Wednesday, 11 March 2009

A Perfect Hen

Sunday afternoons are the best time in which to savour the deliciousness of a perfectly roasted hen. Those poor bleached birds in the supermarket, all anaemic and pimply under their polythene shrouds, simply won't do: you need a fat, yellow-skinned bird, one that in life had a bright eye, beautifully puffy bloomers and a jolly cluck. 

Ingredients:

The aforementioned hen
A bulb of large-cloved violet and cream veined garlic (French is best)
A medium carrot (purple if possible)
A lemon
A bunch of fresh rosemary
A handful of small basil leaves
A bay leaf
Salt
Pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

Release the hen from its elasticated confines and untuck the legs from the cavity. Place it on its side and press down very hard until you hear the bones crack: all the lovely marrow will moisten and enrich the hen inside. Halve the lemon, hold the hen upright and squeeze the juice into the cavity. Tuck the lemon half deep inside the hen, followed by the bulb of garlic - simply cut in half, skin and all, the rosemary, basil leaves, bay leaf, and the carrot cut into batons. Drizzle olive oil with abandon all over the bird's skin and rub in; then grind a good quantity of salt all over so it will crisp up deliciously.
Roast in a shallow tin at Gas Mark 5, basting 3-4 times during cooking. A small to medium hen will take around an hour and a half. When roasting my potatoes - parboil some Desiree or King Edwards and, when draining, 'fluffle' them in the colander so that the outsides are all flaky, put in a china dish and pour over around half the chicken cooking liquor, add around an ounce of butter and a little salt - I like to put the hen in the very bottom of the oven for the first twenty minutes of the potatoes' cooking time, and then allow to rest out of the oven for a further twenty minutes whilst you turn up your oven to around Gas Mark 7 to encourage the potatoes to crisp.
A quick and simple gravy can be made by removing the hen stuffing and adding it to the pan juices; throw in a large glass of dry white wine and simmer over a medium burner until the alcohol's evaporated. Pass through a sieve. 
I like to serve my hen with asparagus tips, broccoli and cauliflower simmered in a court bouillon, fresh green peas, lightly sauteed savoy cabbage with spinach and red onion, and baby carrots.

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