Tom Parker Bowles on Camilla’s Roast Chicken

16 November 2018 Tom Parker Bowles

Tom Parker Bowles on Camilla’s Roast Chicken

Camilla's roast chicken

If you thought home cooking wasn’t for royalty, think again. Food writer Tom Parker Bowles lifts the lid on mum Camilla’s recipe for roast chicken fit for a queen.

Like most good home cooks, my mother [Duchess of Cornwall] was never one for following recipes. There was an old, battered copy of Constance Spry tucked away in some distant, dusty cupboard, but I never saw it out. Let alone opened. No, she had a small repertoire of dishes that would change according to the seasons. So chicken casseroles in winter, much to the despair of my sister and me (children and casseroles never mix, however delectable they may be); and a wonderful dish involving smoked sausage, mushrooms and lashings of cream.

Late spring saw asparagus, fresh from the garden, briefly steamed, drenched with butter. My father was, and still is, an excellent gardener. There were also tiny new potatoes, dug up moments before, in yet more butter. Broad beans, which we would pod to the sound of the radio; artichokes, boiled then dismantled, leaf by leaf, and dipped in still more melted butter. We had mastered removing that furry choke by a tender age, and devoured that soft, sweet heart with happy succour. There would be steaks, cooked rare, from the local butcher. Cottage pie with peas, a huge favourite on leave-outs from boarding school. And simple green salads, using floppy lettuces from the garden, and a sharp vinaigrette. If my father had caught a salmon, or trout, that would be baked (the trout in newspaper), and served with the above. When we returned from holidays, to a cold house and empty fridge, we’d collect the eggs from the chickens, and my mother would make oozing, buttery scrambled eggs on toast. Butter, as you can probably tell, played a central role in our childhood diet.

In summer, my mother went through a phase of serving chicken in a rich tarragon sauce. We were not fans. Too fancy by far. For us, the fruits of the newly opened Sainsbury’s supermarket held far more allure. Forget all this homegrown, seasonal nonsense – we craved cheap white bread, Ice Magic and Findus Crispy Pancakes. Pure, processed paradise. We were occasionally allowed a Pot Noodle, and Ready Meal Chicken Kievs (or Kevins, as we called them) played a starring role in our tea for a few years. But it was her roast chicken that was the true star of the show. And a week never passed without one, often two, roasted in the Aga, its skin crisp, its flesh drenched in buttery juices spooned straight from the pan. It’s a dish that relies on the very best chicken you can afford. Then, in the words of my mother, “slather it with butter, lots of salt and pepper, and put a lemon up its bum”. Before about 50 minutes in the top right-hand side of the Aga. The result, for me, is the very essence of English home cooking. Simple, satisfying and rarely beaten. The truest taste of home.

Recipe: My Mother’s Roast Chicken

Ingredients
Serves 4

1 unwaxed lemon
1 x 1.8kg chicken (the best you can afford)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
about 75g butter, at room temperature

Gravy:
200ml dry white wine
450ml chicken stock (a cube is fine)

Method

Preheat the oven to 220°C/200°C fan. Pierce the lemon with a small knife and shove it up the chicken’s bottom. Season the bird with salt and pepper, inside and out, then massage the butter all over it. Cook for 20 minutes, then turn the oven down to 180°C/160°C fan and cook for a further 40 minutes.

Poke a skewer into the thickest part of the thigh: the juices should be golden, not pink. If not, cook for a little longer, then retest. Let it rest for 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, for the gravy, spoon excess fat from the roasting tin, but leave a little in the tin. Put the tin over a high heat. When everything starts bubbling, deglaze with the white wine. Simmer while the alcohol cooks off, then add the stock, stirring all the time. Tip in any juices from the resting chicken. Boil to reduce a little, then strain through a sieve into a warm jug. Serve the chicken with the gravy.

Tom Parker Bowles appears on Family Food Fight, airing Sunday to Tuesday, 7.30pm, on Nine. His book, Let’s Eat, is published by Pavilion Books.

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