Heston Blumenthal's perfect roast chicken on BBC 2 last night was a refinement of the slow-roasting technique he promoted in his first book, Family Food. You brine your chicken -- a Poulet de Bresse, please. You blanch it for 30 seconds, plunge it into iced water, then repeat the process. You cook the chicken for four and a half hours at 60 C. You fry the chicken quickly in groundnut oil. Voila!
The brining helps to keep the meat moist. The blanching -- the Chinese do it with duck -- promotes crispy skin. Slow cooking means that the proteins do not squeeze out moisture. The last stage is the crisping of the skin in a frying pan.
I am sure that brining works well -- it certainly did when I tried it with belly pork. It does produce salty meat, though, so you have to be sure that you want that. However, something else rules out my trying the Blumenthal method: my oven. A not-inexpensive Parkinson Cowan, it has a lowest temperature, according to my oven thermometer, of more than 100 C.
So I shall stick to my imperfect recipe. Roasting chicken -- unless, like Gordon Ramsay, you separate the legs and the breast -- involves a compromise: you have to cook the legs properly, and to brown the bird, while trying to ensure that the breast, which requires only a short cooking time, does not dry out too much.
I follow Nigella Lawson's timings: 20 minutes for each 500 g, plus half an hour. But she suggests a temperature of gas mark 6/200 C throughout -- unnecessarily high, I think. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall tells you to lower the temperature to gas mark 4/180 C; but that, too, is fiercer than you need.
I reported that, for the first time ever, I had found my chicken not properly cooked after the standard time. At the weekend, I was determined to make no mistake. I took the chicken out of the fridge four hours before I was due to put it in the oven. (Richard Ehrlich has shown that a chicken will hardly warm up at all after the one hour that is usually recommended.) I turned the oven up to full heat for half an hour, spread butter over the chicken and between the skin and the breast, squirted over half a lemon and put the hull inside the bird, ground over salt and pepper, turned down the oven to gas mark 6/200 C, and put in the chicken. After half an hour, I turned down the dial to gas mark 2/150 C.
You need the initial blast of heat, I think, to brown the skin and to get the cooking process properly underway, so that the chicken will not have to spend too long in the oven. After that, a low temperature -- next time, I shall try gas mark 1/140 C -- will continue the job perfectly well. In my experience, turning the chicken during cooking is not worthwhile.
I took my 2 kg chicken out of the oven after one hour and 50 minutes, and let it rest in the grill section above the warm oven for 25 minutes before carving. (Hacking is what I do.) It was not perfect. But it was pretty good.
Brining chicken revisited
Heston's roast chicken: support for my scepticism