Authoritatively Telling You What To Do With… A Chicken!

Authoritatively Telling You What To Do With is a new series of articles1 where I leave a lot more of the actual cooking and whatnot up to you, but still tell you what you’re doing wrong in my own inimitable way. It assumes a basic level of cooking knowledge on your part but that you still need patronizing guidance, as opposed to the recipes, which assume you’re an utter moron who needs patronizing guidance. ATYWTDW will appear once every three or four weeks, when I can’t be bothered to write up a new recipe. No, I’m not sure about the capitalization either.


In terms of an effort invested to quality of results ratio, a whole chicken scores extremely highly. Other members of the Classic Sunday Lunch Quartet2 pay off more dividends if you know what you’re doing, but any idiot can take a chicken and turn it into something succulently delicious in a couple of hours.

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Obviously there are other things you can do with this lot, but the roast is the easiest. Take a bit of butter, a slightly-manky lime that you rescued from the fruit bowl, and a bit of butter. Bash on your herbs and that. Squeeze your lime juice over it and then shove the lime where the sun don’t shine. Maybe make a marinade out of some spicy bits, garlic and oil. Look, this is ATYWTDW, the assumption is that you already know what you’re doing when it comes to roasting a chicken. Instead, I’ll move onto the section I’ve decided to call received wisdom about chicken that is actually bullshit.

Received wisdom about chicken that is actually bullshit #1: Everybody lies about time!

Pick any two recipe books off your shelf. If they’re the same recipe books that I pulled off my shelf, the otherwise excellent advisors within will tell you that your chicken needs 90 – 100 minutes’ worth of roasting. And look at this:

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This guy is full of shit. You’re roasting a chicken here, not making a quick sandwich before you run out to pick up the kids. Savour it, for God’s sake! Take your bastard time. After the prescribed 1 hour and 36 minutes, the bird above looked like this:

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Is it edible? Yes, it probably is. The old adage about jabbing in a skewer and seeing if the juices run clear presented a perfectly transparent-looking grease. Is it delicious, though?

Look at the pale, barely crispy skin. Look at the pallid flesh, just barely in the region of cooked. Look at those wings, resolutely not falling apart.

This is not a delicious chicken. A delicious chicken requires at least two hours’ cooking time. It should be falling off all the bones at once, the juices bubbling all over the place and the skin so crispy you could eat it as a pub snack.

Received wisdom about chicken that is actually bullshit #2: The breasts are the best bit.

This is all advertising’s fault. It’s all “100 per cent succulent chicken breast” this and “grilled breast of chicken” that and “boobs off of a chicken-bird” the other. Commercial whatsits want to sell you chicken breasts because they’re the easiest to prepare and serve.

Legs and thighs are where the flavour is. Curries, pies, stews. If you’re putting chicken in it, you use chicken thighs. If you want to give someone the most flavourful bit of a roasted chicken, you hand them the leg3. The breast is for the people who you invited for dinner but didn’t really want there.

Received wisdom about chicken that is actually bullshit #3: Peel back the skin and carve.

Peel back the skin! This is genuine carving advice I’ve seen in chicken-roasting recipes. Written by MENTALS. The following advice is all you need:

  1. Take the skin, the delicious greasy skin, and pull it from the chicken with your fingers. Feel the oils and the crunchy flavour bits as they roll between the pads of your fingers. Savour this moment.
  2. Look around the kitchen. Is anyone watching?
  3. There’s nobody watching. They’re all in the dining room, waiting for you to bring the Sunday dinner out, remember?
  4. Shove all the greasy chicken skin into your mouth. All of it. Slurp it down, coat your mouth with the deliciousness of it all.
  5. There’s grease on your chin now, but you love it. It’s the sign of a winner. As you chew the last morsels, wipe your chin with the back of your hand like a champ.
  6. Feel sick. Hang your head. Why did you do this? You’ve eaten a meal’s worth of grease in one mouthful and you now have to go sit in the dining room and eat with everyone else like you’re a normal person. You’re not a normal person, you’re a greasy sicko.

Received wisdom about chickens that is actually bullshit #4: Those weird bags they come in now.

