Wednesday, April 04, 2007

A simple chicken

I am in France, under a clear blue sky. I want to cook something simple, for three reasons. The first is not to adulterate the excellent ingredients here. The second is the arrival of spring: one feels less of a need for sauces and whatnot. The third is that I do not have much in the house.

I have a very good chicken (a Poulet de Challans), though, and some potatoes described as "raclette" -- they are on the waxy end of the potato spectrum. The roasting tin is poor, so I anoint the bird with olive oil rather than butter, which would certainly burn. I wish I had remembered to buy garlic. The rosemary in the garden is flowery and unfragrant, but I use it anyway. I scatter over some coarse salt.

I start roasting at gas mark 6/200 C, for 20 minutes; that is 10 fewer than I would allot usually, because this oven is fierce. I turn down the dial to its lowest setting. I have no idea what temperature that is -- at least 130 C, I should think. I allow a roasting time of one hour and 50 minutes. (The chicken weighs about 1.8 kg. It cost 14 euros.)

Meanwhile, I peel the potatoes and slice them, lengthwise, about the width of two pound coins (two one-pound coins that is, not a two-pound coin). I soak them in water, and then pat them dry with paper towels, in an effort to get rid of some of the starch that might cause them to stick to the roasting tin. I scatter them around and under the chicken when there is about an hour of cooking time left.

I check again, 20 minutes later. Not much activity. This is when the cook starts to dither: do I keep faith that the temperature is high enough, or do I adjust the temperature? I move it up a notch, to 1.

I take out the chicken, and put it on a plate. There is sauce in the tin, but it will be sacrificed to the potatoes, which will absorb it. I stir them, turn up the oven to gas mark 6/200 C, and return them to brown, on a higher shelf, for about 20 minutes.

That's it. Chicken and potatoes. And a salad. Just a little leftover sauce. Perfect.

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