2 large free-range chickens
salt and milled black pepper
a small bunch of mixed fresh herbs of your choice: sage, oregano, basil, parsley and thyme
8 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and finely chopped
the zest and juice of 2 small lemons
6 Tbsp (90 ml) olive oil
6 smoked pork rashers (about 180 g; each about 7 mm thick), cubed
3 onions, peeled and cut vertically into eighths
2 sticks celery, sliced
24 peeled baby carrots (or 10 medium carrots, peeled and cut in half crossways)
3 Tbsp (45 ml) cake flour
2 cups (500 ml) dry white wine
2 thumb-length sprigs fresh rosemary
8 large potatoes, peeled and halved crossways
Heat the oven to 150°C. Using the flat of your hand, press down firmly on the breasts of the chickens until you hear the breast bones snap. Season inside and out with salt and black pepper.
Strip the herb leaves from their stalks and chop the leaves fairly finely. Place in a bowl and add the chopped garlic, the lemon zest and 2 Tbsp (30 ml) of the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and mix well. Now make a ‘pocket’ at the top of the chickens by very gently separating the breast skin from the flesh: slide your fingertips under the skin on top of the breasts, breaking the fine membrane as you go to create a pouch. Take half of the herb paste and spread it evenly under the breast skin of both chickens (reserve the remaining mixture). Pull the breast skin back into place.
Heat another 2 Tbsp (30 ml) of olive oil over a brisk flame flame in a large ovenproof dish (a big cast-iron pot is ideal; a sturdy roasting pan will also do). Brown the chickens all over in the hot oil, turning frequently: this should take between 12 and 15 minutes. Don’t worry if they’re not evenly golden brown: what’s important is that there’s a sticky honey-coloured residue on the bottom of the pan.
Remove the chickens from the pan and set aside. Add the cubed pork rashers to the pan and fry for 3 minutes, or until just crisp and golden brown. Remove from the pan using a slotted spoon and set aside. Drain all the chicken and bacon fat from the pan, but don’t wipe it out.
Put the remaining 2 Tbsp (30 ml) olive oil into the pan, add the onions, celery and carrots and fry over a medium-high heat for 4-5 minutes, or until the onions begin to colour. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and cook for two minutes, stirring. Add the wine and lemon juice to the bowl containing the left-over herb paste, stir well, then pour the mixture over the vegetables, stirring briskly to release any sediment and to prevent lumps forming. Cook the sauce gently for a two minutes, or until thickened.
Place a sprig of rosemary inside the cavity of each chicken. Rest the chickens, breast-side up, on top of the vegetables in the pan, and arrange the potato halves around them. Using a large spoon, baste the chickens and potatoes with the winy liquid. Cover with a lid, or a tight layer of tin foil, and cook at 150°C for an hour and 45 minutes, or until the potatoes are very tender, and the chicken is falling off the bone. Give the pan a shake now and then, and baste the chicken with the juices. Pull the chicken to joints, and serve immediately, in deep bowls, with hunks of bread.
Michael’s wine recommendation – click here
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