Chicken shop chicken
It’s time to start thinking about the “entertaining” season. As the year starts to wind up, there are parties, Christmas, New Year’s celebrations and holidays in the not-too-distant future. For some home cooks, feeding people en masse can be exhilarating; for others, it is daunting. Yet there are little tricks that can be used to make life easier.
Here, we have a home-cooked version of what I refer to as “chicken shop chicken”. On the few occasions I have eaten shop-roasted chicken, often referred to as “barbecue chook”, I have not been overly impressed. Especially as I have no idea, and fear the worst, about what sort of chicken has been used. I always presume it was some poorly raised factory creature. However, there is something about the flavour that is familiar to many of us. I believe it is the salt content that makes it taste so appealing.
I would list roast chicken as my favourite thing to eat. If I’m sitting down to dinner with friends, I love to roast a chook. Plenty of butter, plenty of tarragon, a liberal seasoning of flaked salt and lots of basting. It’s something I lavish attention on. This is not that roast chook. This is a version where you can pop four to six birds in a large baking dish, put them in the oven and pretty much forget about them until the timer rings. This is for chicken you can divide into portions on a platter and serve with a variety of salads at an outdoor gathering, or pop into a container and take out hours later when you’ve reached your picnic spot. This is a chicken that has been brined.
The application of salt to meat is a time-honoured technique. To me, salt is one of the most important ingredients in any pantry. Salt can bring out the flavour of foods; salt can change the nature of foods; salt can preserve foods. In this application, it does a little of each. By brining a chicken, the seasoning of the bird is more than skin deep. The salt is used to intensify flavour, but it should be barely perceptible. The bird should taste better, but not salty. This can be done using either a wet or a dry brine.
In a wet brine, salt and other flavourings are dissolved in water and the chicken is submerged in the brine. Most animals are largely made up of water, so by submerging them in a brining liquid, we allow an equilibrium to develop between the salt in the brine and the salt in their natural juices. It gives us the ability to evenly distribute salt throughout the bird at a level that enhances the flavour but doesn’t overwhelm it.
A dry brine provides more of an opportunity to add powdered spices to the salt. This allows for colour changes and the slight crunch of salt on the skin.
Both techniques bring out the flavour of the bird. And it’s a flavour that reminds me a little of chicken shop chicken, except here I have complete control over what sort of bird I choose to buy. It also reminds me fondly of the beautiful rotisseries seen at markets in France, where the brining and cooking of chickens is done with a little more reverence than the birds found at the hot counter of an Australian supermarket.
Chicken shop chicken
– 1 lemon
– 2 tbsp olive oil
– 2¾ tsp salt flakes
– 1 tsp freshly ground pepper
– 1 tsp paprika
– 1 x 1.8kg chicken
To make the spice rub, zest and quarter the lemon. Combine the zest with the juice from a quarter of the lemon, one tablespoon of the olive oil, two-and-a-half teaspoons of the salt, the pepper and the paprika in a small bowl.
To season the chicken, first pat dry the outside of the chicken with a paper towel. Rub the spice mixture over the skin of the bird and then rub a little in the cavity. Insert the lemon quarters in the cavity.
To truss the chicken, cut a piece of kitchen twine about 40 centimetres long. Tuck the wings under the bird as best you can. Centre the twine under the back end of the chicken so equal lengths of twine are where you tucked the wings in. Lift up each side of the twine, crossing it over the top of the bird’s body, and wrap it around the legs. Tie the legs together.
Let the chicken air-dry by placing it in the refrigerator, uncovered, for 24 hours.
Preheat your oven to 200ºC. Put the chicken in a roasting dish and sprinkle on the remaining salt. Put the roasting dish in the oven and baste the chicken at the 45-minute mark with the juices from the pan. The bird should take about another 10-15 minutes until it is cooked.
– 100g salt
– couple sprigs rosemary, thyme, parsley
– 4 cloves garlic
– 1 small onion, sliced
– 1 lemon, halved
– 2 bay leaves
– 2 tsp black peppercorns
– 1 x 1.8kg chicken
Combine the salt and aromatics (herbs, garlic etc) with half a litre of water in a medium saucepan over high heat. Bring to the boil. Cover and remove from the heat and let stand for 10 minutes.
Place the chicken in a bowl, bucket or bag and pour the brine over the chicken. Let it sit at room temperature for two to three hours, or refrigerate for four to six hours.
Drain the chicken and pat dry. Roast as per previous instructions.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 19, 2019 as "The chook of love". Subscribe here.