I could be wrong but I get the impression fewer people are doing a roast on Sundays these days. Some of my emptynester friends say they only bother when their offspring return home or if they have guests. Even after my youngest went off to university last year I continued to cook a Sunday roast, partly because it’s the one occasion each week when we haul my frail and elderly mother-in-law upstairs from her flat below to join us and partly because, well, it’s delicious. My children tell me they’ve always enjoyed the weekly ritual and this pleases me because it means it’s worth the (not necessarily huge) effort. When I was pottering about in my kitchen, one recent Sunday morning, it struck me that one doesn’t have to spend very long preparing the roast and that simple does not have to mean dull. And of course if you are too busy during the day pursuing the leisure activity of your choice, you and your family can have this meal in the evening rather than try to fit it in at lunchtime.
So this post is about proving that it needn’t be hugely time-consuming or arduous and outlining how I made roast chicken and apple crumble in two hours flat. It is also to show you that not all Aga cooking is long and slow, which is not to say that slow roasting isn’t an excellent way of making the most of an Aga: you can put your joint of meat in the simmering oven before bed on Saturday night or bright and early on Sunday morning and have meltingly tender meat for lunch or supper on Sunday. I did this recently with a pork belly and it was one of the best roasts we’ve ever had.
On this particular Sunday I took the bird out of the fridge about an hour before I wanted to cook it, to let it come up to room temperature, and then, having popped out to buy the Sunday papers, I started on the lunch preparation. I roasted the potatoes around the chicken. They absorbed the buttery garlicky juices and the flavour and texture were superb. I love them done this way (and it saves time and washing-up) but they were not crisp. If you want crisp, you’ll have to par-boil them for 5 minutes and then roast them in very hot duck or goose fat in a tin on the floor of the roasting oven for about thirty minutes.
1 whole free-range chicken weighing about 1.5kg
Several (quantity up to you but a minimum of 8) garlic cloves, unpeeled
Potatoes: one or two per person, peeled and chopped into large chunks. I used these red potatoes on this occasion but any variety will do. In the summer I use new potatoes: just halve the larger ones and there’s no need to peel them
Place your chicken in a roasting tin with enough room around it for the potatoes
Spread butter generously all over the bird and sprinkle with the herb sea salt or if you don’t have any, just salt and pepper
Place one garlic clove and one bay leaf in the cavity
Slide the tin onto the second rung of the roasting oven and leave it there for 20 minutes before removing it, basting it with the buttery juices and placing the potatoes and remaining garlic cloves and bay leaves around it, turning them to coat them in the butter too
Return the tin to the roasting oven, this time on the fourth rung, for about an hour. Half way through, turn the potatoes and give the chicken another baste
The chicken is done when a thigh is pierced with a sharp knife and the juices run clear
Remove the bird to a large plate or board, keeping it near the Aga and maybe covering it with a clean tea-towel. Discard the garlic and bay leaves and place the potatoes in a serving dish in the simmering oven to keep warm while you make some gravy
All I do for this is deglaze the roasting tin with some white wine on the simmering plate and then pour all of this through a sieve into a small pan to bubble away for a few minutes, adding more wine or some stock and whatever else you fancy: for example, you could whisk in a little crème fraîche. Decant this into a small jug and keep it warm on the back of the Aga while you get everyone to the table and find someone to carve your bird
I will leave the choice of accompanying vegetables to you but the other day I served ours with steamed Savoy cabbage tossed with a little butter and lots of black pepper added
You can be making this while the chicken is roasting. This is the basic recipe; feel free to add cinnamon and/or some raisins to the apples; or reduce the amount of apple by 25 per cent and replace with blackberries when in season.
