Monday, January 30, 2012
(For Peter, who asked.)
For a party Cornish hens or baby chickens are a treat. Sorry, chickens. It's no treat for you, I know.
Here, they have been cut down the middle before roasting. One chicken is usually too much for one person, when a lot of other dishes have already been eaten and will follow. Cutting them before roasting also browns the cut side nicely, and avoids last-minute butchering at table. These were our Tweede Nuwe Jaar chickens.
There are a milllion simple ways to make a chicken delicious. This is just one. No quantities, but heavy on the herbs, steady on the preserved lemon.
Figure on half a chicken per person, unless that is all you're eating. Then you're allowed a whole one each.
Herbs: parsley, summer savory, rosemary, thyme, chives - all finely chopped and mixed.
Preserved lemon, rind only, after rinsing the salt off (substitute lemon zest, but it's a whole other animal). Cut the rind into very small pieces.
Mascarpone cream cheese
Salt and pepper
Verjus/verjuice (subs. fruity white wine)
Mix all the ingredients in a bowl so that you have a thick paste, full of herbs.
After rinsing and patting the chickens dry, cut them in half lengthways. Loosen the skin and stuff about a tablespoonful of the herb mixture under the breast skin and spread evenly with your fingers. Spread some extra herb mixture over the top of the birds, as well as underneath.
Once all the chickens have been massaged thus, lay them in a roasting dish on some rosemary branches. Squeeze the juice of a lemon over them. Season with salt and pepper. Pour over about a cup of verjus.
Roast in a hot oven (200'C/400'F) until thoroughly delicious-smelling and brown: About an hour. Add verjus if the pan threatens to dry. If you listen to it the sound will tell you when that happens.
Remove birds to a serving plate. Deglaze the roasting pan with enough verjus to make good pan gravy. Add a slosh of cream or stir in the extra herb mixture if you have any left over. Reduce by about a third to concentrate the flavour, and pour over the chickens on the plate that will go to the table. I usually serve them at room temperature after roasting.
Some bread is nice to mop up the juice.