Sunday, June 20, 2010

Homesickness cure... a Roast Chook

Jane and Tim Nice along with their three children have lived in New York for four years... and counting (well, I am counting since they are among our closest friends, we are godparents to each other’s children, their first son and our first son were born a month apart... anyway, this is meant to be about their homesickness not about me missing them so I’ll stop carrying on).

Over the years, Jane and I have had countless conversations about differences between Australia and America, and many more about how much she misses home, family and friends. So, I wonder... is there a meal she craves when she’s feeling particularly homesick; one that takes her straight back home?

‘It’s funny, but I always associate comfort food from home as something my mum used to make when I was growing up rather than food Tim and I used to eat as a young married couple in Sydney before we moved here’, says Jane. ‘Of course, we have barbecues over here all the time and it does remind us of Australia, but generally we only have 100 days of warm weather and although we have tried barbecuing in the cold, the barbecue sometimes doesn't even come to temperature (we are only allowed electric grills - no gas) because it is below freezing.’

The dish that Jane and Tim cook as real comfort food, while not necessarily ‘Australian’, is one Jane’s mum used to cook on a Sunday night when she was growing up: roast chicken. ‘I get mum to make it every time she visits because no matter how hard I try, I can't seem to replicate her homemade gravy. I don't know what it is about having your mum cook for you but in some respects I guess it makes me feel like a kid again and forget the responsibilities I have as a mum of three now. I think it is also the familiarity of the meal; you know what you are going to have and how it is going to taste that brings about a sense of real comfort.’

‘Whenever we have a roast (and it isn't every week like it was when I was growing up) our dinner conversation generally revolves around Australia - growing up in Australia and funny anecdotes about our childhoods. Although we may have changed how we do a roast since my childhood days, it still conjures up feelings of home and the comfort that home brings.’

Tim is the chef in the Nice household and he always prepares the roast and the gravy (it’s a big responsibility knowing it’s Jane’s favourite but she seems pretty happy). Here is his recipe:

Sunday Roast Chicken & Veg

For the Chicken:
1 roasting chicken enough to feed your crowd
5 slices of proscuitto
100g of butter
fresh rosemary
fresh thyme
2 bulbs of garlic
1 lemon
olive oil

Wash and dry the chook thoroughly, inside and out. Then salt and pepper. Chop the herbs finely, zest the lemon and crush the garlic. Mix this stuff with the butter. Quarter the lemon and place inside the chook cavity. Gently put your fingers between the skin on the breast on both sides of the breast bone, creating a pocket: stuff some of the butter under the skin on both sides. Put the remainder on the outside skin including the drumsticks. Put the proscuitto slices over the top of the breast. Then using a little bit of olive oil, cover the rest of the skin. Tie the ends of the drumsticks together. Put it into the oven, in a pan on a rack, at 400F/200C for as long as it takes to get the juices from the thigh meat to run clear. Throw veges like carrots and onions in this pan after about a quarter of the cooking time.

For the starchy stuff (spuds and pumpkin): I bring them to the boil then immediately drain and put back in the pot to dry them out a bit. Dress with olive oil, salt and pepper. Take another roast pan and heat some olive oil on the stove top and then throw in the spuds and pumpkin for a minute before putting them in the oven. They need to cook as long as the chook - or not.

For the gravy: once you take the chook out of the pan, drain off some of the fat and juice from the roast pan, but not all. Use a big spoon of flour and throw that in the pan and stir it into to make a paste. Then add some water or chicken broth - start making a looser paste and then apply gentle heat (on the stovetop). Add more liquid until you get the consistency you want. You might need to strain it before putting it in the gravy boat. The more sticky stuff you have in the pan, like onions, the more flavour you will get. Use salt and pepper to season.

And there you go. Make sure the chook is cooked, the spuds are dark and sticky and the veges are to your liking.

Tim’s final word of advice: Pray your gravy is as good as your mother-in-law’s.

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