A roast is usually the center of the Christmas table. Here in England, more often than not, the roast is a turkey.
Turkey is not the easiest bird to cook. Even chefs say so themselves. It is its size that poses a challenge even to experienced cooks. The whole bird has to be cooked throughout, be juicy and succulent and have a well browned and burnished skin. In other words, perfect.
A turkey does not always fit in everyone's situation. Some families are small and can't consume a whole bird. Some traditions dictate an assortment of different kinds of food instead of just a roast and trimmings. My answer to both situations is a chicken.
I know that chicken may seem ordinary to some but if seasoned with festive flavours, I think it fits the bill perfectly. The seasonings I've used here is the very same one I use for my Christmas turkey. Cinnamon, star anise, cloves and oranges create a perfumed brine that infuses the chicken with a heady aroma and intense flavour. Warm feelings arise as the scent of the spiced roast chicken pervades the whole house. The taste is definitely the flavour of Christmas. It can make a festive meal on its own with roast potatoes, gravy and simple vegetable dishes. It won't be out of place with other Christmas dishes either.
Ingredients for the brine:
1 stick cinnamon
1 star anise
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. cracked peppercorns
2 c. water
2 tbsps. sea salt
1/4 c. brown sugar1 orange, sliced
1 onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1/4 c. light soy sauce
Put the cinnamon stick, star anise, cloves, bay leaf and peppercorns in saucepan and add 2 c. of water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.
Add the salt and sugar and stir to melt. Leave to cool or add ice cubes to speed up the process.
Mix this flavoured water with all the ingredients in a large non-corrosive mixing bowl. Add about a liter of water. Squeeze the orange slices to extract the juice.
Ingredients for the roast:
1 whole chicken
brine (follow the recipe above)
1/4 c. softened butter plus extra for basting
2 tbsps. boiling water
2 tbsps. marmalade
1 tbsp. light soy sauce
1/2 tsp. dark soy sauce
Put the chicken in the brine and top up with enough water to cover the chicken. Tuck in a few of the spices, orange and onion slices in the cavity. Lay a plate upright on top of the chicken to weigh it down and keep it submerged in the brine. Wrap the bowl tightly with cling film and refrigerate for a maximum of 24 hours.
Before roasting, take the chicken out of the brine and drain. Set aside to bring it to room temperature before cooking.
Pre-heat the oven to 400° F/200° C.
Separate the skin of the breast from the meat gently, using your fingers or a spoon. Put a heaping tablespoon of softened butter between the skin and the meat of each breast. Massage to spread. Use the rest of the butter to grease the chicken skin.
Set on a roasting rack over a pan of water. You can add a sliced onion, 1 carrot and a stick of celery to this water and use it as stock for making the gravy.
Roast for 20 minutes at the pre-set temperature. Turn down the temperature to 350° F/180° C and roast for 20 minutes per half a kg., turning halfway through the cooking time.
To test for doneness, prick with a fork at the thickest part of the meat. Carefully and briefly touch the fork to your lips. It should feel hot. The juices that ooze out should run clear. Hold the tip if the drumstick and give it a shake. It should move easily.
Mix the boiling water and marmalade and soy sauces. Use this to glaze the chicken. Roast for a further 10-15 minutes just to set the glaze.
4 tbsps. butter
2 1/2 tbsps. flour
strained pan drippings plus chicken stock to make 3 cups of liquid
2 tbsps. evaporated milk
Heat up 3 tbsps. of butter in a pan. Blend in the flour and cook on medium heat until the flour becomes golden in colour.
Take off the heat while you add the stock gradually while stirring with a whisk to incorporate.
Return to the heat and bring to a boil while still stirring. Simmer for 3 minutes. Add the milk and the last tbsp. of butter.
Take off the heat and transfer to a gravy boat. Serve with the chicken.
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