‘Roast Chicken’ by Simon Hopkinson

Do I see any contradiction in being an enthusiastic birdwatcher as well as an enthusiastic birdeater? Not a bit of it. Our history of eating birds is far longer than our history of observing them as a pastime, after all. And we do love a chicken, to the extent that it is the planet’s commonest bird (about 26 billion of them, apparently).

Simon Hopkinson’s 1994 book, Roast Chicken and Other Stories, is based on a simple concept: 40 ingredients, each given its own chapter – an introductory essay and a handful of recipes. The title is, as Hopkinson says himself, “inviting and uncomplicated”. And so is the writing. Hopkinson’s writing and cooking are both forthright and pretension-free. He writes about cooking – ingredients, process and end result – with love, knowledge and skill. Pleasingly, he also brooks no nonsense: “A frightful word that often rears its ugly head in British menuspeak is the term ‘gratinated’. It is horrid and should be banned.”

On roast chicken: “Even the sound of it causes salivation, and the smell of it jolts the tummy into gear.” His recipe – lemon, garlic, thyme, a metric fucktonne of butter, and, crucially, permission and suggestions for variations on the basic theme – does exactly that. I have cooked it many times over the years. Hundreds, possibly. It never fails to please. And the book, like all the best food writing, makes you want to stop reading and head for the kitchen. 

From Roast Chicken and Other Stories, Ebury Press 1994

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