Sunday, 6 January 2008

Roast chicken (Κοτόπουλο στο φούρνο)

Almost everyone who has children will know how difficult it is to get them to eat a variety of healthy food. Aristotle eats only 'white' or 'brown' food: pasta, rice, sausages, potatos, milk, chocolate, bread, cheese, beans and some meat. He won't eat salad, but he will eat spinach (or any other leafy green) in a pie. That's why spanakopita and kalitsounia are staples in my house. My deep freeze always contains at least one tin of spanakopita and a supermarket carrier bag full of kalitsounia ready to be baked on a weekly basis for the children's lunchboxes. Christine is the opposite; she likes colourful food: traditional Greek cuisine, fruit, vegetables and salads, especially horta. She's not really a meat or bean eater, and this worries me sometimes. If I make a roast chicken with potatoes, both children will compete against each other as to who will eat the most potatoes; if I make meatballs with rice, they'll go for the rice and douse it with yoghurt. I don't think they're eating unhealthily; in fact, they're eating only carbohydrates, and not mixing their carbs with protein, a great way to put on weight according to the Atkins diet.

I'm the opposite of my children: I'm an omnivore. You can see it just by looking at me. I like to try out new dishes, I eat anything edible, and I don't make any exceptions. So when my mother told me that I wouldn't get any of the meat in the meal she was making unless I ate all the potatos, or all the rice or all the orzo pasta on my plate, I'd eat it all, just to get my share of the New Zealand spring lamb stew or roast. Poor woman; she didn't know the damage it would cause me later in life. All she knew was that there was never enough food to feed everyone in her family (she was the oldest of five children) in the mountainous regions of Crete during World War II. Her father would have had to be lucky to run into a hare for her family to eat meat more often than Christmas and Easter. Chickens were kept for eggs; you could only kill them off if they had raised chicks to take their place in the coop. Sheep and goats needed land for grazing; my grandparents were too poor to be landlords. After the war, they eventually sold their two-roomed house in the village to a richer landowner who wanted to buy it as dowry for his daughter, and they eventually came to live in a seaside village neighbouring the one where I live now.

By that time, my mother had lived through so many poor times and meatless meals that she decided to emigrate. Coming to New Zealand for her must have been like going to another planet. New Zealand spring lamb abounded in all the butcheries of the country, and what's more, it was dirt cheap. I remember half a side of lamb (approximately 1.25 metres long, and 40 cm wide) being sold for 20 NZ dollars. At the time, butchers didn't even weigh it. My old-world parents, immigrants to the new world, never bought less than a side of lamb when they bought meat. And they made sure that they had a deep freeze large enough to keep it in, chopped up in the appropriate cuts. Those were the days when no one worried about cholestrol levels and only hippies were vegetarians. My parents were genuinely concerned about my mental state of health when I showed an interest in eating at the Mt Vic cafe, the first vegetarian eaterie in suburban Wellington. They were even more worried when they saw the queue outside the cafe. My parents were involved in the fish and chip shop business. The rise of vegetarianism and the eventual demise of the greasy chip shop were a serious threat to their existence, as it eventually turned out for our business in Newlands.

We all need some form of protein to survive, whether we are vegetarians or not. One of my vegetarian friends, a tall attractive slim young woman, told me that she never liked the taste of meat, and this is why she is vegetarian, not because she is protesting against animal cruelty (one I would never consider in my choice to eat or not eat meat). However, when her hair started falling out, changing colour, and becoming totally unmanageable, she finally realised that she had to eat at least a little bit of meat on a regular basis to maintain her health. That's when she started eating chicken weekly, the only meat she eats in her regular diet. I really admire her because she is a sensible healthy eater, and I wish I could be like her.

That's why I'm making roast chicken for the family today. I won't be serving anything with it - no bread (Aristotle would just eat that), no salad (Christine would choose that), no potatoes or rice (they'd both go for that alone), just plain chicken. I know they'll ask me if there's anything else to eat, but I'm not going to put anything else on the table. The chicken I am using is not the kind you use to make pilafi; I would buy that kind of chicken only from the butcher. The one I'm using today is a supermarket chicken, with all the fat removed, good for making chicken pie or adding to a stir-fry if any is left over. It's the kind of chicken you would buy ready cooked rotisserie-style from the supermarket. It's the kind of chicken fast food outlets serve fried. It's the kind of chicken you can use when you want to follow a recipe that says: "... add the chicken pieces and simmer for fifteen minutes." A battery hen, instant chicken, the kind that cooks faster than the potatoes you added to the pan to roast in the juices. Finger-lickin' good chicken, no need for supervision. Supermarket price: E3 a chicken, or 2 for E5.

You need:
a supermarket chicken, suitable for roasting
salt, pepper and oregano
Defrost the chicken. If you don't have time to do this, defrost it a little in the microwave, without letting it cook through. In any case, this meal can be made even if the chicken is still frozen, but it needs a much longer cooking time. Season it with salt, pepper and oregano. Rub in the spices (if you can be bothered) all over the skin (don't take it off). Place it in a roasting pan, with half a cup of water. Cover it with aluminium foil. Let it cook in a moderately hot oven. You can turn it over during that time if you like your roast chicken nicely browned. When the meat is about to come off the bones, take the aluminium foil off and let the chicken skin turn golden and crispy. Ready when you are.

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