Perfect Roast Chicken

by Susan Smith in ,


Everyone’s favourite, it’s been said "A kitchen is not truly your own until you’ve roasted a chicken in it." Simple and delicious, the perfect roast chicken is aromatic, succulent and tasty with golden, crispy skin. 

Harking back to my childhood, white chicken meat was considered superior to red meat and would most often grace the table for special occasions. Worlds away from the pitiful, intensively reared chickens that now predominate most supermarket shelves, my remembrance is of free-range, pastured, happy hens that, when their time had come, were slaughtered out of sight of the rest of the flock. 

When I was very little, my parents shipped my sister and I off for a month long summer holiday to Gear Farm in Helston, Cornwall. It was here that I endured what at first felt like abandonment but turned out to be a most edifying exposure to farming life. It was rustic. There was no running hot water so we had a washbowl in our bedroom and once a week we bathed in a tin bath in the front sitting room. The only flush toilet was outside. At night if we needed to pee we used under-the-bed chamber pots. The only in-house entertainment was a piano, which is where the family and farmhands gathered in the evening for a sing-along. My all-time favourite was our rendition of a Doris Day song ‘Que Sera Sera’, which to a little girl full of imagination and uncertainty seemed to resonate. Come to think of it, the lyrics still hold good! 

It was a simple but good life. To be woken up very early in the morning to the whinnying of a majestic shire horse stood immediately below my bedroom window, helping to herd the cows from field to farm and back again for their twice-daily milking, hand-collecting fresh, warm eggs from straw filled nests in purpose-made wooden henhouses, walking through fields of ripening wheat, gathering pure white field mushrooms ankle-deep in morning dew, peacefully watching a sow suckling her piglets. And, on the dark side, taking care to avoid the padlocked shed that housed the farm’s very large and vocal bull, lying in bed listening to the sound of a chicken trying to escape having it’s neck wrung and the squeals of terrified pigs being forced onto the slaughter truck. After all these years, I have still not managed to come to terms with the variance between life and death. 

Accordingly, at Primal Plate the vast majority of our meals are vegetarian. However, we do still occasionally eat organic, grass-fed meat, which I also buy to make into healthy, raw pet food for my cat Sushi. An occasional treat for us, a Perfect Roast Chicken is probably what most people think of as the best meal in the world!

I’ve avoided all the ‘faff and fiddle' that many classic roast chicken recipes call for, so you don’t need to be a seasoned cook to bring a perfectly roasted chicken to the table in all it’s golden glory. In fact it’s so easy to cook, it almost beggars belief. However, please don’t be cheapskate when buying chicken. Honour the bird you’re about to eat - and yourself - by paying extra for free-range, pastured and preferably organic, then follow the instructions step-by-step for the best roast chicken you’ve ever tasted.

Finally, there’s nothing much more useful to have in your refrigerator than a cold roast chicken. I like to pile juicy bite-sized pieces of cold roast chicken mixed with lemony mayonnaise, crunchy celery, fresh tarragon and crisp lettuce leaves between slices of grain-free bread to make the most deliciously satisfying sandwiches to take on a picnic with a bottle of chilled champagne. Simply add English strawberries and cream for the ultimate celebration of summer.

Hot or cold, I guarantee that once you’ve learned how to roast a chicken to finger-licking perfection, it’ll be a friend for life!  

Perfect Roast Chicken (Serves 4)

Ingredients

1 organic onion, halved

2 organic carrots, cut into chunks

1 free-range, organic chicken about 1.5 kg / 3lb 5oz

40g grass-fed butter, softened

Celtic sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

1 lemon, pricked all over with the point of a sharp knife & microwaved for 30 seconds

small bunch thyme - optional

 

Instructions

Take the chicken out of the refrigerator at least 30-45 minutes before you want to cook it to allow it to come to room temperature. 

Remove any plastic packaging and stand the chicken on a plate lined with paper-towel. Pat the chicken dry - inside and out - using more paper towels. N.B. Do not rinse under the tap, the chicken needs to be really dry for its skin to crisp up to a beautiful golden-brown.

Heat the oven to 190℃ (175℃ fan) 375℉ / Gas mark 5. Have a shelf ready in the middle of the oven without any shelves above it.

Scatter the vegetables over the base of a roasting dish that fits the chicken snugly (see photograph).

Season the underside of the chicken (its back) and inside the cavity with salt and pepper, then stuff the cavity with the lemon and thyme, if using. 