Roast in this bag that we in the shop have provided for you. Take your recipes and your love of making delicious food and shove it. We have placed this chicken in a weird plasticy bag and you can fucking well roast it in it. And in the little foil thing too. We own you.

I don’t know where those weird bags came from, but you can’t buy a supermarket chicken without one these days. They’re there to tell you that it’s suddenly so easy to roast a chicken, but it’s always been easy to roast a chicken! They just want to control you, with their bags. It’s probably where all the plastic bags went now you have to pay for them.

Extract your chicken from the bag at the earliest opportunity. You can use the foil tray thing it came in if you must. It comes in handy if you’re using a honey-based marinade and can’t be fucked with the washing up. Just cover it in foil, making sure to take it off about twenty minutes before your two hours are up in order to crisp up the skin.


 

That’s the lot! This is the bit where I put a closer in there and pretend like this is a newspaper website and I want people to share their roast chicken tips in the comments section. So, yeah. Do that.

Incidentally, my favourite full-on recipe for roast chicken is this one, which has a relatively high faff-and-marinade factor, but it tastes epic. Don’t listen to this chap about roast potatoes, though, it’s difficult second album syndrome. 

 


  1. Articles! Hark at him! 
  2. You’ve got beef up front, obviously, with pork on the left wing and a solid midfield presence in lamb. Chicken’s in goal.4 
  3. Except for that weird gristly jelly bit on the drumstick! What is it, why is it so horrible, and why can’t butchers get rid of them? 
  4. Is this legit sports chat? It sounds like the legit sports chat that people sometimes say around me at work. Let me know in the comments if you doubt its legitimacy. 
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Bloody Hell, Why Did I Make So Much?

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A Continuation of Our Offensive Tour of Italy

Bolognese is a hard thing to get rid of. Which is to say, it’s really easy to feed to people, and they’ll probably eat it without having to discretely tip it out into a plant pot or forever terminate their friendship with you, but there’s always some spare. What to do with it, though, long after all your guests have left and eating an entire bowl of spare sauce to yourself seems wildly indulgent at best and painfully rich at worst?

Some Sort of Lasagne

Serves 2, probably

What you will need

A dish to bake it in – It can be any size or shape, really, but rectangular is best for reasons I’ll explain in a minute. I’m listing it at the head of this section despite it being not an ingredient because I’m about to make reference to it two paragraphs down. Besides, this isn’t called the ingredients section, smartarse, it’s called the what you will need section.

Your leftover bolognese – Depending on how much you have left it might or might not be worth bothering with this, to be honest. If there’s not that much either warm it up and have bolognese two nights in a row, or freeze it until there’s loads. If you left it sitting in the pan overnight before you thought to bung it in the freezer or something, refresh it with a bit of red wine1.

Some stuff to bulk it out (optional) – If you’ve loads of bolognese left, you won’t need stuff to bulk it out. Pour the bolognese into the dish to find out2. You want the sauce to be deeper than your middle thumb knuckle at the least. If not, you want some stuff to bulk it out with. Good some stuff to bulk it out with might include:

  • Mushrooms. Slice and sauté[^3] them.
  • Asparagus. Griddle them in sort of bits that are approximately the same size as you might imagine a serving of lasagne to be. That way, when you serve it all up it will look neat, as though you planned it that way.
  • Baby corn, maybe? Griddle it in butter and it’ll probably do the job.
  • Other veg or something, I don’t know.

If you’re using some stuff to bulk it out with, you should mix the some stuff to bulk it out with into the sauce, unless you’re using long bits of some stuff to bulk it out with, in which case you should lay them delicately atop the sauce, like an artist.

Some sheets of lasagne – Ideally, you’d want one sheet of lasagne the exact dimensions of your dish. The only way that would happen is if you made your own pasta, and if you make your own pasta, why the hell are you reading this?

A good bit of butter – Call it 75g, give or take.

Flour – A couple of tablespoons’ worth, ish.

Three decent handfuls of grated hard cheese – Obviously this being a traditional Italian dish savoured throughout the generations, the best cheese to use is cheap pre-grated Cheddar from Lidl3. Any cheese will do, really. In the photos it’s mostly the Lidl Cheddar and also bits of a mini Babybel.

