When I have been away from home for an extended period of time the one thing I crave upon returning is a golden roast chook with an assortment of vegetables. It is the flavour of home. A meal that requires minimal fuss with a reward that is so completely satisfying.
I recount the many times my mum would ask me what I felt like for dinner after having been away. Be that time away on school camp in my younger years, or time spent travelling over on the opposite side of the world. My answer would always be a roast of some sort, with lots of veggies. My mum makes the most wonderfully moist roast pork with crackling that shatters like a thousand pieces of glass. But let's get back to the humble chook, shall we?
From left to right: Eating breakfast (banana and peanut butter on sweet bread) in Cape Coast, Ghana.
With the beautiful kids at the orphanage in Hohoe, Ghana on my first trip there as part of CCS exchange program. Climbing to the top of Mount Afadjato, Ghana.
Treking the Cape to Cape track, Margaret River, WA.
Navigating rock walls at Karijini National Park, WA.
Eating dinner at our "home" in the tent under the Mango tree, Broome, WA.
This 10 man tent was our home for the three months we spent in Broome.
Karijini National Park, WA.
I learned how to drive manual in "Troopy" on our almost three-year stint through Australia.
One of our first nights on the road after leaving Margaret River where we lived for 18 months.
Admiring the view somewhere near the Pilbara, WA.
Walking the streets of Montmartre, Paris.
Trying snails for the first time.
Eating a strawberry tart from Harrods in a park with my pen-friend of 20+ years.
My very first trip to Europe with Contiki.
Watching the sunset at Cable Beach, WA.
Our very first caravan.
Our maiden trip, Point Leo, Victoria.
Womadelaide festival, Adelaide, SA.
My happy place, sitting on the step of our caravan, Adelaide, SA.
Rawnsley Bluff, Rawnsley park station, Flinders Ranges, SA.
Hiking to Pines Cave, Rawnsley Park station, SA.
It doesn't take much - lemons, olive oil, salt, and a good dose of butter under the skin are all that is needed. Even the preparation is therapeutic, it is so calming to massage fragrant olive oil and sea salt flakes over the surface of a nude chicken, is it not? It takes me back to the days I would studiously watch Maggie Beer on the Cook and the Chef. The way she handled a chook, really getting into the crevices, the folds, and under the translucent skin made me much more confident when it came to poultry.
The delightful Maggie at Merricks General Wine Store 100th birthday celebrations.
And the veggies go hand in hand. Crisp, salty, fluffy-on-the-inside potatoes are a must. Caramelized beetroot with a hint of honey. Vibrant tender green beans dressed simply in olive oil, salt, and pepper while still warm, and burnished pieces of quartered onions that open up like petals as they roast alongside the chicken. If you really can't be bothered with that, then a beautiful green salad of mixed leaves will do just fine too. Oh, and if you must, good bread to mop up those lemony juices in the bottom of the dish.
I have tried many recipes over the years, but it is the recipe that resides within the pages of Diana Henry's fuzzy-bound book, How to eat a peach, that never fails. A recipe that originally came from Marcella Hazan. Don't you just love the trickle-down effect of what it means to pass down a recipe, through the many hands that they fall into where they collect adjustments, modifications and tweaks which lead to a never-ending compendium of variations? I too, I must admit, have placed my own little scribbled variations down next to this recipe for future reference. For I like to think that one day this book will be passed on, landing on many kitchen benches and opened to a worn, well-loved page which will in turn nurture and nourish the body of a son or a daughter (or anyone for that matter) who, after days, weeks, months, or years of being away will arrive to the flavour of home.
1.6kg free-range chicken
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt flakes
60g unsalted butter, softened
4-5 cipollini onions (they are flat Italian onions that are much sweeter than regular onions)
or 1 large brown onion if you cant find cipollini
a large sprig of rosemary
1/4 cup white wine
Preheat your oven to 180c and line, with baking paper, a large enough roasting tin to fit the chicken and onions into without leaving much space around the outside. I find that if you crunch the paper up and then spread it out on the base of the dish it makes for a much more comfortable fit.
Pat the chicken dry using a couple of sheets of paper towel, on the inside and the out. lift the skin over the breasts gently to create a pocket to stuff the butter into, pressing down to spread the butter out.
Roll the lemons on your bench to soften them and then prick the skin with a sharp knife a few times. place the lemons inside the chicken and then tie the ends of the legs together with kitchen twine. There is no need to do this too tightly, it's just to keep the lemons from popping out. Stick the sprig of rosemary through the neck cavity.
Drizzle a generous glug of olive oil all over the chook followed by a shower of salt and then massage both all over the skin. place the chicken, breast side down into the tin and then scatter the onions which have been quartered, skin intact, around the bird, drizzle with a bit more oil and pour the wine around the base of the chook.
Pop into the oven for 30 minutes and then turn the chook over so that the breasts are now facing up and roast for another 30 minutes. Turn the oven up to 200c and roast for another 15-20 minutes. The skin should be golden, your home should smell incredibly comforting and the juices should run clear when the thickest part of the leg is pricked. If there is any sign of pink continue to cook for a few more minutes, then check again.
Allow to rest for at least 15 minutes then either take straight to the table to carve away, or do as I do, as I always seem to make a mess of carving chicken, and carve up in the kitchen. Position the pieces onto a serving platter along with the onions and spoon over the fragrant lemony juices. Serve with your choice of accompaniments. You may even have leftovers for lunch the following day. It is the dish that keeps on giving.