Sit the chicken on top of the vegetables and smother it all over with the butter. Then, liberally season it on the outside with a generous amount of sea salt and a good grinding of black pepper. 

Place in the oven and leave, undisturbed, for 1 hr 20 mins – this will give you a perfectly roasted, crispy-skinned chicken. 

To check, pierce the thigh with a skewer and the juices should run clear.

Remove the cooked chicken from the oven and carefully lift the chicken onto a dish or board to rest for at least 15-20 mins. As you lift the chicken, let any juices from the chicken pour out of the cavity into the roasting dish - you can use this to make delicious gravy, soups and sauces. 

 

Carbohydrate 0g Protein 70g - per serving

Cold roast chicken with tarragon mayonnaise and crispy lettuce between our  Grain-Free Bread

Cold roast chicken with tarragon mayonnaise and crispy lettuce between our Grain-Free Bread

Or serve warm roast chicken with a simple salad and our  Fast & Easy Vinaigrette  

Or serve warm roast chicken with a simple salad and our Fast & Easy Vinaigrette 


Celeriac Dauphinoise

by Susan Smith in , ,


If I could have one 'mardy' about my Primal diet it’s that I just can’t seem to tactically allow potatoes back into my life…not ever! Having initially lost one and a half stones by eating low-carb, high fat (LCHF), I have on more than one occasion subsequently pined for the simplicity and density of potatoes. Carby they may be, but potatoes are in a league of their own and their virtues are not easily replicated. As well as being a naturally nutritious whole-food, simple spuds need no more than the application of heat to make them into something very, very tasty indeed (is there anyone that doesn’t love golden, crispy roasties?). When pre-cooked and chilled (think yummy potato salad) potatoes are also an alluring dietary source of resistant starch - which is top-notch food for ‘good’ gut bacteria, and thus your overall health. Or so I debate with myself…

Unfortunately, neither my nostalgia for potatoes or their nutritional profile is of any help to me. As far as my metabolism is concerned it’s not playing! I cannot ignore the fact that previously, within an hour or so of eating potatoes, my feet and ankles would swell alarmingly. No doubt potatoes had also long been playing havoc with my blood glucose levels, but after the age of fifty the almost immediate inflammatory response (edema) not only made me look like a frump, it actually made me feel quite queasy. I may forever mourn their loss, but for me it’s a case of R.I.P. potatoes! 

Another thing that peeves me is cheese! It’s virtually impossible to be a non-meat eater on compassionate grounds and still follow Primal principles without eating eggs and cheese. Unfortunately, almost all vegetarian recipes seem to ignore the fact that the most wonderful-tasting, beautifully-textured, traditionally-made cheeses, such as Parmesan, Gruyere and Mozzarella, are totally unsuitable for vegetarians. Whilst I’ve found good-enough substitutes for Parmesan and Mozzarella, I have still not found a copy-cat vegetarian version of Gruyere D.O.P. that’s available to retail customers, which can emulate anything like Gruyere’s unique melting quality and depth of flavour. Even if you can get past the ‘no-no’ of cheese made with calf rennet, there’s still the massive cruelty involved in milk production generally, and the nutritional degradation that occurs with pasteurised milk taken from grain-fed cows. Given that not all cheese is created equal, there is one family-run traditional cheese dairy that I am happy to be acquainted with because they share Primal Plate’s ethos - a passionate commitment to animal welfare and human health. This family run business makes award-winning, artisan, vegetarian cheeses from the raw milks of free-range, grass-fed cows, goats and ewes. In this day and age of intensive factory farming, small enterprises such as The Traditional Cheese Dairy make my heart sing. Not only because they fly in the face of extreme human exploitation of animals inherent in the dairy industry, but also because their end-products taste so good and are naturally healthful to animals and humans alike. I know it isn’t always practical, but please try to seek out and support all farmers that treat their animals as animals - not just a commodity for ‘growing’ meat or as 24/7 milking machines. Raw milk from free-range, grass-fed cows is not only better for the animals it is far, far better for you.  

Wherever you shop, substitute any mature, organic, vegetarian Cheddar in recipes that call for Gruyere. You may need to ask for advice at the Deli counter. It is often a case of trial and error when you’re trying to find a decent tasting vegetarian Cheddar cheese that doesn’t disintegrate into an oil-slick when baked or grilled! I will keep you posted if and when I find the perfect one!

