Sometimes familiarity breeds contempt and that has surely been the case with one of my trademark dishes – Roast Chicken with Garlic and Lemon. This is a dish that I have been cooking for years. It gets trotted out at regular intervals if friends are coming round for dinner and for many years it, and a variation on Apple Crumble, were my fail-safe dishes for those occasions. In fact, a poor housemate that I lived with for a couple of years must have gotten well sick of the sight and smell of garlic and lemon!
For all that I criticise it, this recipe is a great one to have up your sleeve – and it leads to endless variations. I think I got the original idea from the ever fabulous Nigel Slater but I’ve been tweaking it ever since, adding chopped or whole garlic cloves, a glass of white or red wine at the beginning or end of the cooking time, not adding any liquid at all, sitting the chicken on a bed of onions and/or other vegetables and experimenting with herbs – fresh thyme and rosemary being two of the most readily available favourites.
It is the work of minutes to prepare the ingredients then all you have to do is put your roasting tin in the oven and let the heat go to work. You can make this dish with a whole chicken or pieces. If I am cooking a whole chicken I normally put a lemon half into the bird. If not, I snuggle the halves into the tin with the chicken pieces. I normally use thighs, favouring the dark juicy meat over the white breasts. For this recipe I am going to presume that you are using chicken pieces – make sure they come with skin and bones intact. Crispy chicken skin is one of life’s pure joys. And do try to cook free-range chicken if you can at all afford it. The flavour is just so much better – and there’s none of the associated guilt that you get from eating chickens that have had an unhappy factory life. Having said that, this recipe does give flavour even to the most pallid of supermarket chooks.
Chicken with Garlic and Lemon
Free-range chicken – a couple of pieces per person
Onions – 3 or 4, peeled and sliced
Garlic – 6 cloves, unpeeled, and 2 cloves peeled and cut into slivers
Thyme or rosemary – a handful of sprigs
White wine – a glass
Lemon – 1, skin scrubbed of wax and halved
Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
Rinse the chicken pieces and pat them dry. Using a sharp thin knife, poke holes in the fleshiest parts of the meat and push the slivers of garlic into them. Put the onion slices into a roasting dish with the whole cloves of garlic and toss with a slosh of olive oil. Pour the wine into the dish then lay the herbs on top of the onions and the chicken on top of that. Squeeze the lemon over the chicken then sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Tuck the squeezed lemon halves into the pan.
There’s nothing more to do. Put the chicken into the oven and let it be for about an hour. Don’t worry about forgetting it – the smells from the oven will ensure you remember. The chicken will be ready when the juices run clear when tested with a skewer. The skin should be crispy and golden, the onions slightly caramelised and it should look and smell irresistible.
I normally serve this with basmati rice and roasted carrots, making sure that everyone gets a serving of the sweet juicy onions which, to my mind, are one of the best parts of the dish.