Week 21: A Garlic and Vermouth Roast Chicken

Week 21. My third in the weird eggshell-coloured kitchen. I had some fresh rosemary in the fridge and wanted to do my usual roast chicken with garlic and bacon but I found a recipe in Nigel’s Kitchen Diaries (Fourth Estate, 2007) using ingredients I could find in Cow Head. It’s listed in his book as “a chicken roasted with new garlic and a fresh pea pilau to go with it.” Fresh peas, an obvious impossibility. Vermouth and garlic (not so new), doable.

large chicken-about 1.5kg
olive oil
young summer garlic – 2 whole heads
white vermouth – 2 wine glasses

Set the oven at 200 C. Rub the chicken all over with the olive oil, massaging in a generous amount of sea salt and black pepper as you go. Put the seasoned chicken breast-side down in a roasting tin in which it will not have much space around it. Put it into the hot oven and leave it to roast for just over an hour. Break open the heads of garlic and separate the cloves but don’t peel them. Drop them into a small pan of boiling water and let them simmer for five minutes. Drain them and add to the chicken tin.

Turn the chicken over for the last twenty minutes. Continue roasting until the chicken is golden and puffed and its juices run clear. To test, push a skewer into the thickest part of the leg; if the juices that come out are clear rather than pink, it is done. It should take an hour to an hour and a quarter.

Lift the chicken from the tin and leave it somewhere warm to rest. Crush the garlic cloves with the back of a spoon so that the soft centres squish out of the crusty brown skins into the tin.

Pour in the vermouth and bring to the boil. Stir, scraping at any crusty bits in the tin, and leave to simmer enthusiastically for a couple of minutes. Season generously, then pour the juices through a small sieve into a warm jug or small bowl. Keep this warm whilst you carve the chicken. Stir the gravy a bit before you pour it over.

So here’s the the thing with the roast chicken….I was terrified. Nigel said to use a small roasting tin, I didn’t have one. I didn’t know if he meant to cover the chicken or not…what’s a roasting tin like in England and does it have a cover? And why is my house full of smoke?  Not to mention that when a chicken is lying there breast-side down in the tin naked with no potatoes tucked in around it, it looks like…like a chicken with no head.  Sometimes I totally get vegetarians.  Nigel said to use “new garlic”…I don’t even know what that is. The only garlic I had to work with was what I like to call “Northern Peninsula Garlic.” Not local by any means, but probably grown in Peru or China and spending most of its above ground life in a shipping container on a boat and then in a tractor trailer across Canada and then on a ferry until it makes its way to Cow Head. I wanted to tart up the chicken with rosemary, garlic, lemons and bacon, like I usually do, to disguise the fact that often times I can’t find the freshest of ingredients in Newfoundland. But I went with it. I followed the recipe to a tee, used whatever I had that was closest to what Nigel said and I cannot convey to you the joy I felt at being able to make this meal on the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland in May. With ingredients that I had purchased in town. So simple and so good. Just a roast chicken, roasted garlic, a couple of glasses of vermouth. And some potatoes mashed with butter and sour cream. I will make this again and again. It was perfect. Worth all the scrubbing I’ll have to do at the end of the summer to get the blackened and burnt olive oil of the walls of the oven.

Week 22 while I’m here trying to catch up. And a really simple salad dressing that I made somewhere between 20 and 21, can’t remember, but it was lovely. Salads are such a pain in the ass but I love them so much…only if they’re made with real effort and a bit of time to make a homemade dressing. Had all the ingredients for this one in the house, but only because Didi had been to Corner Brook a couple of weeks earlier for groceries and there was a piece of ginger the size of a terrier on the counter. I’m glad she thinks ahead.

Ginger Soya Dressing

1 1/2 tsp soya sauce
2 tbsp light sour cream (I used Balkan-style yogurt)
3/4 tsp crushed garlic
1 tsp minced ginger root
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 tbsp rice wine vinegar

In a small bowl, combine all ingredients. Mix well.

This dressing was like a smack in the face. I lived in Asia for almost three years, and it tasted a little like all the countries I traveled in. If that makes sense. Really fresh and raw and strong. Not so good for delicate palates but good if you’re feeding adventurous guests. Or you want to scare the guests with the delicate palates. That might be fun. Had the salad with smoked paprika potatoes and garlic mayonnaise because I have no sense of fusion and salad’s great, but so are carbs.

From Rose Reisman’s Light Cooking (Robert Rose Inc,1995). I brought that one to Cow Head too. You should know Rose and Nigel quite well by the end of the summer.

Salmon with Bacon and Rosemary

A little red chicken original. Probably not. Maybe I’ll start a big fight on the internet. I did something bacon-like a while back with salmon…wrapped it in thinly sliced pancetta…and it was fantastic. No pancetta to be found in town but lots of bacon, so I chopped up four or five slices with some rosemary and spread it on a lovely big pink fillet of salmon that I bought at the fish store in Rocky Harbour the day before. That’s all…no seasoning, the bacon was salt enough. Baked it on a foiled pan on 400 F for twenty or twenty-five minutes. Probably too long by fish standards, but I wanted to make sure the bacon was crispy. Rich enough to only have a small piece so there was lots for myself and the housemates with some leftover to eat cold out of the fridge the next day. I don’t know what the deal is with pairing fish and pork. Is that…cool? Would I get kicked off Top Chef? And most importantly, what would Nigel say?

I liked it. I think Nigel would too. Maybe not those arsehole judges on Top Chef though.

3 thoughts on “Week 21: A Garlic and Vermouth Roast Chicken

  1. omg. this all looks amazing! I wanna be in Cow Head with you!!!! yum! re your oven, I have recently discovered “easy off oven cleaner”. It smells like a choking chemical death when u spray it, but my god when u wipe it off the next morning after leaving it over night, it works miracles. I did not know ovens could get so clean!!!

  2. I just lay here in bed and read your entire blog! The headless chicken is going to be my first victim! Keep the recipes coming! (I love the ‘northern pen’ garlic 🙂

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