KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 19 – December is a month of endings. The year is about to come to an end after all.
Some of us are clearing our remaining days of annual leave, after 11 months of overtime and no vacations. What we had hoped 2020 to be either came to pass or did not, and there is only a choice between regrets and reflection.
I choose reflection.
This is a year I grew stronger amid adversity. This is a year I have been given new possibilities where before I had only seen obstacles. This is a year where, more than any year before, I have come to relish the sweetness of life.
So it is with gratitude and optimism that I prepare a festive meal. There is an unexpected offering of cheese and crackers for those who want something to stave off any hunger pangs. There is no rush: a good meal, a delicious meal, takes time.
And this is a meal with which we celebrate the year and mark a month of endings. It’s a ritual. It’s what we do.
So: a roast chicken this year. Suffused with lemon and rosemary, glazed with soy sauce and honey till it's crispy skin darkens lustily.
But for some sides, no mashed potatoes or fries, please. We are tired of taters.
Instead let’s have some “reds and greens” in the form of oven-baked cherry tomatoes and Chinese cabbage. That’s right, oven-baked Chinese cabbage rather than stir-fried or in a soup. It’s almost the end of the year but that’s no reason not to try something new.
Raw blueberries offer a hit of freshness to the proceedings, to prevent the dish from getting too heavy. It’s a nice substitute for the cloyingly sweet cranberry sauce (more for a Thanksgiving turkey anyway) or greasy brown gravy out of a box.
The roast chicken will be moist enough that you wouldn’t miss any sauces or gravies beyond the natural juices of the bird and the oven-baked “reds and greens”, and if that isn’t reason enough to celebrate, I don’t know what is!
FESTIVE ROAST CHICKEN WITH OVEN-BAKED ‘REDS & GREENS’
The cavity of the chicken – or rather, what you put in it – is the secret to its succulence. A whole lemon will provide much needed moisture as the chicken roasts, while a few sprigs of rosemary will perfume the meat.
To give the chicken skin a dark and delectable colour, a simple glaze made with soy sauce and honey will introduce caramelisation. The result: skin that is crispy and salty-sweet, not dull and run-of-the-mill.
For the vegetables – the Chinese cabbage and cherry tomatoes – nothing more than extra virgin olive oil, salt and freshly cracked black pepper is required. Keep it simple to allow the natural flavours of the “reds and greens” to shine through.
As we are adding a touch of freshness with the blueberries, leave them till the end. Do bring them up to room temperature though, if you’ve kept them chilled in the fridge else the contrast of cold fruits and hot chicken might leave your guests less than amused.
1 whole chicken
1 lemon, cut into halves
3 sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves removed from the stem
Extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons runny honey
1 dozen cherry tomatoes
6 large outer leaves from a Chinese cabbage
½ punnet fresh blueberries
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Prepare a large baking dish by covering it with aluminium foil; this will be for catching the juices and drippings from the roast chicken and to bake the vegetables later.
Rinse the whole chicken and pat it dry with paper towels, especially the skin so it can crisp up properly. Insert the cut lemon halves and the rosemary into the chicken cavity.
Rub the chicken with enough extra-virgin olive oil to cover it thoroughly. Sprinkle sea salt and black pepper all over the chicken, making sure to season inside the cavity too.
Place the baking dish on the lowest part of the oven and an oven rack above it. Put the chicken on top of the oven rack.
Roast the chicken for 20 minutes at 200°C. Then lower the heat to 175°C. Continue roasting for another 40 minutes.
While the chicken is roasting, pour the soy sauce and honey into a bowl and mix till well combined. This will be the glaze for basting the chicken.
After the chicken has roasted for the first 60 minutes, use a pastry brush to brush the chicken with the glaze. Make sure to cover the top as well as the sides generously with this basting liquid.
Roast for another 10 minutes, still at 175°C, before basting the chicken again with the glaze. Allow to roast for a further 10 minutes or until a knife inserted into the breast and thighs releases clear juices.
Baste one final time with the glaze before removing from the oven. Allow the chicken to rest so the meat firms up.
Whilst the chicken is approaching its final baste, mix the cherry tomatoes and Chinese cabbage in a large bowl with enough extra-virgin olive oil, sea salt and black pepper to coat them.
After removing the chicken from the oven, transfer the cherry tomatoes and Chinese cabbage to the baking tray that now contains all the roast drippings.
Increase the temperature to 200°C and bake for about 10 minutes until the vegetables begin to wilt or char slightly but still retain their shape.
To serve, drape the leaves of oven-baked Chinese cabbage on a wooden board. Place the roast chicken on top of the cabbage. Scatter the oven-baked cherry tomatoes and fresh blueberries all over the chicken and the dish is ready to be served.
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