If you invite people over frequently, you clearly enjoy the party as much as your friends do.
If you enjoy the party and cook the food, you clearly have some secrets that you would like to share.
My great—and shameful— secret is roast chicken.
It’s shameful because I consider chicken north-Indian vegetarian comfort food, like paneer. The broiler in Delhi is so ubiquitous, and so lacking in flavour (though not as bad as the giant chickens they sell in the US supermarkets) that I refuse to consider it proper non-vegetarian food.
Though I like to fuss over roast duck, pork or leg of lamb when I am so inclined, I serve chicken at parties because:
(a) Most people stick to chicken in this era of healthy eating and
(b) It’s the easiest meat to handle when you’re having fun.
Also Read Samar Halarnkar’s previous columns
I have previously written in this column a pretty intricate recipe for roast chicken that involves much pre-roasting and grinding of spices (available on my blog). But I’ve realized there is watch-me-roast chicken and there is forget-me-as-I-roast chicken.
Sometimes, I don’t want to swelter in the kitchen while everyone’s having fun outside. At the same time, I don’t want anyone else sharing the duties of my little kingdom, so I’ve learned to evolve recipes that let me rule from the outside.
The key is to use few spices, simple flavours and—most important—a low oven temperature and a casserole with a cover.
The low temperature allows the chicken to roast in peace without burning while you enjoy your cigar and rum, or whatever your poison. The covered casserole gets some juices flowing and allows the chicken to baste itself without drying out.
You do still need to come in perhaps every 45 minutes and shake up the casserole so that the juices lap the chicken properly, but that’s a small effort.
You can keep the casserole closed and serve the chicken that way, but if you like that golden, roasted look, then you may have to step up the heat for the last 30 minutes and do some old-fashioned watching and basting every 10 minutes.
Last week, when my parents were due from the airport, I popped a chicken—I use full legs cut into three—into the oven at low temperature and even dropped in at a friend’s house in the neighbourhood for an hour.
Fortified by a gin-and-tonic and some pleasant conversation, I strolled back and peered into the oven. The bird was browning slowly and god was in her heaven. After a shower, all was still well.
Only after 2 hours did I open up the casserole, step up the heat and spend some time creating a golden-brown colour. I retained much of the liquid because my father loves it.
I’ll say this for the humble broiler chicken: It’s very versatile, and the variations when you pop it into an oven are endless. I’ve used Chinese five-spice powder as the base for the recipe below, but you can use any combination of spices.
Don’t let you imagination limit you. RIP.
Five-spice slow-roast chicken
1kg chicken, cut into pieces
1 tbsp ginger-garlic or garlic paste
6 tsp Chinese five-spice powder (or garam masala or any combination of spices)
2 tsp chilli powder (you can use any chilli powder; I often use New Mexico chipotle powder, when I have it; this time I used a Konkan fish masala!)
Marinate the chicken with all the ingredients for at least 1 hour. Place in a casserole with a fitting lid. If you don’t have a casserole, spread chicken in an oven tray and wrap with aluminium foil.
Preheat the oven to 150 degrees Celsius for 10 minutes before putting in the chicken. Retain same temperature, and let it roast undisturbed for at least an hour. As you roast more often, you will get a hang of how long. You will find juices collecting in the casserole. Shake the casserole so the juices lap the chicken. Use oven mitts and be very careful. If you are not used to doing this, remove the casserole, open the lid and use a long-handled spoon to scoop up the liquid and pour over the chicken. Put the chicken back in the oven for another 45 minutes to an hour before basting again. It will be ready to serve. However, if you want to reduce the liquid and make the chicken a rich golden-brown, increase heat to 200 degrees Celsius. Baste every 10 minutes until chicken is golden-brown. Finally, garnish with chopped parsley or coriander.
This is a column on easy, inventive cooking from a male perspective. Samar Halarnkar writes a blog, Our Daily Bread, at Htblogs.com. He is editor-at-large, Hindustan Times.
Write to Samar at firstname.lastname@example.org