"Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!"
This irritating yet strangely unforgettable refrain allegedly originates from the Las Vegas strip in the 1970s when a standard bet was $2, which was also enough to pay for the most common in house set meal the ‘chicken dinner’. Hosts on slow moving tables would repeat the incantation indicating that a single winning bet would be enough to pay for supper.
Although I don’t gamble (one shouldn’t indulge every vice) a chicken dinner is my default Sunday roast when cooking at home. Although I try and ring the changes on a regular basis, and have recently been cooking more new recipes, there is something comforting in cooking a meal where no texts need to be consulted, there are no worries about timing or temperatures and everyone knows exactly what the end result will be like.
The essential ingredient is (rather obviously) a chicken and I always try and buy organic but at the very least get free range. This involves a £12-£15 expenditure but I think that is fully justified in terms of taste and animal welfare. I pre-heat the oven to 180° and rinse the chicken in cold water and then pat it dry with a clean cloth. Current health and safety teaching advises against washing raw poultry but I was taught to do so as a child and just can’t un-learn the practice. I then put half a dozen halved cloves of garlic and a rinsed un-waxed and fork-prodded lemon into the cavity of the chicken and then seal it closed with a wooden cocktail stick. I then anoint the chicken with some olive oil and season it with plenty of ground pepper and sea salt and a few splashes of Tabasco. I then put the chicken breast down in a roasting dish in the oven and leave it for 30 minutes while I peel lots of potatoes.
When the half hour is up I invert the chicken and add a couple of glasses of light-ish red wine (like this month’s Chinon) to its roasting dish. I then put the potatoes, roughly chopped into quarters (or smaller if huge) and dressed in olive oil, salt and pepper in a tray on the lower shelf of the oven. After another half hour I check on the chicken (adding more wine if needed), give the spuds a good jostle with a spatula to ensure even cooking and let the ensemble ride in for another 20-30 minutes until both the chicken and potatoes are crispy.
I drain the cooking juices into a double ended ‘fat skimming’ gravy boat and serve up with a steamed green vegetable, which will probably be English asparagus this month, because I eat it at every opportunity when it is in season. I have done this so many times it requires no conscious thought. If I have ‘Pick of the Week’ and then ‘the Archers’ for company and a glass of wine to sip on I’m as happy as Larry. It’s a winner.