The kitchen table
Ramya Djealatchoumy on south Indian cooking | Issue 15 | 2019
—The smell of roast chicken to me is the essence of comfort food—
Roast chicken makes an appearance at our kitchen table most Sundays in one form or another. The Sunday Roast tradition is one I have embraced wholeheartedly since my move to London twenty-five years ago. The smell of roast chicken to me is the essence of comfort food and a relaxing weekend with my family. I have tried many permutations over the years, but I usually just bung a whole chicken in the oven, throwing in thyme or sage or sometimes just plain old salt and pepper, and letting it roast merrily away while I catch up on the Sunday papers.
My husband steps in occasionally to be true to his roots to make a classic French poulet roti with fresh tarragon and lashings of butter massaged onto the chicken and then basted throughout the cooking process. The buttery skin turns out deeply golden and the meat so moist that I resort to eating it with my fingers.
Occasionally, in a fit of enthusiasm and nostalgia, I make my grandmother’s classic Murgh Mussallum: a roast chicken from the Mughal era. Murgh is chicken and Mussallam in Urdu means whole or complete. Murgh Mussallam (whole chicken) is cooked dry or in a sauce (which translates in gravy) and is decorated with almonds and dry fruits. Roast chicken makes a mention in ancient Indian literature as far back as the third century BC. It was one of the favoured dishes of the Mughals and graced the tables of many a Maharajah. I have to start the Mughal chicken journey on Saturday morning in order to be ready for Sunday lunch, marinating a complete chicken with spices in all forms—fried, roasted, whole and ground—with ginger, garlic, ghee, yogurt, saffron, almonds, cashews, and stuffing it with lamb mince, mint, coriander and eggs. It takes a long time to prepare and it is a lot of work but, trust me, the end result is simply sublime: food for the Gods.
In everyday life, the Murgh Mussallam is consigned to memories of winter holidays at my grandmother’s house and my old recipe books. The next best roast chicken recipe in my kitchen to fit in after a long working week and in a gently paced weekend is my Lazy Red Roast Chicken. I call it ‘lazy chicken’ as there is very little prep and very little watching over to do and ‘red’ because it satisfies my craving for a hint of spice and the sensuous aroma of caramelizing garlic and shallots.
LAZY RED ROAST CHICKEN
Serves 4 to 6
1 large chicken weighing around 2 kg (I use corn-fed chicken from our local butcher)
2 tbsp smoked paprika
3 tbsp olive oil
1 whole bulb garlic, cloves separated but unpeeled (I make no effort here!)
1 lemon halved
400g shallots halved (banana shallots if you can get them as they are easier to peel) or red onions quartered
6 rosemary sprigs (or thyme, sage or tarragon, whatever takes your fancy)
Cornish sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Vegetables—see recipe step 3
1 Pre-eat the oven to 200°C conventional /180°C fan/Gas 6.
2 Mix the paprika with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and massage it onto the chicken, taking care to ease it into all the nooks and crannies and inside the breast (lifting the skin but without breaking it). Then, inside the cavity of the chicken, stuff 3 cloves of garlic, half a lemon and 3 sprigs of the herb you have chosen.
3 Take a large roasting tin (I have a Le Creuset one with a rack). Place the chicken breast side down. Scatter the shallots with the rest of the garlic and herbs around the chicken. (I love the taste of vegetables cooked in the juices of the chicken, so at this point I also add whole peeled carrots and potato chunks, avoiding the need to prepare any veg separately.)
4 Generously salt and pepper the chicken, squeeze the remaining half a lemon over the chicken and add the remaining spoonful of olive oil. Add a mug of water. Then put the chicken in the oven.
5 Roast for about an hour, then turn the chicken breast side up and roast or a further 30 minutes.
6 Lift the chicken and pour any juices from the cavity into the roasting tin. Put the chicken on a carver to rest. Put all the vegetables (if you have added any) in a serving dish, including the garlic cloves—to be squished on your plate and enjoyed with the chicken. Discard any sprigs of herbs from the ‘gravy’ and season to taste.
7 Serve the chicken with the vegetables, gravy, caramelised shallots and the best squishy garlic ever. A glass of chilled 2015 Sancerre works as a great flavour enhancer!
© Norton Rose Fulbright LLP 2021