Thursday, 11 August 2016

Chicken. Roasted, not baked

If you cook your meat in a roasting tin in the oven, some people will say that's baking, not roasting

One of the best kitchen gadgets I ever bought was a this "Rotisserie BBQ" or spit roaster, purchase on impulse over 20 years ago from a shopping channel on TV. I can;t remember what I paid, but it wasn't a lot. It's looking distinctly tatty these days, with a handle that’s a bit loose, and half of the Teflon has come off the drip tray, but the vital elements are in good working order.

It’s a very simple device. The temperature of the heating element is controlled by a dial. An electric motor turns the spit for a duration set by another dial. You can cook various things with it, but we use it mostly for chicken.

I’m generally a bit sceptical about people who go on about simple food prepared from the finest ingredients, with a minimum of fuss and embellishment, but I must confess that in this case, they have a point. All it takes is a good quality free range chicken. I used to do various things like rubbing the skin with a bit of salt and pepper, or putting a lemon or a few cloves of garlic into the cavity. I’ve found all this to be unnecessary, and usually do not season the chicken at all before cooking.

I sometimes with chips (obtained by strolling across to the local fried chicken shop while my own chicken is cooking). Usually with Hellman's mayonnaise, just like Sam Cam, wife of the former prime minister. Or with rice, accompanied by soya sauce and a bit of the fat and juices from the pan at the bottom of the spit roaster. And bottled chilli sauce.

On a trip to Hampton Court some years ago, I visited their Tudor kitchens, where food is prepared the way it was in the 1500s, when Henry VIII was in residence. I learnt from their cooks that proper roasting is done on a rotating spit in front of a heat source.

The cook assured me that the results were excellent, as all the juices and flavour went back into the meat. This was a self-basting system, and the cooks didn't need to baste the joints they were roasting. Unfortunately, due to the totally unreasonable health and safety regulations which plague modern Britain, they would not let me taste the food they were cooking. However I now understood why the chicken produced in my home spit-roaster was always so juicy.

Most people these days prepare their roast in an oven, with the meat sitting in a roasting tin, where it cooks in the heated air of the oven.  Because it does not rotate, you don't get the the self-basting that occurs with a spit roast. This, I was told by the Hampton Court cook, was baking, not roasting. If you look the topic up online, you will find that it's a bit of a grey area, as discussed here.

I have, of course, had excellent roasts prepared in an oven, but I like the simplicity and reliability of my spit roaster, and the excellent results it produces. I know that the process takes place in a sort of oven, rather than in front of an open fire, but I like to believe that I’m having roast chicken, rather than baked chicken.
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