Rant over, I have stopped arguing with reality long enough to create a potato-like dauphinoise using that great potato ‘pretender’…celeriac. Whilst the finished result isn’t as pillow-soft as cooked potatoes, cheesy gratins and bakes always have the yummy, comfort factor that low-carbers sometimes crave - and this cheese-topped Celeriac Dauphinois is no exception. I’ve lightened-up the full-on fat experience of double cream and cheese (oftentimes called for in traditional dauphinoise recipes), by substituting dry white wine for most of the cream. The crispy, crunchy cheesy topping speaks for itself. All in all, much tastier and less rich, Celeriac Dauphinois is an excellent low-carbohydrate main course for a light family supper or when entertaining vegetarians. It’s equally delicious served as a vegetable accompaniment.  

Ingredients

3 medium/large shallots, finely sliced

2 small celeriac, total weight about 900g

½ lemon, juiced

2 tbsp fresh lemon thyme, leaves only

2 tbsp olive oil

40g butter

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg

150 ml dry white wine (I used a dry, white Spanish Rioja)

60 ml organic double cream

165g Gruyere (or mature, vegetarian Cheddar), finely grated              

60g Parmesan (or Parmesan-style cheese), freshly grated                 

 

Instructions

Pre-heat the oven to 190℃ / 375℉ / Gas mark 5

Fill a large bowl with cold fresh water and add the lemon juice.

Cut the top and bottom off the celeriac and then stand flat on a chopping board. With a sharp knife cut off the thick skin working all the way around the celeriac from top to bottom.

Cut each peeled celeriac into 4 quarters.

Using the thinnest slicer on a food processor, a hand-held mandolin slicer or a very sharp knife, cut the celeriac into 3mm thin slices. Put the celeriac slices into the lemon water to prevent them discolouring.

If not done already, finely slice the shallots. 

Heat the butter and olive oil together in a large pan until the butter has melted.

Drain the celeriac then either spin in a salad spinner or dry on a clean tea-towel. 

Add the shallots and drained celeriac to the pan. Continue to cook over a medium heat for about 5 minutes, turning the vegetables over now and again to make sure that everything is well coated in the olive oil and butter. 

Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and nutmeg then pour in the wine and continue to cook for about 10-12 minutes more with the pan lid on, stirring occasionally, until the celeriac is just tender.  

Tip the contents of the pan into a gratin dish. Scatter half the thyme leaves over the top then drizzle over the double cream and flatten the slices of celeriac down so they’re submerged as much as possible under the liquid.

Mix the two grated cheeses i.e. Gruyere & Parmesan (or vegetarian substitutes) together, then sprinkle on top of the celeriac in a thick even layer. Cover the dish with tin foil.

Place in the pre-heated oven and cook for 20 minutes. 

Remove the foil, then place back in the oven for a further 20-25 minutes until bubbling and golden brown. 

Remove from the oven and allow to stand for 2 minutes. 

Scatter over the rest of the thyme leaves before serving with a fresh green salad.

 

Notes

Cheese has a tendency to break down when cooked at high temperatures. The maximum temperature you should bake this dauphinoise - and any other cheesy casserole - is 190℃ / 375℉ / Gas mark 5, or below. If the cheese does separate and you’re left with a layer of fat sat on the surface of your Celeraic Dauphinoise, lightly dab off the excess oil with sheets of paper towel before allowing to stand for a couple of minutes prior to serving. It will still taste good!

If you like your cheese topping really brown and crozzly a couple of minutes under a very hot grill at the end of the cooking time should do the trick.  

Only buy small heads of celeriac - larger specimens can lack flavour, tend to be a bit woody and are much more unwieldy to peel and slice.

 

Carbohydrate 23g Protein 17g - per serving


Parsnip, Cranberry and Chestnut Loaf with Port Wine Sauce

by Susan Smith in , ,


In just three weeks time we’ll all be sitting down to (or feeling replete from) one of the most planned-for meals of the year; Christmas Day. I love it!  I especially love it now I’m fully committed to eating vegetarian. 

Notwithstanding that I’m not getting the goodwill vibe of the ritualistic killing of 10 million factory-farmed UK turkeys immediately before Christmas, I’m actually somewhat bewildered by people’s obsession with eating a traditional turkey dinner. If you’re not an experienced cook (and all the feedback I get tells me they’re few and far between) roast turkey has to be be one of the trickiest, most labour intensive, time consuming meals to get right. Then there’s the expense of putting a decent, organic, free-range turkey on the Christmas table (albeit, in my opinion, nothing less will do).

