Happy 2019! Have you settled into the new(ish) year nicely? The best thing for me about the year, thus far, has been the weather. We’ve had three solid weeks of cosy, toasty weather, the kind that demands socks and a throw after 6 pm. Although this means that my skin turns to paper if I don’t slather on moisturiser twice a day, it has been glorious.
The other two things that have brought me much joy both involve roast chicken. I discovered a book called Midnight Chicken which has made me so feel incredibly happy, content..and safe in the way that only a good book, movie, song, can. The memoir is full of recipes that are both homely and inspired — you know the kind that makes you want to jump out of bed right away and bake a loaf of seedy bread even though you hate seedy bread? That kind. But really, what stole my heart was the fact that the author has a sofa in her kitchen. I mean. I’m on Urban Ladder right now checking out sofas, never mind that my kitchen doesn’t have enough space for 3 people to stand in at the same time. A girl can dream.
The second happened on one of those rare perfect days when you feel like you’re living in a movie. Last week mum came to stay with me in my apartment here in Bangalore, and we cooked our favourite meal of roast chicken and potato gratin. We discovered that my tiny but mighty OTG oven has a broiler — a secret feature that I was unaware of for 2.5 years (or not-so-secret if I’d bothered to read the manual, I suppose). Ever since, I’ve been carrying around this feeling like the world is my oyster. We spent the rest of the evening walking around Indiranagar and getting lost in the baking aisle of a supermarket. Eating takeout American Chop Suey while watching the new season of Grace and Frankie was the perfect ending to the day — I honestly can’t think of anything that could have bettered it other than maybe running into Nigella also shopping for cupcake liners in the baking section of MK Retail.
The roast chicken we made is one that has been part of the family repertoire for more than a decade. We call it The Moroccan Chicken, but I’m not sure how accurate that is. It does contain the ingredients for a green harissa, however, so we’ll go with that, for now. It was my favourite kind of roast chicken growing up, and mum would make it with spring chickens, (tiny chickens), that have a meat to bones ratio of about 1:1; plenty of gnarly, caramelised bits to pick at. Served alongside a creamy and comforting potato gratin that balances out the bright sharp flavours of the chicken, this is a meal that is hard to improve on, even if Nigella was shopping for cupcake liners in the kitchen.
Both these dishes are easy and relatively hands-off, but they take time, like most good things in life. Plan it for a day when you have a couple of hours to mooch around in your pyjamas, pretending to do household tasks, while wholly distracted by the wonderful smells beckoning you to the kitchen.
Green Harissa Roast Chicken
1 kg chicken (with or without skin; we’ve used skinless here)
2 tbsp olive oil
35 g coriander leaves
7 cloves garlic
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp peppercorns
5 green chillies
Juice from 1 lime
Salt to taste
In a mixie or food processor, grind all the ingredients for the marinade to a smooth paste.
Using your hands, or wear gloves if you’re uneasy about this, rub the marinade all over the chicken including the cavity. If you’re using a chicken with skin, push some marinade inside the skin as well by making two small incisions on the breast.
Let the chicken sit covered for a minimum of half hour, but if you can let it marinate overnight in the fridge, that would be best.
When ready to roast, bring to room temperature if it was refrigerated, and preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
Tie up the legs of the chicken with some food-grade twine (optional).
When the oven is hot, place the chicken breast side up on a roasting tin/ cast iron skillet and roast for twenty minutes. Now, carefully turn it over and continue to cook for another 40 minutes or until the juices run clear when a skewer/knife is inserted down to the bone between the thigh and the leg.
Remove from the oven, cover with foil and let the chicken ‘rest’ for 20 minutes. This helps it reabsorb moisture and stay succulent.
Carve and serve!
6 large potatoes
2 tbsp butter (salted is fine)
2 tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup all purpose flour (maida)
3 cups milk
1 tsp Dijon mustard
A pinch of nutmeg (optional)
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 cup grated mozzarella (I hate to say it, but the processed one works nicely here)
1/2 cup grated cheddar
Salt to taste
Wash and peel the potatoes. Cut them into 1/2 inch rounds.
Transfer the potatoes into a large pot with a lid, pour enough water to cover the potatoes, add salt, cover leaving just a crack open (to prevent the water from spilling over) and cook on high flame until the potatoes are cooked through.
Meanwhile, make the béchamel: Heat the butter and oil in a skillet. Add the flour and whisk for a few minutes until the roux (fancy word for fat+flour mixture) starts smelling nutty and turns colour just slightly.
Now, add the milk in batches, stirring constantly to remove lumps. Continue doing so until the sauce thickens. Adjust salt, add pepper, mustard and nutmeg, if using.
Spread out a thin layer of the béchamel, followed by a layer of potatoes. Add another layer of béchamel, a layer of both the cheeses mixed together and another layer of potatoes. Continue till you have about 3-4 layers, with the topmost layer being cheese.
Transfer to a preheat oven at 180 degrees Celsius and bake for 20 minutes. If you’re in a hurry, bake for 10 minutes and broil the top to melt the cheese.
Serve with the roast chicken.