Regarding such a simple-seeming recipe as roast chicken, we wouldn’t fob you off with any old advice. We went straight to the top, to Rowley Leigh, the distinguished chef-patron of Café Anglais and top cookery writer, who talks more sense about good food than almost anyone we know.

‘Be prepared to spend up to £15 on the chicken,’ Rowley starts. ‘If you think you can get a good ‘un for a fiver, think again.’ His recommendation, and what he is using today, is a Label Anglais from SJ Frederick in Essex. Rowley points out the bird’s properly developed skin, with a little fat under it, of a darker-than-usual colour, and its long, deep breast – ‘not plumped up with water’.

‘I don’t know why tarragon chicken is so wonderful,’ he says. ‘It’s very French: you don’t see tarragon or any of the other fines herbes in Italy, Middle Eastern cuisine or in English cooking, really.

‘Techniques and tricks don’t count for much. It’s all in the timing. Do truss your bird, although, arguably, it cooks more evenly with legs akimbo. You don’t need to baste, but you can do over the legs after 20 minutes. Make sure you rest the chicken before serving it – just as you would any other meat. Accompany with rice and salad, or new potatoes in spring. The right wine to drink with roast chicken is a lovely, fruity, high-toned red: a fine Beaujolais or a Burgundy.’

Rowley Leigh’s roast chicken with tarragon

Ingredients:

  • 1.5–2kg chicken
  • 75g unsalted butter
  • 2 tsps chopped fresh tarragon
  • 2 tps very finely chopped shallot
  • Half tsp ground black pepper
  • Sea salt, more pepper, a couple more sprigs of tarragon
For the gravy

  • 2 tsps tarragon vinegar
  • 1 glass white wine
  • 250ml chicken stock
  • 1

    Mix together the softened butter, tarragon, pepper and shallot.

  • 2

    Starting at the neck cavity, carefully lift the skin away from the meat around the breast and push the butter mixture into the gap either side of the breastbone. Pull the skin back down over the cavity.

  • 3

    Insert sprigs of tarragon, black pepper and plenty of salt into the main cavity of the bird.

  • 4

    With clean hands, massage the butter under the breast skin so that it is well distributed

  • 5

    Truss it up.

  • 6

    Roast the chicken on its back in a hot oven. Start it off at 200˚C for 20 minutes, then sprinkle sea salt over the bird, baste, reduce the temperature to 170˚C and continue cooking for 40–50 minutes. It is done when the juices run clear (pierce the knee joint with a skewer to test this).

  • 7

    Remove from the oven and let the meat rest while you prepare the gravy.

And the gravy…

Pour the juices and butter out of the roasting dish, and deglaze it with the tarragon vinegar, scraping up any caramelised residue. Reduce almost completely, then add a glass of white wine. Reduce by half, add the stock and transfer to a saucepan. Separate as best you can the reserved butter and the chicken juices. Add the juices to the gravy and let it simmer gently until reduced to a nice clear consistency. Season.


Le Café Anglais, 8 Porchester Gardens, London W2 (020 7221 1415; www.lecafeanglais.co.uk)

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