About half a pint of milk

Cooking time: Ten minutes’ faff, an episode of the Simpsons’ cooking time.

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Directions:

If you haven’t already, spread the sauce around in the bottom of your dish and add your some stuff to bulk it out with. Cover with a layer of the lasagne sheets, without making them overlap but also while still covering as much of the surface area of the sauce as you can. This will involve snapping off bits of the sheets, probably, then dropping them back into the box or throwing them away because they’re so tiny, then realising you could use them to fill out this next bit, scrabbling to get them out of the bottom of the box, because have you tried getting shards of lasagne out of the bottom of the box without spilling stuff everywhere?

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C or 360 degrees Fahrenheit (who uses Fahrenheit?)

Put the butter in a saucepan and melt it over a medium-high heat. When completely melted, throw in a couple of spoonfuls of flour. Mix intently, till it looks like the above picture.

Faff around with your phone trying to get a decent picture for so long that the roux4 starts to burn (optional).

Pour in the milk, a little at a time, and whisk the crap out of it. At some point, you’ll know when, it will reach optimum thickness5. Take it off the heat and season.

Add about two-thirds of the cheese, and mix well. Pour the cheesy goo all over the lasagne sheets, ensuring as even a coverage as you can.

Scatter the rest of the cheese all over the top. Technically the aim of this bit is to provide a slightly toasty texture to the top of the lasagne, but the real reason is that you can add extra coverage to any areas where the cheese sauce isn’t quite covering the bits of lasagne. Cheese covers a multitude of sins.

Bake in the oven for 25 – 30 minutes, until the top is golden and cripsy. I think you’re supposed to serve it with a salad or something on the side, but I just eat it on its own, maybe with a pork chop.

If I catch anyone eating lasagne with chips there’ll be trouble, though.


  1. I invented the term. It means “pour a glug of wine in with the sauce and then heat it all up a bit”. I have no idea what, if anything, it does, but it seems to make the sauce more saucerer. 
  2. See? That’s why. You try constructing a logically parseable list of ingredients without referencing the dish, if you think it’s that easy. 
  3. Real talk time. Pre-grated cheese versus cheese in a big block. Price considerations aside (that auto-grater machine they have at the cheese factory is clearly more expensive to run than you’d think), the real decider in the pre-grated / block decision is how long it’ll be in the fridge. It’s basic maths. There’s not as much surface area in a block of cheese, so if a bit of mould gets to it you can cut off the offending section, or even the entire surface of the cheese and still have functional cheese left underneath. A bag of grated cheese, though, is pretty much all surface area. Once mould gets to any of that, you’ve just got a big bag of green gross. 
  4. French for flour-and-butter-mix-stuff. 
  5. Basically, it’s when the amount of effort put into the last measurable gain in sauce thickness is more than double than the amount of effort put into the previous measurable gain in sauce thickness. 

An Insult to its Italian Heritage

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Serves 3-4

Long, long back in the midsts of time, some shepherds or something outside Bologna or somewhere mashed up tomatoes and animal and ate them together with pasta, and thus a tradition was born.

I once studied under a wise old Italian chef1, who taught me that the monstrosity knocked together by British people under the name bolognese is nothing of the sort, and calling it that basically represents Britain not yet having got over being occupied by the Romans in the 1st Century2 AD.

Fuck that guy, though. Have you seen how long it takes to make a proper bolognese? They spend all day at it, stirring and poking and basically not watching any telly at all. This recipe is good enough for me and you.

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What You Will Need

Onions – I’ve gone for one medium one and one small one, but you could use one big one, or three little ones, or half of one absolutely massive one, or even three medium ones and have a bit more onion in your sauce, it’s basically all fine.

Garlic bits – Two or three garlic bits. I understand these to be called cloves, though for a long time I thought the whole bulb was called a clove. This was because of the Game Boy game Super Mario Land 3: Super Wario Land (five Mario coins out of five)3.

