Lemon and garlic roast chicken (aka my first ever roast chicken!)

I can make my own pasta from scratch, make brownies that are the perfect combination of fudgy and firm and tell whether an avocado is ripe just by looking at it. But I’ve never roasted a chicken. I’m a hardened meat eater but I’m yet to earn my stripes when it comes to dealing with raw meat that resembles the living, breathing animal it once was. I’m a bit squeamish, and it annoys me. In my opinion, you either eat meat and are okay with that or you don’t and you obviously don’t want to deal with a cold, dead whole chicken with feet. Also, roast chicken seems hard. My memories of my mum doing the Sunday Roast, if it was chicken because that was the one sheΒ couldΒ do, are fraught. It was stressful. It was panicked. Timing seemed to be elusive and the risk of either dying from salmonella or chowing down on dry dry dinner was always hanging in the air. All of this combined has meant I more often than not choose chicken breasts, and if I’m feeling particularly brave, chicken thighs – but I still don’t like dealing with the bones.

You can’t really claim to be a proficient cook if you can’t peel a spud and you can’t claim to make a mean roast if you haven’t got chicken in your arsenal. So, I’m manning up. This weekend, I challenged myself to present roast chicken for Saturday night tea. We’d spent most of the day walking through Greenwich and Blackheath and there’s nothing better than a traditional meat and veg meal after a very long, very cold walk, is there? We didn’t want to be too ‘normal’ though, so I packed our bird with flavour – lemon, thyme, garlic and paprika – and teamed it with red chilli sweet potato mash, grilled corn on the cob and Alex’s special homemade spicy BBQ sauce. But first thing’s first, my first roast chicken…

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You’ll need:

A whole free range chicken

2 lemons

A bunch of thyme

1 whole garlic bulb and additional finely chopped garlic or Lazy Garlic

Salt and pepper

Olive oil

Paprika

Smoked bacon rashers (enough to cover the whole chicken)

Firstly, look the bird in the bottom and snip off any elastic. Lay it in a roasting pan lined with tin foil and cover the chicken in olive oil. Massage the oil in and sprinkle with a generous helping of salt and fresh cracked black pepper. Sprinkle with smoked paprika too if you want a little extra flavour. Leave the chicken in the fridge for a couple of hours if you can, but don’t worry too much if you can’t.

Bring a pan of water to the boil and pop one whole lemon and the cloves from your full garlic bulb (peeled) in it for about 10 minutes. Then carefully poke a knife into the lemon a couple of times and put it inside the chicken. Stuff your thyme in there too with all of the garlic cloves. Spread a little chopped or Lazy Garlic over the bird as well, depending on how much you like garlic and then squeeze the second lemon over it.

Cook your chicken in two stints, totalling as long as the packaging suggests. For example, my chicken was 1.3kg, and I cooked it on 180 for 35 minutes and another 35 minutes. For the first stint, it’s simple – just pop it in the oven. When it comes out, cover it in the rashers of bacon, concentrating on the main bulk of the bird and not worrying too much about the legs. At this point, I also added a little more garlic and sprinkled a few thyme leaves, but that’s not essential. Once the second stint in the oven is complete, take the chicken out and remove the bacon. We used the bacon for our huevos rancheros the next day – waste not want not! – but it’s up to you whether you leave it on or not. If you’re a sucker for crispy chicken skin, pop the bird under the grill for 10 minutes. The skin is lightly crisp and totally succulent without the grill-session, so don’t feel obliged. Then, quickly wrap the chicken in tin foil to keep the heat in and leave it to rest for at least half of the time you cooked it.

Once the chicken has rested and all your sides are ready (you know you NEED sides!), remove the wings and carve that succulent breast meat up. I watched a quick YouTube video before taking the knife to mine. Enjoy!

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Freelance writer, eater, drinker and cook living in London.

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