4-5 cooking apples
110g/4oz unsalted butter
110g/4oz plain flour
110g/4oz ground almonds
110g/4oz golden caster sugar plus an extra heaped tablespoon
A heaped dessert spoon of demerara
First make the crumble by placing the butter, flour, almonds and sugar in a large bowl and using your fingertips to rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. You can of course do this in a food processor
Peel and slice the apples, putting the slices straight into the dish you want to bake the crumble in. Add some lemon juice to stop the apples from turning brown
Sprinkle the crumble mixture on top, smooth it over and then press it down with the back of a spoon
To finish, run a fork lightly over the surface and sprinkle over the demerara
Bake in the baking oven, with the rack on the fourth rung, for about half an hour until golden brown on top and the apples feel soft when a knife is inserted into them
My husband, a lover of all apple-related desserts, says this is his new favourite Sunday lunch pudding. New to us, he means, because fruit cobblers have been around for years. For some reason they did not feature in my repertoire. Until now. I’ve made a couple of cobblers in recent weeks and my husband’s at the “I could eat this every week” stage. He’s even sent a photo to our youngest, who’s returning home from university for the Easter holidays soon, telling him what a treat he has in store. Who would not want to cook for someone so enthusiastic and complimentary?
When researching cobblers I started off with Delia, then found a Mary Berry example and a couple of other online recipes, and came up with this. I plan to vary it according to available ingredients; apple and blackberry would definitely work, as would rhubarb and ginger.
150g self-raising flour
50g cold butter, cubed
50g caster sugar
1 egg, beaten
4 tbsp milk
3 or 4 large Bramley apples
A handful or two of sultanas
1 heaped tsp ground cinnamon (to get a strong and fresh cinnamon flavour we buy cinnamon sticks from Cinnamon Hill and grate them as and when required)
75g demerara sugar
Make the cobbler first by placing the flour and butter in a large mixing bowl and rubbing the butter in until it resembles breadcrumbs. You can of course do this in a food processor, but it’s very quick by hand
Stir in the caster sugar
Add the egg and milk and combine until it’s like wet scone mixture
Peel and slice the apples and place in a dish. You can grease it if you like but I don’t and it’s been fine
Stir in the cinnamon, sultanas and Demerara sugar
Place dollops of the cobbler mixture on top of the apples; there will be gaps
Bake in the baking oven for 30 minutes or so until the top is golden brown and the apples are soft
I made a few mince pies this week. They’re now in the freezer but I might get them out this weekend as my youngest son is returning home from university and I think he’ll appreciate them. Apart from that and the Christmas cake, I haven’t done a huge amount of Christmas preparation but now that it’s December I will be getting my act together. I have had to postpone my plan to write up some of my Christmas recipes because I don’t have any decent photos to accompany them. I will aim to take lots of photos during this Christmas period so that I can write up the recipes in good time for Christmas 2018.
Meanwhile the Sunday roast continues to happen in our house and last Sunday it was gigot boulangère. If ever there was a dish that lends itself perfectly to Aga cooking, this is the one. If you love lamb and love boulangère potatoes, then this is one for you. On Sunday morning, after a cup of tea in bed with the papers on my iPad, I got up at 8 to prepare this dish. My neighbours may have caught a glimpse of me fetching some rosemary and nearly catching my death in my garden in my dressing gown. In less than an hour though lunch was in the oven, to be more or less ignored until we were ready to eat it at 2pm.
