Wednesday, May 04, 2011
I'm not sure why some people only think of roast chicken as a quick ticket to a plain/simple/done-to-death/lazy meal; perfect for when you're busy running errands or having guests over. You know, just stick a lemon up the bird, dump it into a roasting pan with some spuds and plunk it into the oven. An hour later, voila, it's lunch/dinner on the table; meanwhile you'd already have a million other things done. The last few times I roasted chickens, I spent the day before prepping it, the actual day parboiling potatoes, putting the chicken to roast, taking it out to add in the spuds and then doing the dishes while the roasting went on. Did I use the wrong recipe? Of course not, Jamie Oliver's roast chicken kicked ass, except maybe for those who like theirs with gravy.
That's where this one comes in, beating the forty cloves of garlic chicken by a hair - though you can tell that will be my next one. And no, this is not one of those three-step-and-it's-done roast, so be forewarned.
Because this roast calls for herb butter. And not only herb butter quickly assembled with a chunk of chopped leaves and a block of cold dairy. You have do that and spike it up with cooked down onions, garlic and tomatoes. Then you have to blitz the concoction in a food processor. Because no matter how finely you chop those onions, garlic and tomatoes, they will not be very good friends with the chunky butter unless well, forced to. Then you have to disturb the zenness of the chicken (I'm good at making up non-existent words but hey, it's in Urban Dictionary!), all the while taking care not to poke any holes while loosening its skin. Then after a few more things arranged and poured, you finally get to put it into the oven. At this point you get to take care of a now very greasy food processor bowl waiting in the sink. Halfway through the washing (I, a clean freak, can be very slow at that), you stop and get to the basting business. Then you continue with the cleaning up and after a quick hop into the shower (in our natural sauna-like weather not just the chicken will be roasting), it's time to attend to it again - a little more basting and a lot more TLC, for which without, would be pointless.
Not that I'm complaining since I've been aching to try this recipe the first time I saw it in my favorite Australian Gourmet Traveler, six months ago. Only, I chose to do it a the very last minute one recent morning, just before leaving for Hong Kong again the next day, after making this the day before. I wanted to leave Vijay with some home cooked love before going away for three weeks and since dessert was already taken care of, it only made sense to surprise him with lunch, and the welcoming promise of leftovers.
Last minute decisions are always risky. Anything can go wrong, like those guys in Masterchef like to tell you. But then they also tell you to think on the fly, be creative and adapt to whatever the situation throws at you. So ignoring the fact that I own no food processor (I know this sounds impossible but it's true, only recently I've figured out where to eventually put one when I came back from my last business trip to this), I stormed through Cold Storage just as its doors opened and bee-lined to the herbs section. Thyme was nowhere to be found and rosemary was missing too. The stalks of marjoram though, were fresh and perky - now you know why this is tomato and marjoram roast chicken. For a good measure I also stuck in a bunch of chervil but really, as long as we're talking about improvising here, you know you can go with any of your favorite herbs for chicken.
I rushed home and zapped around my tiny kitchen like a mad woman, trying to get everything done in under two hours. It was one of my fastest stint on a new recipe, ever. Lunch was ready half an hour before noon and a minor drama with a grinder leaking with melting butter failed to dampen my spirit. Don't do what I did, use a mortar and pestle if you don't have a food processor (my pestle broke and I haven't gotten around to replacing it). The tomato butter was worth the fuss. I think it's absolutely brilliant - the acidity of the tomatoes, although already reduced from the cooking, still managed to cut through the fat and heaviness of the butter. I would definitely make more the next time to freeze for future applications.
I would advise that not a drop of the pan juices go to waste - stock, wine, escaped tomato butter mixed with chicken drippings - are you light-headed yet? Go get a bread knife. It's best mopped off with what would be left of a piece of sourdough after a few bites of it piled high with the chicken, garlic and tomatoes. If you're recovering from post-long-Labor-Day-weekend blues, a not so lazy and almost fancy yet down-to-earth tasty roast like this may just be what you need.
Tomato and Marjoram Roast Chicken
Adapted barely from the Australian Gourmet Traveler October 2010 Issue
- 1 whole chicken (about 1.6 kilograms)
- 5 small vine-ripened tomatoes
- 1 onion, cut into wedges
- 1 lemon, coarsely chopped
- 8 marjoram sprigs, plus extra leaves to serve
- 125 milliliters dry white wine (I used Shaoxing cooking wine) *
- 125 milliliters (½ cup) chicken stock
- 1 head garlic, halved horizontally
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 70 grams butter, coarsely chopped
- ¼ small red onion, finely chopped
- 1 small garlic clove, bruised
- 1 vine-ripened tomato, finely chopped
- Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (reserve lemon for stuffing chicken)
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped marjoram
- salt and pepper to taste
Make the tomato butter: Melt roughly 10 grams butter in a saucepan over medium heat, add onion and garlic, sauté until tender (about 2-3 minutes). Add in the tomato and stir occasionally until thick and reduced (about 8-10 minutes), then set aside to cool. Transfer to a food processor, add lemon rind, marjoram and remaining butter, process until smooth and combined, then set aside.
Prepare the chicken: Preheat oven to 200°C. Rinse chicken inside and out under running cold water and pat dry with absorbent paper. Slide your fingers carefully between skin and breast of chicken to separate, then loosen as much of the skin around the legs as possible without piercing the skin. Spoon two-thirds of the tomato butter between skin and flesh and massage to evenly distribute. Spread remaining tomato butter over chicken breast and thighs and set aside.
Roast the chicken: Coarsely chop one tomato, then stuff into the chicken cavity along with onion, lemon and marjoram sprigs. Tie the legs together neatly with kitchen twine and place chicken in the roasting pan, breast side down (I placed a couple of halved tomatoes under the chicken to avoid its skin sticking to the pan). Halve the remaining tomatoes, add to roasting pan along with wine, stock and garlic. Season to taste. Drizzle chicken with olive oil and roast, basting chicken with pan juices occasionally, until skin is crisp and golden and chicken is cooked through (about 50 minutes-1 hour). Remove from oven to rest for about half the cooking time.
Serve at room temperature with pan juices, tomatoes and garlic, scattered with marjoram leaves.
Do ahead: The day before, you can prepare the tomato butter to freeze it for later use or both the butter and the chicken to be left overnight in the fridge.
* Wine can be replaced with equal amount of chicken stock or a mixture of water, a little vinegar and some sugar.
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