My favourite food of all time.
When I was very young I did not like chicken at all. This was my father’s influence as he ate neither chicken nor fish, so I didn’t come across either until I was about 12 or thirteen, and I have to say I wasn’t exactly enthralled with either.
But I got used to fish first. My stepfather used to cook for me and my mother and he introduced me to skate, which was so pretty and had no bones!
Chicken came later, and at first I used to only like it boiled in a lemon sauce.
Come to think of it, I haven’t had that for a long time. It doesn’t sound very appetising but I can assure you it is.
But then we all discovered that my mother, who really did not like cooking, made the best roast chicken in the world. And so it came to pass that it became my favourite food. To eat. Not to make.
But one day I was alone in the flat as my mother and Zbyszek were away – he on business to Poland or Finland or somewhere and she to the Ukraine, to Lwow, her birth town. All very exciting. It was winter and cold and I thought I would invite some friends round. I was seventeen – I must have just left school, and I had never had a dinner party before.
Yet I had seen people cooking and I thought it can’t be that hard. Until then I knew how to make omelettes, ratatouille and risotto. Roast chicken was a novelty. It was also not that cheap in those days, but I thought one would go a long way.
So I invited five friends for the evening, bought some vegetables and salad and wine, and set forth with my bird into the kitchen.
What to do? I knew I had to check for innards. Some years before my parents had decided to roast an oven ready turkey for Christmas Day. An enormous fowl and enormously foul. They had forgotten to take the guts out. They were all conveniently wrapped in plastic, ready to remove. Only Mama and Zbyszek did not remove them. They soaked the bird overnight in brine, they roasted it carefully in the oven for about five hours and then they took it out, served it to us with great panache, together with some roasted potatoes, overboiledbrussels sprouts (Oh we knew how to be soooo English). And then we all took a mouthful.
My mother’s godmother, who had come over from Poland, was the politest and said she wasn’t very hungry. The rest of us made appropriate unforgivable noises. The whole thing was contaminated with molten plastic. It tasted awful and was probably poisonous. Anyway,we didn’t take any chances. Oven ready! Ha!
But – that was Christmas Day in the early 1960’s. Everything was shut. Everything. And the next day. Luckily we had some Ryvita. And Marmite. and probably jam. There was no fresh bread to be had.
That was the hungriest Christmas I have known. But we lived to tell the tale. No one made that mistake again.
So – back to my first efforts at raosting a chicken.
I unwrapped it, looked inside and rinsed it. I found a roasting dish – and then I was stuck. I knew to oil it and salt it and smother it with marjoram. But then what? I wasn’t even sure how to light the oven. (At school the nuns refused to let us have cookery classes because they said that we would learn when we had to – how right they were!)
But I didn’t know what temperature.
And this where the internet would have been so useful. Or even a cookery book. I had neither. But I did have the mother of my best friend, Maja. Today would have been Ciocia Teresa’s namesday. Ciocia Teresa was always good in a crisis, and this was a crisis. I rang her. Maja was getting ready to come round. I remember panicking down the phone about what to do. She calmed me down. well, she laughed at me first. but then told me exactly what to do. Gas mark 6. Two hours. Turn it over half way. Put some wine in the bottom of the pan. Possibly water in those days.
Anyway I must have followed her instructions well, ( I think I had to ring her several times – I really had no confidence) but it turned out ok.
Since then it has become my go to dish because it never ever fails. You have to roast a chicken far longer than any cook books say. I like it when the meat is falling off the bone rather than having to be gnawed off with your teeth.
Ive never had any complaints, so I must be doing something right. And all thanks to Ciocia Teresa’s practical tips and my mother’s inspiration!