This is not a cooking column, at least not in the traditional sense. Sure, there will be recipes, but they will always be part of a bigger picture, a grander scheme. This grander scheme is food. This is what this column is about. It is all about understanding where good food comes from, who grows it and who sells it. It is about learning how to take simple, but honest ingredients and making the most of them. This is the essence of this column and my attitude towards food and, though it may appear simple on the surface, it has more depth than meets the eye.
What do I mean by “honest ingredients”? One way to describe them would be that they are ingredients, be they vegetables, meat, fish, dairy, or spices, that have been produced with flavour as the main aim. We know by now that happy chickens make tasty chickens too. Not because of some karmic relationship between the eater and the eatee, but because a happy chicken is a chicken that is allowed to behave like a chicken wants to. It is given freedom to roam outside, to peck at the ground and eat worms and little stones, exercise its muscles, and have a good, all-around frolic in the sun. This combination of natural diet and exercise isn’t just good for the chicken, it also makes for great-tasting meat. Contrast that with the average intensively farmed chicken, which sees no sun, has no space to move, is pumped with drugs to help it survive in the thoroughly unhygienic, inhumane, and unchickeny conditions it’s forced to live in, and you may get a better idea of what I mean when I talk about honest food. The truth is, it is much simpler to grow and cook good food, than it is to make bad food. All you need is some simple, basic knowledge and an interest in good eating.
Today’s dish is the perfect embodiment of this attitude and a great recipe to have in your arsenal: a classic roast chicken, tweaked a bit for extra flavour. Preheat your oven to 220˚C. Take one chicken (about 1.5kg), organic, if possible. The boost in flavour will be worth the extra few euros, so give it a try. I recommend De Groene Weg butcher on Boterdiep for your organic meat, or the two lovely poultry vendors on the Vismarkt, every Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday. Make sure the chicken is at room temperature; that way it will cook faster and more evenly. Wash the chicken and dry it well. This is very important. You want the skin to be dry when it goes in the oven, otherwise it will not crisp up. Cut up one head of garlic in half around the equator and stuff it inside the chicken, along with a nice bunch of thyme, or other woody herb (rosemary or lavender both work very well here). Put the chicken breast-side up in an ovenproof dish and drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with a healthy pinch of flaky sea salt and place in the oven. It should take about 50 minutes, depending on your oven, but to find out if it is done, take a skewer or thin knife and insert it between the leg and the breast. The juices should run clear, with no sign of red. Place the chicken on a cutting board and let it rest for 15 minutes, covered loosely in some foil. In the meantime, you can prepare a nice sauce by mixing some of the now-soft garlic in the pan juices, thickening it with a little flour, if necessary. For an ever more beautiful presentation, you can replace the cooked herbs with a fresh bunch, for colour and incredible aroma. Carve at the table and enjoy with some roast potatoes or a wild-rice salad. Till the next time, keep those taste buds curious.
This article first appeared in the Universiteitskrant in 2011