Putting my money where my mouth is, four years ago I blew almost an entire week’s housekeeping (£120) on a medium-sized (6kg) organic Kelly Bronze turkey for our celebration meal. To meet my self-imposed lunchtime deadline of 1pm, I set my morning alarm call for 7:30am so I could switch the oven on at 8:00am. A pre-prepared bird that size (firstly you have to stuff it and lubricate it up-to-the-nines, inside and out, in butter) takes 4.5 hours to cook, including five essential clock-watching interruptions of rather more pleasant social interactions, such as opening presents and drinking Champagne, if you want to be certain of a ‘tah-dah’ moment and gasps of appreciation when you present your perfectly roasted and dressed bird at the table. In retrospect, all the effort required now seems a bit passé and Bah Humbug for my taste! 

This year I will not be found up to my elbows in turkey early on Christmas morning, nor will I be on tenterhooks waiting for the kitchen buzzer to repeatedly call me to my basting duties. Instead, I will have pre-prepared for our delectation a leisurely, spectacular-looking, vegetarian lunch full of the flavours of Christmas, without the fuss. 

The star of the show, a Parsnip, Cranberry and Chestnut Loaf, isn’t altogether my idea. The original recipe for Parsnip, Cranberry and Chestnut Loaf first appeared in Good Food Vegetarian Christmas magazine, December 2009 and, as you can see, I’ve borrowed its presentation (sort of!). However, being a Primal-phile, my version had to be grain-free (no breadcrumbs allowed), refined sugar-free (found lurking in their cranberry sauce) and, for my taste, much more umami-savoury. Without the addition of the mature Cheddar that I’ve added to my recipe, the original seemed boringly bland. I believe that this is why many people eschew eating vegetarian, especially on special occasions, because all too often what you end up with is second-rate stodge - pastry, pasta, potato or rice and other grain-based dishes - that in their mundanity simply don’t sing-out ‘celebrate’, or entice you to eat them, even if you could. Which, being staunchly Primal I can’t - though sometimes I could kill for a decent roast potato!

In reality, vegetarians do not need to be short-changed. Even followers of the Primal/Paleo diet, who don’t eat grains or potatoes and, for compassionate reasons are reluctant to eat meat, can feast just as well, if not better than, their carnivore counterparts. This is how Primal Plate’s Christmas lunch is shaping up (although the starter and dessert may still yet be subject to further flights of fancy!): A red, green and white starter of Red Pepper Rolls with Goats Cheese, which looks like Christmas on a plate. Then, today’s amazing recipe for Parsnip, Cranberry and Chestnut Loaf with Port Wine Sauce, accompanied by Braised Red Cabbage, Creamed Celeriac and Baby Brussel Sprouts. Followed by cinnamon-laced Horchata Ice Cream with Stuffed Baked Apples in Clementine Syrup. Maybe, a platter of cheese with seasonal fruit and finally, coffee and mince pies. 

All this fabulous food with absolutely no added sugar, no grains, no legumes, no potato, no meat and, if everything goes according to my ‘get-ahead’ menu plan, definitely nothing to drive me into a cook’s frenzy on Christmas morning. In fact, I intend to spend less than an hour doing hands-on cooking on the day itself, and even that will largely involve primping the food so it looks its best on the plate! 

This should help to make Christmas everything it promises to be - a happy, food-filled celebration that everyone, including the cook, can enjoy. Almost every component of this lavish, rainbow-coloured, festive vegetarian feast can be made oven-ready and/or stashed in the fridge/freezer and ready-to-go by Christmas Eve and, in most instances, well before. By my reckoning, that means the most exacting thing I’ll have to do on Christmas day is core and stuff the apples through a Champagne-induced haze of alcohol! As much as I love cooking, not spending almost the entire day in the kitchen sounds like the best-ever Christmas to me!

Parsnip, Cranberry and Chestnut Loaf (Serves 8)

Ingredients

45g butter, plus a little extra for greasing

3 onions, finely chopped

15g pack sage, 8 leaves reserved, the rest finely chopped

180g pack cooked chestnuts

120g walnuts

100g ground almonds

1 tsp ground mace

100g good quality vegetarian Cheddar cheese, finely grated

2 eggs, beaten            

600g baby parsnips, trimmed, peeled and cut in half lengthways (or choose standard parsnips - long, thin ones if you can - peeled then halved lengthways) 

1 tbsp honey

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

180g Low-Sugar Cranberry & Orange Relish

Fresh cranberries and flat leaf parsley - to decorate 

 

Instructions

Boil a kettle of water. Grease a 900g (2lb) loaf tin with some butter, line with a long strip of non-stick baking parchment to cover the bottom and the two ends of the tin.

