Saturday, May 12, 2012

Basic Comfort Food

This post is dedicated to all of my friends who don't think that they can cook. Everybody can cook, they just don't realise it. Loads of delicious things are really, really easy. So I hope that one day this post helps somebody. Below I'm going to spell out really simply how to make a delicious roast dinner to make everybody happy on the weekend. Chicken is my favourite because I don't really like red meat that much, plus is is easier in my opinion and there is a big empty space for stuffing. You can't have a good roast without stuffing and gravy . I don't often make a roast chicken these days because I have nobody to feed, but finally I decided to get a small chicken and make a roast dinner anyway. Now there are lots of leftovers to make amazing sandwiches with (I pack leftover chicken, stuffing, gravy and roast potato in a sandwich to make the best sandwiches ever). There are three very important tasks involved in making a roast chicken - making stuffing, preparing the chicken and then making gravy. It's not at all difficult nor time consuming, as a lot of people imagine it would be. My way of making it involves squeezing an orange over the chicken - I'm not sure why or when I began to do that, but I like it that way.

Roast Chicken

1 large chicken
1 orange
1 teaspoon dried herbs (use a mix or just one; sage is great with chicken, so is rosemary)
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups of fine breadcrumbs (you can make your own with slightly stale bread or just buy them)
1 large onion, diced finely
100 grams chopped bacon
1 tablespoon dried herbs (same as above)
Salt and pepper to taste
Anything else that you have on hand and feel like adding (you could add dried fruit to stuffing, like cranberries or apricots, or you could add something for a bit of crunch like walnut pieces)

Turn the oven on to about 180 degrees celsius. Then the first thing to do is to make the stuffing. Melt the butter and oil together in a large frying pan. Add the onion and cook it  until it is soft. Add the bacon and cook it until it is tender. Then add the breadcrumbs, herbs, salt and pepper and anything else you might feel like. Cook it, stirring, and the fat from the butter, oil and bacon should bind the breadcrumbs together. If it is too crumbly add water, just a small bit at a time, until you can press it together into a ball. Then take it from the heat and let it cool.

While the stuffing cools prepare the chicken. Most chickens are already clean on the inside these days but you might want to check that there's nothing in there, like giblets, and you might as well rinse out the inside with some water (just hold it under the tap). Then place the chicken on a board or in the roasting dish. Take the cooled stuffing and spoon it into the chicken, stuffing it down really well with the spoon or your hands. Stuff it until it reaches the top of the cavity. If you don't want it to spill everywhere you could stitch together the flaps of skin on either side (my flatmates used to think I was really strange for sewing a chicken together) or you could secure it with skewers. But so long as you don't overstuff it you shouldn't have to do either of those things. Instead you take the legs, cross them over one another and tie them together with a piece of string. Now you are ready to make the outside of the chicken nice.

Place the chicken in the roasting dish, or on a rack that sits over a roasting dish. Cut the orange in half and squeeze half over the chicken. Turn the chicken over and squeeze the other half of the orange on. Rub it in and then sprinkle some herbs over. I read somewhere that you should roast your chicken breast side down, to keep the meat there from drying out. So place it breast side down and place the chicken in the oven. Depending on the size of the chicken it will take from 2 to 3 hours - check the packaging of your chicken because it might tell you there. Otherwise, after 2 hours insert a skewer or knife into the leg joint of the chicken. That is where the meat is thickest and if the juices run clear then the chicken is done.

Now, if you want vegetables with that roast chicken you simply add them in about half way through the cooking time. Potatoes, carrots, sweet potato and pumpkin are all good. If you place them under the roasting rack and around the chicken they will suck up some of the meat juices, which is good. But if you want plenty of fat from the chicken to make your gravy with then you could always consider putting the vegetables in a separate dish, tossing them with some oil or butter and dried herbs and baking them for an hour. Here is what your beautiful, yummy roast chicken should look like:

Roast Chicken Gravy

3 tablespoons (or more) of fat from the roasted chicken
3 tablespoons of flour or cornflour
2 to 3 cups water (depending on how thick you want it)
Salt and pepper to taste

This recipe is for the most basic gravy. You could embellish it in loads of ways, like add herbs to match the stuffing, add orange juice to match the glaze on the chicken, add chicken stock to give it more flavour. At home we would often make gravy with the water that we had cooked other vegetables in, like peas and carrots, and that was always really good.

So, the traditional way to make gravy is in the roasting pan. You take out the chicken and any vegetables that were in there and scrape all of the juicy, meaty residue into the corner. You stir in the flour and then place the roasting dish on the stove. You slowly stir in the water and then salt and pepper and simmer it until it's thick. So you could do that and have great gravy.

However, taking everything out of the dish makes for more dishes because you will have to put the chicken and vegetables on a plate or platter. That's fine if you are feeding a bunch of hungry people and placing all the food on the table in front of them. But I don't have a big table to have that sort of a dinner so I would usually leave the chicken in the roasting pan and serve people from there. So how can I make my gravy? Well, I tip the meaty, fatty juices carefully from the pan into a heavy-bottomed saucepan. I then proceed to make the gravy like any other sauce - first stirring in the flour, then slowly adding the liquid and simmering it until it is thick.

If you are anything like me you will need a lot of gravy because it's the best part. I hope that one day all those people that think they can't cook have a go at making a roast dinner and realise how easy it is. So good luck to anybody that is giving it a go!


  1. When I started to cook I remember thinking roasts would be so difficult and then found out how easy they really are. I still smile when we have guests over and we serve them a roast dinner and they are all "wow" over it - if only they knew how easy it really was ;)

  2. WHAT A GREAT POST! Love all teh details and indeed... Anyone can cook from this!

    Thank you so much for sharing
    Dave at


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