Southampton. I’m still amazed). Preparing a Chicken roast goes fast, and you don’t have to stand and chop and stir all the time. But even here, most of the talk is about how to fill the gaps, or rather, the chickeny hollows.
1) A real quick chicken roast goes like this: heat up the oven to 200 C/392 F. Rub the chicken, inside and outside, with salt, pepper, rosemary and crushed garlic. Put the chicken, breast down, in an open baking tray. Turn the chicken after 3/4 of the baking time. Depending on its size, bake for something like 1 1/2 hours, or until the juice that runs out when pierced (inside the thighs, where the beast is thickest) is clear and not pink an more. Let the beast rest for a while before dividing. One could possibly rub in the spices and salt on the preceding evening and refrigerate the chicken overnight – for the old brining ploy, you kneuw – but one should be easy on the rosemary in this case, unless one has some fresh leaves right from the bush. Anyway. The result is plain and quite nice, but in certain ways a waste: there is little or no juice or sauce, no filling, and there are no caramelized veggies at the side.
2) Better is the following manner, which is my expanded version of lemon chicken, a recipe from Marcella Hazan (although I forget from which of her books). Pre-heat the oven, and prepare the chicken as before. Take one or 1 1/2 un-waxed lemons, wash, and pierce many times with a fork. Fill the chicken with the lemon(s). Choose a baking tray that leaves some space around the chicken. Cut a few tomatoes in half and 2 onions in wedges; arrange the vegetables – tomatoes face up – around the chicken and sprinkle with live oil and salt. Bake like before.
After the onions have taken on some color, and the chicken has oozed off some fat and cooking juices, fill the tray with a shallow layer of water, to prevent anything from drying up or burning (burned lemon-based cooking juices are even more bitter than burned normal juices). Occasionally, turn the onions – not the tomatoes – and check the sauce level. Baste the chicken a few times with the water during the last ten minutes or so (a glass of white wine, replacing some of the water, may help with the taste, of course).
While the chicken rests, you can assemble the onions and tomatoes (discard the lemon), de-grease the sauce from the pan, and do whatever you like doing best with it: reduce it, for example. Or make gravy: in a suitable pot, melt a tablespoon of butter, roast a tablespoon of flour (or less, depending on how much sauce you have) until not yet browning, whisk in the cooking juices until smooth and thickening, check for salt.
3) If, however, you are
a) lucky and find a chicken with the livers (or find some separate chicken livers),
b) have done your homework last November and still have a few bags of chestnuts in your freezer,
c) have bought a small bit of pork shoulder together with the chicken,
you need to spend very little extra time for a true blow-thee-away quick chicken: do everything as before, but fill the chicken with
– a first filling, consisting of the cleaned and chopped chicken livers; a similar amount of finely chopped or ground pork shoulder; one small finely diced onion, pre-sauteed for a minute or so; a philosophical squeeze of garlic; thyme, pepper, salt; and about a quarter of an apple in small dice. Push this filling all the way into the chicken.
– and a second filling, which is nothing else than a handful of cleaned chestnuts (if you happen to have a few extra minutes, cook them first in a dash of white wine together with a tablespoon of butter, until the wine is gone), and a handful of diced dry white bread (never throw away an old baguette. Cut it up and put it somewhere to dry. Or: no filling!), more thyme and a sprinkle of salt. Fill the remaining empty space with the chestnut mix. Don’t even worry about sewing the opening together, just put the chicken in the tray and proceed as before. The baking time will have to be somewhat longer for the filling to get properly done.
Make the sauce/gravy. Cut up the chicken after c. 10 minutes of resting. Arrange the parts and the veggies on a platter, scoop out the fillings into two bowls and the gravy into a third, serve.