At least two of the following:

  • Passata – Passata is Italian for “tomatoes, but all mushed up in a tomato musher”. It is one of the kinds of red goo you get these days. Passata comes in a 500g thing most of the time.
  • A can of chopped tomatoes – Chopped tomatoes is Italian for tomatoes that have been chopped up and put in a tin. Tinned tomatoes have normally been through the tomato musher at least once, unless you get plum tomatoes in which case they haven’t. Plum tomatoes are so called because normally you buy them only because you meant to buy chopped tomatoes and you only spot your mistake when you get home, which makes you feel a right plum.
  • A bit of tomato puree – Tomato in its purest form, it has been through the tomato musher at least three times and is really tomatoey.

Mince – Mince is English for “sweets which freshen your breath4 “. Beef is best, but you can use pork to feel authentic. You want about 500g, fat content 15 – 20%. Ignore those packets of mince boasting about a low fat content, they’re basically ripping you off. Fat is the most delicious bit of food.

The scrag end of that bottle of wine you couldn’t be bothered to finish – I’ve gone fancy this time with port, but you can go for red or white or whatever else. It’s really only there to make you feel like you’re a proper chef.

Pasta – Pasta comes in two forms, lumps and stringy bits. Stringy bits like spaghetti, linguine, etc are a bloody waste of time. You have to work to get them all into the pan without snapping any, they’re a faff to serve up5, and then when you’re eating it you’re guaranteed to get sauce all down your shirt. Steer clear, and go for lumps instead. Swirly bits, pointy bits or shells, they’re all great. If you can find some shaped like dinosaurs, then all for the better. You should cook more pasta than you need, because I always do and I don’t see why anyone else should get it right.

Flavour bits – Flavour bits are the things that make the sauce taste more than just of beef and red. Classic flavour bits include herbs and that (rosemary is a great herb and that, and you could go for oregano, a bay leaf and that mysterious jar labelled “Italian herb mix”), salt, pepper, stock cubes, those weird stock jellies they do now, spice things or bits of sausage6.

Cooking time: Twenty minutes’ faff, one-to-two episodes of a high-quality drama’s cooking time.

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Directions:

Chop the onions and garlic bits into smaller bits.

Heat a bit of olive oil7 in a big pan on a medium-high heat. Throw in the oniongarlic bits. Cook them until soft, then add the mince. Fry until the meat is browned all over.

If you’re using wine, now is the time to throw it in there. Let it cook for a bit until it seems like it’s gone all syrupy and absorbed into the meat. This may or may not improve the flavour of the overall dish, I’m not really sure.

Add the mushed tomato products. At this point, your dish should be very red and bubbling, like a volcano from a kids’ film in the 80s. Turn down the heat.

Go watch your high quality drama product, poking the sauce occasionally. After episode one, the sauce will be ready. If you’re willing to wait for the end of episode two, it will be rich as all balls. Waiting any longer than that means you’ve got too much time on your hands and you should have gone for a fancier recipe in the first place.

Cook your pasta, serve, and enjoy with a massive cup of tea or something.


  1. Read it in the glossy magazine bit of a Sunday newspaper. 
  2. Paraphrasing8
  3.  Remember when Nintendo used to call their game cartridges ‘game paks’? Aiming for the ‘edgy motherfucker’ market with their intentionally poor spelling, though I’m not sure they were after the proximity in spelling to a certain famous racist epithet. They’ve had form for this kind of not understanding English properly long before the Wii was on the scene. 
  4. Last joke of the form “is X for [insert silly thing here]” in the recipe, I promise. 
  5. Don’t you bloody dare tell me to use one of those spaghetti server things, they’re worse than a big spoon. 
  6. Well, I say sausage, I mean those crazy sausages you get in foreign parts. Not good British bangers, no indeed. 
  7. I didn’t tell you to have olive oil in your cupboard, because I’m not your mother. You have to take responsibility for yourself at some point. 
  8. But still basically true. Fuck those Jupiter-worshipping pricks, they cheated and we weren’t ready. We let them win. We all fought with one hand tied behind our backs. It rained a bit and all the blue paint ran into our eyes. Look, we won on the rematch, yeah? Enger-land, Enger-land, Enger-land.