1 leg of lamb weighing about 2.4kg
2 onions, peeled and sliced
2 garlic cloves
Salt and pepper
100ml white wine
Pound the peeled garlic with 1 tsp salt flakes (I use Maldon sea salt) in a pestle and mortar until you have a rough paste
Add 1 tbsp olive oil and about 1 tbsp chopped rosemary to this
Give it a stir and season
Drizzle some olive oil into the bottom of your large Aga roasting tin, which you have lined with bake-o-glide
Peel and thinly slice the potatoes. At this point many cooks would tell you to use a mandolin, but I don’t possess one so I use a nice sharp knife
Cover the base of the tin with a layer of potatoes followed by the onion slices, chopped rosemary and some seasoning and then the remaining potato slices
Pour over the white wine
Stab the leg of lamb all over with the point of a sharp knife and then rub in the garlic and rosemary paste you made at the start, massaging it into the slits you’ve made
Lay the lamb on top of the potatoes and hang the roasting tin on the third set of runners in the roasting oven and cook for 45 minutes
Transfer to the simmering oven for at least 4 hours but, as always, longer is fine, if not better
To serve, place the lamb on a large dish or board for carving, and the potatoes in a dish with all the juices. I put a bowl of redcurrant jelly on the table. Some mint sauce would have been nice too
Pound garlic with salt and add chopped rosemary, olive oil and pepper to make a rough paste
Layer slide potatoes with sliced onions, chopped rosemary and seasoning
Rub the paste into the lamb and place it on top of the potatoes
The cooked boulangère potatoes
Conventional cooking: pre-heat the oven to 200ºC and cook the potatoes for about an hour before placing the lamb on top and roasting it for about 15 minutes per 500g depending on how you like it done.
There were only three of us for lunch on Sunday so I asked my butcher, Ruby and White, to give me just half a leg of lamb, as you will see in the above photos. I halved the quantities of the other ingredients and used the small Aga roasting tin.
This morning I tweeted a line I’d read in the Sunday Times about the Sunday roast being on its way out but that this wasn’t the case in my house. Wonderfully, the replies I received confirmed that my family is not the exception. It doesn’t have to be eaten at lunchtime (everyone’s Sundays are busy) but I believe it’s a ritual and tradition worth preserving.
When I was a student and sharing a flat with three friends, where cooking was concerned we had the typical student repertoire of the era, comprising 1001 things to do with mince. But believe it or not, one of our staples was also chicken fricassée. I’m afraid I can’t remember the recipe in detail but it wasn’t like the dish I made for Sunday lunch today. Our student recipe involved sautéeing pieces of chicken and mushrooms and then adding a little flour, stock and milk (and possibly some cream) to make a white sauce. We used to serve it with rice.
The origin of the term “fricassée” is French, possibly from “frire” (to fry) and “casser” (to break in pieces), which might explain why all the fricassée recipes I found in a quick Google search this afternoon used chicken pieces rather than a whole bird. The one I made for lunch today, based on this recipe by Michel Roux which I read in the Times during the week, is the only one I’ve seen which involves roasting a whole chicken. (Apologies if you’re not a Times subscriber and the article is behind the paywall.)
Anyway, we really enjoyed it; the tarragon sauce is delicious. Sometimes it’s good to return to a simple classic. We don’t need always to be finding the next fashionable thing to cook.
I made changes to the Roux recipe; very brave of me, I thought, considering his chef’s credentials and renown, but I honestly didn’t think we needed quite that much cream and also, when you have a roasting oven as hot as the Aga’s, why would you need to brown the chicken before putting it in the oven?
1 whole chicken (mine weighed 2kg)
Tarragon vinegar (I didn’t have any so used good quality white wine vinegar)
About 100ml white wine
About 100ml chicken stock
About 150ml double cream
Handful of tarragon leaves (adjust amount according to your preference)
Place the chicken in a roasting tin, spread butter all over it and season.
Roast in the roasting oven for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, basting a couple of times during cooking. I placed mine on the rack on the third set of rungs for the first 20 minutes, then moved the rack to the bottom of the oven with the tin on the fourth set of rungs. The cooking time will obviously depend on the weight of your chicken.
Remove the chicken, place on a dish and leave to rest (perhaps on the warming plate of your Aga)
Pour off most of the fat, add a knob of butter and sweat the shallots gently for about 5 minutes. Add 1tbsp vinegar and the white wine and let it bubble up for a few minutes. At this stage I poured everything into a small saucepan: easier than continuing in the roasting tin.
Add the chicken stock and boil until reduced a little. Add the cream and repeat. Check for seasoning. Add the tarragon leaves at the last minute. Pour into a jug for serving. We ate our fricassée with new potatoes, broccoli and carrots.