Moist and Tender Roast Chicken
Basting, Stuffing and Roasting Tips for Juicy and Flavoursome Meat
There are four secrets to a succulent New Zealand style roast chicken—basting or glazing, stuffing, turning and of course, adding gravy.
Stuffing the Chicken
Stuffing the chicken’s body cavity with a bready mixture of herbs, spices and onion ensures the chicken does not dry out inside, and helps to promote even cooking. Traditional stuffings contain the innards of the chicken; nowadays, when chickens tend to be purchased frozen, homemade stuffings tend to be vegetarian. Stuffings can be as simple as inserting a whole lemon into the body cavity, or they can be complicated cooked mixtures.
Never add salt to stuffing, as it draws the moisture out of the meat.
Basting or Glazing
The simplest form of basting is spooning the juices of the chicken back over the top, in order to keep the meat from drying out and infuse the flavour back into the flesh. To add an extra kick of flavour, a glaze may be brushed over the chicken several times during cooking. New Zealand Glazes often contain some form of sugar, which caramelises during baking and adds a rich brown colour to the surface of the meat. Sugary glazes are best added towards the end of the roasting time, however, or they may burn. Simple sugary glazes include balsamic vinegar, sweet chilli sauce or plum sauce. Soy sauce can be added to these mixtures to thin and colour them.
A more complicated glaze can add a richness of flavour to the meat. One particularly nice combination that we use in Wellington is a thin mixture of red wine vinegar, brown sugar, mustard, soy sauce and tomato sauce.
Turning the Chicken During Cooking
Never roast a chicken in a pan designed to let the juices run off during baking. Remember, fat is flavour! Dieters may blush, but the best way to ensure a flavoursome and moist result is to bathe the chicken in its own juices. Place your chicken breast-side down in the pan; this way, the thick breast meat will absorb the juices as they run off. Halfway through baking time, turn the chicken over to allow the breast to brown and avoid a stewed texture, but continue to baste lest the meat dry out.
An oven bag is also an excellent way to obtain moisture. Some cooks like to raise the humidity of the oven itself by placing a pan of water on the shelf below the roast.
Making Chicken Gravy
In the bustle of pre-dinner preparations, it is tempting to skip the gravy. However, your tastebuds will thank you if you make the effort. Gravy is a concentrated form of the flavours of your roast, stuffing and glaze, and enhances both the flavour and moistness of the meat.
Making Christchurch-style gravy is simple. Remove the roast and any vegetables from the pan—a roast should sit for a few minutes before being carved in any case. Shake a few tablespoons of flour into the pan juices and whisk, still in the pan, over a hot element until the juices thicken into a sauce. Some prefer to spoon the fat from the top of the juices first, but this is optional. Usually in New Zealand we skip this step completely. Salt and pepper may be added as desired, and water may be added to the gravy to make up the required amount.