Melt 15g butter in a non-stick pan, add the onions and gently cook with the lid on the pan for 10-15 mins over a medium low heat until very soft and just starting to turn golden. Stir in the chopped sage, cook for a further 1 minute, then tip into a large mixing bowl. 

Pulse the chestnuts in a food processor until chopped into small bits, then tip these into the bowl with the onions and repeat with the walnuts. Now add the ground almonds, cheese, mace, beaten eggs, 1½ tsp salt and a generous amount of freshly grated pepper and mix everything together well.

Pour the boiling water from the kettle into the bottom half of a steamer. Put the halved parsnips in the top of the steamer, put the lid on and steam for 3 minutes.

Tip the parsnips onto a clean dry tea towel and pat them dry. Line up the best looking halves of parsnip (you’ll need about 10 halves) and lay them widthways, cut side down, along the bottom of the loaf tin. You will need to alternate the parsnip halves ‘thick ends to thin’ and pack them tightly side-by-side, so they fit snugly in the base of the tin. N.B. If you’re using normal-sized parsnips, cut off lengths of parsnip from the thinner ends and fit across the base of your loaf tin in the same way. Keep going until you have enough parsnip halves to snugly line the base of the tin. 

Take the parsnip halves back out of the loaf tin and set aside. Chop all the leftover parsnip into small neat dice and mix into the nut mixture. 

Melt the remaining 15g of butter in a heavy based frying pan over a medium heat. When it starts to foam add the honey and the reserved parsnip halves laying them cut side down in the pan. Fry gently in the butter (on the cut side only) for about 5 minutes or until they are lightly browned - they should be just turning golden. Take off the heat and set aside to cool. 

Heat oven to 180℃ (160℃ fan) / 350℉ Gas mark 4

When the fried parsnip are cool enough to handle, fit them back into the loaf tin, as before (cut and browned side down). Top with ⅓ of the nut mixture – pack it down well and smooth the surface. 

Spread the cranberry and orange relish on top, leaving a small space around the edges. 

Top with the remaining nut mixture and pack down as before. Cover with tin foil. 

The loaf can be made up to 24 hrs ahead, then covered and chilled, before continuing. 

Bake in the pre-heated oven for 1 hour. Take the loaf out of the oven and remove the foil, then put back in the oven for a further 10 minutes. 

Remove from the oven and allow to stand for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt the remaining 15g butter in a small frying pan and sizzle the reserved sage leaves for 1 minute. 

Loosen around the sides of the loaf with a round-bladed knife if you need to, then turn the loaf out onto a warm serving platter. Peel off the parchment paper. 

Brush the top of the loaf with the hot sage butter then decorate with cranberries, fried sage leaves and sprigs of flat-leaf parsley.  

Serve in slices with extra Cranberry Orange Relish and Port Wine Sauce.

 

Carbohydrate 30g Protein 12g - per portion

Port Wine Sauce (Serves 6)

Ingredients

2 tbsp olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

600ml (1 pint) soft, fruity red wine (I used McGuigan Estate Merlot)

1 dsp Marigold organic vegetable bouillon powder

2 tsp arrowroot powder 

3 tbsp port wine

1 dsp sugar-free redcurrant jelly

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

25g cold butter, cut into small pieces

 

Instructions

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan, add the onion, cover and fry over a low-medium heat for 10 minutes until it is tender but not browned. 

Stir in the bouillon powder and then pour in the wine, bring to the boil, and leave to simmer, without a lid, for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until it has halved in volume i.e. reduced to 300ml (½ pint). Take off the heat and strain through a sieve into a small clean saucepan

Put the arrowroot into a small bowl and mix to a paste with the port. Add a tablespoon of the hot wine mixture, stir, then quickly pour the slaked arrowroot into the saucepan with the rest of the wine mixture and stir briefly until it has thickened slightly (just below boiling point). 

Stir in the redcurrant jelly. Taste, then add salt and pepper, if necessary

You can make the sauce up to this point in advance. Either freeze and defrost overnight the day before you need it, or keep in the fridge until you want to serve.

Just before you want to serve the sauce, re-heat in a small saucepan to just below boiling point, then quickly whisk-in the cubes of cold butter to make it glossy.

 

Carbohydrate 5g Protein 0g - per portion