Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Sometimes Simple Pleasures Take Some Work

Simple & seasonal, with Jersey Royals & asparagus
well worth the prep
I don't know about you but I love roast chicken, I mean I really love roast chicken!

The smell of it cooking, the juiciness of the wings when they are yanked off just after cooking as a naughty chef's treat and then, the main event, that glorious white meat (or in my case I prefer the brown meat) nestled amongst some greens and roast potatoes, the crackle of browned skin, the addictiveness of reduced pan gravy... I could go on but I'm making myself hungry and I've only just had lunch!

However, there is always that between the crispy skin and juicy meat isn't there? Well, not any more! If you follow this recipe you'll have no dilemma, just gloriously juicy chicken AND crispy skin. And thank you Heston, once again, for inspiring this method of cooking.

Firstly, you'll need to start the prep 24 hours in advance but it's so ridiculously simple to do that you'll not break a sweat, even in this lovely weather!

Secondly, mix it up by all means, there's no real limit to what you can put in a brine in my experience, the only thing I do recommend is that you don't use aggressively hopped beers, they are just too bitter and counteract that delicious sweetness you want from the chicken and mess up the gravy.

Thirdly, don't over-do it on the salt, the reason why this works is that it is on the lower end of brining and means you can not only use a small amount of the brining liquid in your gravy but also that you don't have to spend ages and, let's face it currently precious water, to rinse it for an age when it comes out of the brine.

Finally, the great thing about this is, and I rarely hint at the healthy thing because, frankly, I'm more interested in flavour, but this does save stuffing a load of flavoured butter under the skin like I used to. (Although, if you don't have time for this method it's still a damn tasty way to go!)

Frying pan
Non-metallic bowl big enough to hold chicken
Sharp knife
Brined and ready to go
Chopping board
Roasting pan with trivet big enough for chicken
Meat thermometer
Oven thermometer
Kitchen towel
Small saucepan
Fine sieve/muslin

Ingredients for Brine:
1 bottle of Chimay
Handful of coarse sea salt - crushed/milled
Mild green chilli - pierced several times
Just out of oven
(browner than it looks!)
Bulb of garlic cut in half horizontally
Onion roughly chopped
2 bay leaves
6 cracked peppercorns - dry pan fried quickly
Handful of fresh thyme

Other Ingredients:
1 free range (or organic) chicken
1 lemon - pierced several times
Garlic from brine
1 pint of brown chicken stock
1tbsp dried tarragon
1 tsp sherry vinegar
1/2 tsp honey
Ladle full of brine


  1. Give chicken a rinse, if it's trussed then untruss it and remove wishbone for easy carving
  2. Put all brine ingredients into bowl, stir until salt dissolves
  3. Place chicken in brine & then top up with enough water to cover, leave in fridge overnight
  4. When ready to cook, heat oven to 90 degrees C
  5. Whilst oven is heating take chicken out of brine, reserving a ladle full of liquid and the garlic and place the chicken on a plate on a bed of kitchen towel and also place some kitchen towel on top of skin to dry it, remove after a few minutes and allow chicken to come to room temp, around half an hour should do it
  6. When chicken is no longer cold to the touch pop your lemon and the garlic from the brine in the cavity, place  on the trivet in your roasting tray in the middle of the oven and leave for around 3.5-4 hours depending on the size of your bird, keep an eye on the oven temperature every so often
  7. Check internal temp after 3 hours and every 15 minutes or so from there, and when the thickest part of the breast has hit 60 degrees turn the oven off, leave the door open for five minutes and then allow to rest in the warm oven for around half an hour
  8. By this stage I generally find my skin has crisped a bit, but if you want it browner take chicken out of oven and transfer to another baking dish/tray
  9. Whack temperature up to 200 degrees C 
  10.  Whilst your oven is heating up, put your baking tray on the hob and heat, then deglaze with some chicken stock, scrap all the gooey goodness out and then transfer to your saucepan, add your ladle of beer brine and the tarragon, reduce to your taste of thickness
  11. When the chicken is browned, open oven door and leave to rest for 15
  12. Strain off gravy through sieve to lose dried tarragon, add your honey and vinegar to taste for the gravy, whisk in, heat for a few more minutes and then carve, serve, enjoy!

Drink Match:
I am actually drinking the Thatcher's 2011 Vintage I planned to have with this as I type, but something light and fruity, soft and blonde would be perfect. A great quality lager, like Brooklyn, Freedom or Pilsner Urquell or a light ale like Adnams Explorer, Camden Wheat, St Austell Clouded Yellow or Little Creatures Pale Ale would be delightful.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Final Ride

Whilst it's not unexpected, I am very, very sad to hear of the death of Dave Wickett, a true titan of the brewing world, after a long battle with cancer.

Dave's brew, Kelham Island Pale Rider, was my epiphany beer - the beer that changed the course of my life you could say - and for that I will always be grateful to a wonderfully collegiate, intelligent and passionate man.

When I met Dave at the Great British Beer Festival for the first time, I couldn't have been more delighted that I really liked and admired the man who made it as well. 

In fact, I will freely admit that I behaved like a star-struck adolescent, stammering out ridiculous stories of how his beer was the one that made me sit up and take notice of real ale and, despite my burblings, he seemed genuinely interested in the impact his beer had on me and never stopped being interested, or interesting, during any of our subsequent conversations.

And it’s not just me that had a bit of a crush on Dave either, the whole UK brewing industry has a soft spot in their heart for him and he gets much credit for inspiring a whole new generation of brewers in the UK, not just through his own brewery but by helping other businesses like Thornbridge get off the ground too.

But where did he start? Well, it all happened when Wickett decided to throw in his lecturing day job and opened the Kelham Island brewery in 1990 next door to the Fat Cat pub and he also threw his doors open to the public.

During the brewery tours that he gave he showed off raw ingredients and he saw that men would really like the aroma from rubbing the bittering hops but that women didn’t, they like the aroma hops and a similar profile of behaviour happened when it came to the tastings.

However, he had no desire to make a lager, so he saddled up for a brainstorming session and  devised a beer that was high in aroma and low in bitterness like a lager but with a full, creamy body of an ale and Pale Rider was born.

The reports back were that the beer was flying out, being enjoyed by men and women from all walks of life and within three months it was the most popular beer the brewery has ever made and it’s not stopped winning awards either, it took CAMRA Champion Beer of Britain award in 2004 and so many others it’s hard to keep count.*

Dave, you are a huge loss to the brewing industry but I hope you know that your legacy is one of greatness, of innovation and of true leadership by example. RIP.

*this is a slight adaptation of what I wrote about Dave in my book, this is not an advert, just a clarification.