For those of us of a certain age, we know what’s meant when a poultry farmer declares his birds ‘taste like chicken used to taste’.
So much of what we buy in the supermarkets today is so bland it is good for nothing more than as a vehicle for other flavourings. But a chicken that tastes like chicken needs little assistance in the tastebud-tantalising department.
A sprig of thyme, a zing of lemon, a pungent whiff of garlic – that’s all you need to take near-perfection to perfection.
Thankfully, good chickens are not hard to find in Britain. Even supermarkets stock free-range and organic birds that – for a couple of more pounds than a barn bird – make a very satisfying Sunday roast.
But GREAT chickens aren’t so easy to come by. It takes lots of trial and error to find the perfect bird. The best chicken I’ve ever tasted is France’s AOC-accredited Poulet de Bresse – but at £30-plus for a bird, it’s only a twice-a-year treat.
Thankfully, I’ve discovered a bird that was literally right under my butcher’s nose: Sutton Hoo.
Sutton Hoo Free Range Chickens cost around £15 for a 1.5kg bird – but they’re worth every penny. They are a traditional slow growing breed and the birds roam freely on 40 acres of pasture overlooking the River Deben in Suffolk.
Their website says this: ‘The birds live in small groups and shelter from the elements in mobile houses that have no artificial lighting and are naturally ventilated. Their playground is the tussocky grassland at Sutton Hoo. From about two weeks of age the happy chicks venture outside to enjoy exploring under Suffolk’s vast open skies. From then on all feeding takes place outside by hand with additional nutrients foraged from the surrounding vegetation.’
They also produce organic chickens, which are fed a certified organic diet. However, they are raised in exactly the same way as the free-range and for me, the most important aspect of choosing a chicken is the bird’s welfare (as well as how it tastes).
This recipe – for 2-4 people (depending on appetite) is about as simple and effective as a Sunday roast can be.
1 Sutton Hoo Free-Range Chicken, weighing approx. 1.5kkg
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 sprig of thyme
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp salt
300ml chicken stock
1 glass white wine
1. Put the chicken in a roasting tin then rub the chicken skin all over with the garlic, then put the garlic in the cavity. Halve the lemon then squeeze the juice over the skin. Put this in the cavity, then add the thymne. Sprinkle salt and pepper over the chicken skin, then massage in with your hands.
2. Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Cook the chicken for approx. 1 hour until the juices run clear when a skewer is inserted into the thickest part of the thigh.
3. Remove the chicken from the tin and transfer to a plate. Remove the lemon, garlic and thyme from the cavity and leave in the roasting tin. Cover with the chicken with tin foil for at least 20 mins to rest (this allows the juices to relax back into the meat, which makes it more juicy).
4. With a spoon, remove the excess fat from the roasting tin, then heat the tin over a high heat and add the white wine to de-glaze the tin. Add the chicken stock and bring to the boil. Sieve the gravy into a small saucepan and reduce to desired quantity and consistency. If you want a silky finish, mix together a knob of butter with 1 tsp plain flour into a smooth paste, then bring the gravy to the boil and whisk in the paste.
5. Carve the chicken and serve with spring greens and goose fat-roasted Maris Piper potatoes and roasted carrots.