Created from the desire to prepare a meal in advance; something to be full flavoured and utilising store cupboard ingredients, delicious hot or cold as the mood would dictate later in the day, I began work using a favourite ingredient - chicken.

The popularity of chicken has grown beyond expectation over the last decade or so, and much is written, from the way it is farmed to a multitude of soley dedicated cookery books.

For truly free range chicken, my thoughts immediately turn to holiday times spent at the village of Bouisse in the South of France, where despite recent EU regulations dictating that birds must be securely penned, some chickens still roam through the village, scratching and foraging in the hedgerows. On the occasions we have been lucky enough to have roasted a village bird, they are lean, succulent and flavoursome. Likewise the eggs with deep ochre-yellow yolks – perfect for dipping toast-soldiers for breakfast or producing a rich golden sponge for afternoon tea.

Otherwise, as are most of us, I am at the mercy of a supermarket or my local butcher, though quite frankly some of the price – tags, proudly speared amongst the poultry displays, would make even the those with the most robust constitution waver a little. I don’t doubt the authenticity of their former countryside lives but, for the cost of one of these delicacies I could easily feed my family for several days.

So to the supermarket I normally treck. Here in France my choice is taken from the premier Label Rouge types (here I’m using Label Rouge, the premium quality brand leader as a description of genre) – corn fed or not, or the stores own-label (budget) variety. I’m still not entirely convinced of the differences between the two (price aside). I know the argument of quality, but I am not convinced on the marketing information fed to us about farming methods. Do these Label Rouge birds really have a significantly better life than the own-label reared? I have watched, listened and read may debates about this and remain as confused now as at the beginning but importantly, not convinced. Factory Farming is appalling, and perhaps an independently assessed gauge, rather like a thermometer could be attached to the label of each bird, showing exactly how cruel or humane their former life was. A clear- to - read colour code from warning red, to amber, to green, with many descriptive markers between.

Pushing any political debate firmly to one side, I do regularly purchase supermarket own-label varieties of roasting chickens. Of
course I have also bought premier brands but I can’t always differentiate the quality between the two, even though clever marketing executives say I should. I don’t subscribe to committing a social faux pas, what I do refer to is the method of cooking a tasty bird to succulent.

For a quick mid-week roast I simply prepare the chicken by the removal of all trussing then simply stuff its cavity with a quartered lemon, or orange or onion; whatever I happen to have in the larder. Depending on mood I will then add a few cloves of garlic or perhaps a small bunch or rosemary, thyme or bay from the garden. Leave the chicken in a cool place whilst the oven preheats to 180c, all the flavours developing and mingling – this could be prepared the evening before so it is ready to pop in the oven after a busy day.

I usually roast 2 chickens together, maximizing the oven space then using one for a hot supper and one cold the following day. Either way, pour about 500ml of cold water into a roasting dish, with the chicken, then roast in the preheated oven for about 1¼ hours (for a 1.5kg bird) or until any juices run clear. Remove from the oven and cover with aluminum foil and a clean tea-towel. Leave to rest for about 10 or 15 minutes before serving, which allows any surface juices to return into the cooked meat. Meanwhile, drain the juices from the dish and use to prepare a gravy sauce.

Using the above principals for roasting a chicken, I devised the following recipe for a superbly aromatic chicken and the whole house quickly filled with warming aromatic tones. Depending how hungry you are this should serve up to 4.

  • 1.5kg chicken
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • pinch of sea salt
  • handful mixed fresh herbs, finely chopped
  • slug of olive oil
  • squirt of lemon or lime juice

Remove any trussing from a 1.5kg chicken, and place into a roasting dish, filling the cavity with the quartered onion.

Peel 2 cloves of garlic and crush to a juicy pulp with the sea salt. Add the chopped herbs then mix to a paste with a slug of olive oil and a little lemon or lime juice.

Using your hands, smear this garlicky paste over the entire chicken, outside and in then bring together its legs and tie with kitchen string, after which thoroughly wash hands in warm soapy water.

  • ½ tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp. sweet (mild) paprika

Combine the above spices and liberally sprinkle over the chicken, leaving in a cool place to marinade until you are ready to roast, or for at least 30 minutes whilst the oven is preheating to 180c.

  • 2 lemons, ends removed and cut into wedges
  • handful of dried cranberries, raisins or sultanas
  • 320g medium couscous

When you are ready to cook the chicken, pour a litre of freshly boiled water over the chicken, scatter the lemon wedges around the dish then roast for about 75 minutes or until the juices run clear. Remove the chicken and tip the juices (including the lemon wedges) into a saucepan along with a handful of dried cranberries, raisins or sultanas. Bring to a fast boil, and simmer for about 10 minutes to reduce slightly.

If you intend to serve this dish warm, cover the chicken with aluminum foil and a clean tea towel otherwise just place the chicken on a serving plate.

Place the couscous in a mixing bowl and pour in the cooking liquids. Leave until all the liquid has been evaporated and fluff with
a fork. If serving warm, quickly reheat in a microwave and serve with the carved chicken or leave to cool.

I prefer this as a cold lunch or supper dish and accompanied by a leafy green salad which has been dressed with mustard- vinaigrette and a bowl of thick homemade mayonnaise.