Neven Maguire’s new book shows the hesitant chef that it’s never too late to learn how to cook. Try these three recipes for a family feast, and gain a lot more pleasure from your kitchen
1 x 1.5kg (3¼lb) whole chicken, preferably free range or organic (see the tip below)
2 onions, peeled and halved
6 small carrots, peeled and cut in half lengthways
2 celery sticks, trimmed and cut into quarters
1 lemon, halved
1 small bunch of fresh thyme
50g (2oz) butter, softened
About 200ml (7fl oz) white wine or water
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
If you are a complete novice when it comes to cooking, then roasting a chicken is a great dinner to master. The holy grail is crispy skin and juicy meat. If you don’t want to pierce the thigh to check that it is cooked, try tugging at a drumstick — it should feel loose and easy to move.
Remove the chicken from the fridge 1 hour before you plan to cook it and discard any packaging.
Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F/gas mark 5). Get a shelf ready in the middle of the oven.
Scatter the vegetables over the base of a roasting tin that fits the chicken snugly but doesn’t swamp it. Dry the chicken well with kitchen paper inside and out. Season the cavity liberally with salt and pepper, then stuff with the lemon halves and thyme.
Sit the chicken on the vegetables and spread the breast and legs all over with the butter, then season the outside with salt and pepper.
Add a splash of the wine or water to help keep the vegetables moist. Tie the legs securely with butcher’s string.
Place the chicken in the oven and leave undisturbed for 1 hour 20 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and golden brown. Baste the chicken halfway through. If you think that the vegetables look a little dry, add another splash of wine or water to the tin to stop them from burning.
To check that the chicken is fully cooked, pierce the thigh with a skewer — the juices should run clear.
Remove the cooked chicken from the oven and transfer to a warm plate, then leave to rest in a warm place covered with a layer of tin foil and a clean tea towel for at least 20 minutes before carving. Use the vegetables in the tin to make the gravy (see panel above).
To carve the chicken, carefully cut down between the leg and the breast, cutting through the joint so that the legs can be pulled away easily. Then cut between the thigh and drumstick. Place on a warmed plate. Angle the knife along the breastbone and carve off one side, then the other.
The rest of the meat can be pulled off once the chicken is cold and used for another meal or in a sandwich.
Arrange on warmed plates with gravy, crispy roast potatoes and your favourite vegetables.
Neven’s Top Tip
If you can afford it, buy a free range or organic chicken, as the flavour is always so much better. It also means that you’re much more likely to get a second dinner out of the leftovers and even a third if you fancy making stock and using it to make a nice wholesome soup.
Roasting tin with vegetables left over from your roast chicken
1 tbsp plain flour
100ml (3½fl oz) red or white wine or cider (a splash of sherry or port also works well)
500ml (18fl oz) beef, lamb or chicken stock
1–2 tsp redcurrant jelly (optional)
Sea salt and ground black pepper
To make the gravy, you’ll need to have transferred your joint to a carving board and covered it with tin foil and a clean tea towel. Place the roasting tin with the trivet of roasted vegetables and meat or poultry juices on the hob and spoon off any excess fat, then add the flour and cook for 1 minute, stirring.
Using a potato masher, quickly mash the vegetables to release their flavour, then pour in the wine or cider. Allow to bubble down and reduce, scraping the bottom to remove any sediment. Gradually add the stock or water and bring to the boil, continuously scraping the bottom of the tin to ensure you get all the flavour.
Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes, then pass through a fine-mesh sieve into a small clean pan. Season to taste and whisk in the redcurrant jelly if you think it would benefit from a little sweetness. Pour into a warmed gravy boat to serve.
Mushrooms a la Creme
Makes about 450ml (¾ pint)
25g (1oz) butter
2 shallots, finely chopped
225g (8oz) button mushrooms, trimmed and sliced
150ml (¼ pint) cream
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tsp chopped fresh chives
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
This is a version of the first sauce that I learned to make at college and I still make it to fold into pasta for a quick supper, perhaps sprinkling over some freshly grated Parmesan to serve. It’s very versatile and can also be served with steak, pan-fried pork or lamb chops. It’s fairly rich, so you don’t need much of it — a little goes a long way.
Heat a frying pan over a medium heat. Add half the butter and swirl it around until it has melted and is foaming. Tip in the shallots and sauté for 2–3 minutes, until tender.
Add the rest of the butter to the pan, then tip in the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Sauté for another 5 minutes, until the mushrooms are cooked through and tender.
Pour the cream into the pan and allow to bubble down for a few minutes, until it has thickened to a sauce consistency. Add the lemon juice and herbs, stirring to combine. Season to taste and use immediately or allow to cool down completely and store in a bowl covered with cling film in the fridge for up to two days. Reheat gently in a pan when needed.
Neven’s Top Tip
Once you have mastered the basic sauce, experiment by first dry-frying 100g (4oz) of diced pancetta or streaky bacon until sizzling and the fat has started to render, then continue making the sauce as described. This version would be particularly good with a chicken breast. I have even used it to fill savoury pancakes and it was delicious.
** Neven Maguire’s Home Economics for Life is published by Gill Books priced at €22.99.