The 50th Anniversary Issue

Our 50th birthday issue is on sale now. We're celebrating five decades of great food and travel with our biggest issue yet.

Subscribe to Gourmet

Subscribe to Australian Gourmet Traveller before 27th November, 2016 and receive a Villeroy & Boch platter!

Gourmet on your iPad

Subscribe to Gourmet Traveller for your iPad.

Hot chick

My friend Ludovic, who is from My friend Ludovic, who is from Lyon, was very excited one evening when I cooked my version of poule au pot - poached chicken in a pot. It reminded him of something his grandmother and mother both used to make back home. I cooked the chicken with some chopped carrots, waxy potatoes, celery, leeks, shallots, garlic, thyme, peppercorns, parsley stalks and bay leaves until the meat was falling off the bone, then flaked the chicken into a serving bowl with the vegetables, ladled over the seasoned broth, added a dollop of crème fraîche and served it with crusty bread.

Chicken is nurturing and nourishing and its healing properties are renowned. To this day I associate the smell of chicken stock cooking away on the stove with the smell of home, because my mother always had a chicken on the go: golden aromatic broth with chopped parsley if we were sick, or simply a whole chicken cooked with carrots, onion, celery and herbs in a pot of water. Mum would let it cool before she flaked the meat and the jelly and made delicious sandwiches with salt, pepper and butter on rye. My own rescue chicken soup is stracciatella, but with broken pasta cooked in it until really soft. It's deeply restorative.

Not just any chicken will do. If I'm cooking a dish that is all about the chicken I go to my favourite poultry supplier, who buys directly from small farms. The birds are all genuinely free-range and are fed a high-quality diet. Most of them are grown for several weeks longer than the average commercial bird, so they have a more developed flavour and a firmer texture. They also cost a lot more, somewhere between $16 and $26 for a bird, and some people can't fathom spending that much on a chicken. After all, you can buy a fresh free-range chicken from the supermarket for around $10 or a cage bird for even less. It boils down to quality and flavour - and you get what you pay for. Chicken, more than any other meat, I think, is a barometer of the effect of diet on flavour.

Matthew Waechter has been rearing chickens in the Barossa Valley since he was a boy and genuinely loves his work. His chickens are fed on his own mix of grains with no fish- or meat-meal and are rotated from pasture to pasture so they have a plentiful supply of insects and worms. Waechter grows them for eight to 10 weeks, although at Christmas he grows them for as long as 16 weeks so he can supply really big birds of about three kilos. These chickens do a fair bit of walking and you can see this in the flesh, which is plump, dense, firm-textured, dark around the leg and pink throughout the breast. The skin is light golden and the flavour is great. This is what I call the ultimate chook.

I asked Waechter what makes his chickens taste so good, and he said it's the way they're reared. "I place the water and the feed a few feet away so they actually have to walk," he said. "They have the tendency to eat, drink and be lazy - they won't move around unless they have to." He makes his own feed mix and doesn't buy pellets -"You don't know what's in them." The breed of chicken is your everyday ordinary chicken, so the taste really comes down to what they eat, how much they move around and develop their muscles and how long they get to live.

Now that I have my well-fed, free-range, athletic chicken, how will I be cooking it? I like to cook it on the bone because the flavour is much better, and you can't beat a great roast chicken. It's just the thing at the end of a hectic week to unwind with a glass of wine and the smells of roast chicken wafting from the oven. I usually stuff the bird with an apple, some butter, sage and salt. Then I whip up some butter with a little extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, salt flakes and some chopped tarragon or sage or, in summer, basil. I put the butter under the skin, rub salt and extra-virgin olive oil over the bird and dot it with more butter, then it's into the oven with whatever vegetables I feel like. Trussing the chicken helps it to cook evenly and makes it look nice, but usually I forgo this last step (because of laziness).

I've tried turning the chicken from side to side and upside down to moisten the breast, but I find this fiddly (it's not easy to flip a hot bird with tongs and wooden spoons) and, in fan-forced ovens, unnecessary. In my experience, the secrets are starting with a good-quality chicken, seasoning it well, basting it often, and, when it has finished roasting, letting it rest for about 15 minutes.

I'm not a big fan of gravy, perhaps because in our house that always meant one made from a packet - my mother must have thought it was a terrific invention! I prefer to skim the fat from the meat juices, add a drizzle of extra-virgin oil and perhaps a squeeze of lemon, and pour the juices over the chicken.


Sign up to receive the latest food, travel and dining news direct from Gourmet Traveller headquarters.

Latest news
How to barbecue like Heston Blumenthal
Four ways with olives
GT's first hardcover cookbook is coming soon
Sweet Stone brigadeiros
The second Gourmet Traveller Chinese-language edition is here
Recipes by Stanbuli
Signature Collection

Find out more about the Gourmet Traveller Signature Collection by Robert Gordon Australia, including where to buy it in store and online.

Read More
things to do this autumn

Whether it's foraging for wild mushrooms in a picturesque Victorian forest or watching a film by moonlight in Darwin, we've got you covered with 20 exciting autumn experiences from around Australia.

Read More
Gourmet TV

Check out our YouTube channel for our latest cover recipes, chef cooking demos, interviews and more.

Watch Now

You might also like...

Blame the flame

Chef Lennox Hastie worked the coals at Spain’s famed Etxebar...

Prepared chestnuts

A fresh chestnut is a hard nut to crack, so we’re lucky, the...

How to carve a jack-o'-lantern

We ask three American chefs to share their pumpkin carving s...

How to grow garlic

Garlic has a long growing time, but low maintenance and fres...

How to grow broccoli

Broccoli is the most prolific member of the brassica family ...

How to pickle fruit and vegetables

I’m keen to get in on this pickling thing. Where’s a good pl...

How to plant broad beans

Plant broad beans now, when the weather is cool, and they’ll...

How to grow chillies

This is the time of year for vegetables that like it hot and...

How to cook wagyu

I’ve been noticing restaurant-grade wagyu in good butcher’s ...

Classic Sunday roast ideas

What’s the key to nailing a really good classic Sunday roast...

What is Buddha’s hand?

This freakishly shaped fruit, aka fingered citron, hails fro...

Home-dried herbs

I’ve got a surplus of herbs in the garden; how do I get the ...

Are any spring flowers worth eating?

With borage flowers and violets everywhere, it’s easy to for...

Quick meals with chilli bean paste

This handy Chinese condiment is a sure-fire speedy way of ad...

Best meat for big parties

What can you suggest that’s low maintenance and high impact ...

get the latest news

Sign up to receive the latest food, travel and dining news direct from Gourmet Traveller headquarters.