"I just realised today's Sunday," Dickie said. "Marge went to church. You'd better come up and have lunch with us. We always have chicken on Sunday. You know it's an old American custom, chicken on Sunday."
The Talented Mr Ripley, Patricia Highsmith
Roast chicken has become, in the past eighteen months, one of my most regularly cooked dishes. Perennially single, it had for years felt like an impossible extravagance - I know the leftovers go a long way, but roasting a chicken for one was not really in my budget. I cooked a lot with chicken thighs, but I missed the real thing; nothing beats the smell of a whole chicken, rubbed generously with butter, roasting in the oven. Nowadays, with nannying charges to feed, and many meals to be made from the scraps (risotto, containers of stock for soup in the freezer, chicken sandwiches and salads), it makes complete economic, and gastronomic, sense. It's a reliable hit with the little ones, and it's one of my very favourite things to eat too.
I've got the challenge of having it on the table at 6pm down to an art, but one delayed bus or lost jumper on the school run puts us behind. I've spent untold hours staring through the door of an oven, willing a chicken to roast - a technique that has never yet yielded results. Happily, the solution is a simple one: spatchcocking the bird cuts down on cooking time and turns roast chicken into an achievable mid-week meal. A bit of preparation is called for, which can easily be done before work if you prefer. The satisfaction of transferring one fully prepared tray from fridge to oven on arriving home is impossible to measure.
On the Italian coast, Marge Sherwood serves this Sunday roast with artichokes, another favourite in our house. When in season, fresh artichokes (topped and tailed, sliced in half lengthways and drizzled with oil) would work perfectly in the roasting dish here. When they're harder to find, the marinated type you can pick up in the supermarket deli section, or in jars, work too. They caramelise beautifully and are a joy to eat. The kids, used to dipping leaves in butter and pulling the artichoke meat off with their teeth, turned their noses up at the unrecognisable shapes that sat nestled amongst the potatoes. Minutes later, after some encouragement and experimental nibbling, I found myself left with significantly fewer on my plate than I had hoped.
Chicken with Artichokes and Potatoes
Serves 6 (or any other number, with generous leftovers)
600g baby potatoes
1 whole chicken, about 1.8kg
1 brown onion
4 cloves garlic
10 sprigs thyme
12 pieces marinated artichoke
Generous drizzle olive oil
Cracked black pepper and flaky sea salt
40g butter, softened
Large roasting dish
1. Par-boil the potatoes for ten minutes, until tender, but not soft. Drain, and set aside.
2. Prepare the chicken. Place it breast side down, and cut down either side of the backbone; kitchen scissors are good for this. Remove the backbone (keep it for making stock), and flip the chicken over. Spread it out, and press down on the breastbone with the heel of your hand to flatten it.
3. Slice the onion and place in the bottom of the dish. Add the garlic cloves, whole. Place the chicken into the dish, breast side up.
4. Add the potatoes, and then the artichokes. Poke the thyme stalks in between the potatoes. Drizzle them with olive oil and season with salt and pepper, and a big squeeze of lemon.
5. Rub the butter over the chicken, and season. At this point, you can transfer the tray to an oven preheated to 200C. Alternatively, cover it with cling film, and store it in the fridge until an hour before you want to eat it.
6. Roast the chicken at 200C for 45 minutes. To test if it is done, poke a skewer into the biggest part of the thigh; the juices should run clear, not pink. Remove from the oven, allow the chicken to rest for ten minutes under foil, then carve and serve with the potatoes and artichokes. This is ideal with a crisp green salad.