Downton Abbey fans across the UK have come to call Sundays “Downton Day”, the day of the week to enjoy new episode of Season 3. Don’t fret US fans, January 6th is drawing closer and by that time, UK fans will be pining for Season 4.
S3E6 is a great episode for those who love Mrs. Patmore, Daisy, and how food can play an important part in people’s lives. I came away with specific dishes to prepare for Downton fans, and affirmation that the role of more experienced cooks is to help others, particularly those eager to learn. This dovetails nicely into what to cook for a casual Downton Day Dinner.
Families used to sit down to Sunday dinner, and some to try to keep this one day of the week for gathering for a great meal. I do like to serve meals which are hearty, yield leftovers for the rest of the week, but also those which are easy to prepare. Fuss on Saturday nights, relax on Sundays.
My advice to those who want to learn more about cooking: like everything else, practice makes perfect, but cooking doesn’t have to be perfect the first try, and you learn from your mistakes. Downton Abbey kitchens have seen their share of mishaps; some which were rescued–dropped chicken, broken hollandaise–others were harder to disguise: salty pudding and burnt souffle. Pick up and move on. And my advice to tasters? Give gentle, but truthful feedback, otherwise we won’t learn as cooks. It is in your best interest: otherwise you will be continually served food that you don’t like or which is improperly cooked. Isobel is a great example of how to encourage and be supportive. When Lord D approves a dish (he had a national culinary magazine in a past life) I know I can share it with you.
How to Make a Good Roast Chicken
A great dish to learn to master is Roast chicken. While it is tempting to reach for the prepared rotisserie chicken at the deli, roast chicken is pretty easy to make, will taste better, and is good practice for working with turkeys now that the holidays are coming.
There are probably as many good roast chicken recipes and tips as there are cooks, and perhaps even chickens, which can make it really confusing for beginners. To add more confusion we really don’t “roast” chickens in the oven anymore–like our ancestors over an open fire–we bake them.
I am a no-nonsense cook so keep it simple and fuss free, particularly when it comes to roast chicken dinner so I always put root vegetables in the pan, whack it in the oven and expect to have a good meal come out when the cooking is done. I am trying to enjoy my day off to watch Downton, after all.
Some of My Tips:
- Picking Chicken: Picking a good chicken at your butcher or grocer is a great start to get the best results. Certified Organic tops the charts if you can find/afford, air-chilled is a good choice, and kosher is great because the process of salt brining kills bacteria and enhances the flavour.
- Safe Prepping: the spread of harmful bacteria is particularly evident in chicken and other fowl. Make sure you disinfect your work surfaces as you go. It is actually safer to forego the step when advised to wash the chicken before baking. So just check inside the bird for giblets, cut away excess fat.
- Weighing In to Put it In: Save that label or use a scale. You need to know the weight of the bird in order to calculate when to put it in for dinner. Cookipedia UK has a great online calculator which back tracks when to put the bird in based on when you want to eat.
- The Best Breast: Some cooks will start the chicken in the oven breast down, but then you have to fuss and right him/her half way through. My trick is to add lemon slices or butter between the skin and the chicken breast.
- Magic Number is 165° -170°F: Use an instant-read thermometer as your most reliable indicator of doneness. It should read 165° to 170°F when inserted into the thickest part of the chicken (aim for the inner thigh), Otherwise you look for clean running juices when you prick with a knife.
- Give it a Rest: A trick to ensure the chicken stays moist, let your chicken rest, covered with tin foil for 15 – 20 minutes which allows the juices to absorb.
Downton Cook’s Easy Roast Chicken
Now that we have covered some of the basics, let’s get cooking. One last tip, I always start with a clean kitchen, clean floor (just in case something drops!), empty dishwasher and a cup of fortification. It used to be wine, but now a nice cuppa so I remember what went into the dish.
- 1 whole chicken (3 lbs is ample for 2-3 people)
- EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
- 2 lemons
- kosher salt
- freshly ground pepper
- assortment of root vegetables: 3 carrots, 3 parsnips, 3 potatoes, 1 onion
- 2 garlic cloves
- Fresh herbs which you have on hand: rosemary, sage, thyme, flat-leaf parsley.
- Dried herbs of your choosing (optional)
- 1 tbsp. softened butter (optional)
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Prepare the root vegetables you have on hand. Ensure they are clean, but you don’t need to peel. There are nutrients in the peel which otherwise would get lost. Roughly chop into large chunks. Place into a roasting pan* which should have a grill rack. If not, you can simply pace the chicken on top of the vegetables. Pour a little EVOO on the vegetables, add the garlic and toss in fresh herbs. We love rosemary in our house.
- Remove the giblets from the chicken and wipe down the chicken with paper towels. Rub with EVOO and salt and pepper. Be careful not to contaminate your salt and pepper mills. You can also rub other dried herbs you have on hand (rosemary, thyme, Herbes de Provence).
- Gently separate the breast skin from meat on each side with your fingers or a spatula. Insert lemon slices and some fresh herbs which will help flavor the bird and keep the moisture in. Alternatively, you can rub a little softened butter, again between the skin and the actual breast meat. Go wild and do both.
- Steaming the chicken from the inside out: lemon does a great job of moisturizing the chicken from the inside out. Depending on the size of the chicken, either cut the lemon in half, or prick a whole lemon and stuff it in to the cavity.
- Place in the oven, uncovered. As a general rule, calculate a cooking time of 20 minutes per pound of meat. The temperature of the chicken needs to be 165° -170°F (see above).
- Let the poor bird rest for 20 minutes to let the juices settle into the meat. If you cut it too soon, you will see all the flavour on your cutting board. Remove from your roasting pan and cover with tin foil and get your table setting ready.
- You may be tempted to make gravy, but you really don’t need it and your doctor will thank you for it. You can use a fat separator to take the fat off and serve the juices on the side to your family/guests.
- Carve the chicken and serve with your roasted vegetables.
How to Carve A Chicken
- The chicken should be placed on a carving board which has that little nice moat to catch any juices, but make do with what you have on hand. Use a sharp carving knife and fork if you have one, or use a kitchen fork and sharp knife.
- Cut the legs and thighs off first: carefully cut down between the leg and the breast, cut through the joint and pull the leg off. Repeat on the other side. You further separate the leg from the thigh by cutting through the joint.
- Cut off the breasts: angle the knife along the breastbone and carve one side off, then the other. If you want to make smaller portions, or have cooked a large chicken, cut the breast into smaller portions. Place the cut breast piece cut side down and slice smaller diagonal strips across the breast.
- A Downton Cook will save the carcass to make chicken stock/chicken soup.
Tools of the Trade
While cooks in Downton’s era may not have had exactly the same type of kitchen gadgets, Victorian cooks did start the craze for creating a tool for each job in the kitchen, so I blame our ancestors for my obsession with collecting these time savers.
I do love the hunt in my local cooking stores, but you can order this stuff directly from Amazon so you have more time to watch Downton.
*A Cool Multi Purpose Pan: You can use any roasting pan to make a good roast chicken, but ensure that it isn’t too large for the bird(s) or it will burn. I love the multi-tasking tool, so picked up this lovely little multi-purpose pan which works in the oven as well as the grill, allowing you to grill, steam and bake. By putting the one section with holes into the base, I didn’t need a rack. I found mine in a cooking store after searching for a smaller pan for a single chicken. Who knew I could have saved the gas and ordered it directly from Amazon?