2 large bunches of watercress, broken into small sprigs and washed (you'll need about 180 g prepared cress)
1 small golden shallot, finely sliced
140 g unsalted butter, softened
Sea salt, to taste
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2–3 Tbs finely chopped tarragon,
Plus the leaves from 4 or 5 small tarragon sprigs, to scatter on top
1 × 1.7 kg organic (or free-range) chicken
1 lemon, quartered
1/3 cup (80 ml) extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 Tbs sherry or white wine vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 golden shallot, very fi nely chopped
1 small clove garlic, fi nely chopped
1/2 tsp sea salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp caster sugar
Olive Oil Fried Bread:
250 g stale pide bread
Extra virgin olive oil, for pan-frying
Preheat your oven to 230°C.
To prepare the chicken, put the butter and salt in a bowl. Use a wooden spoon to thoroughly beat them together and lighten the butter a little. Add the garlic and chopped tarragon and thoroughly mix everything together.
Pat the chicken dry, then carefully slide your fingers between the skin and the flesh at the neck end. Gently loosen the skin all over the breast, thighs and drumsticks.Take your time and try to avoid piercing the skin if you can (having said that, I should admit that I do this occasionally, particularly if I’m rushing, and it is no big deal if you do – just close it over as best you can. You can even use a bit of the loose neck skin to patch it if necessary).
Now scoop some of the herb butter in your fingers (you may like to wear food-prep gloves to do this) and spread it onto the flesh under the skin you have loosened. It’s a bit awkward to do, but you soon get the hang of it. Do this all over the chook, reserving any leftover butter. When that is done, sit the chicken in a roasting tin that fits it comfortably.
I rarely truss a chicken – I find it enough to loosely tie the drumsticks together at their base with a bit of kitchen string and tuck the wingtips under the neck. Once you’ve done this, spread any remaining butter over the outside of the chicken, then scatter the tarragon leaves over the top. Squeeze on the juice from the lemon, then tuck the lemon quarters into the cavity.
Sit the tin in the oven and roast the chicken for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 205°C and continue to cook it for another 50 minutes. If I remember, I baste it every now and then, but many’s the time I have just left it be and still ended up with a delicious, golden brown chook.
While the chicken is roasting, make the dressing. Put all the ingredients in a large bowl and whisk them together until the sugar and salt dissolve. Shake as much water off the cress sprigs as possible, and sit them on top of the dressing (don’t mix them in at this stage). Put the bowl in a cool spot or in the fridge.
When the chicken is ready – it will look and smell divine at this stage – remove it from the oven and leave it to rest in a warm spot for at least 15 minutes. While it’s resting, tip the herby, lemony juices left in the roasting tin into a serving jug and let them sit for a bit, then spoon the fat off the top. Pull the meat away from the chicken carcass (I like to remove it in large pieces – breast, thigh, etc) and then cut these pieces into large chunks.
While the chicken is resting, make the fried bread. I should preface this step by saying that these crunchy morsels are awfully addictive, and I invariably make heaps more than we need as at least half of them disappear off the draining paper as soon as they are cool enough to eat! Carefully remove the crust from the bread. I know this is a bit awkward, but if you cut the bread into a few large pieces and use a very sharp serrated knife, you will be able to slice off the crust – it’s even easier if the bread is a few days old. Tear the bread into irregular 2–3 cm chunks. Heat enough olive oil to fill a large frying pan to a depth of 4 mm or so over medium heat; when the oil is hot, toss in the bread chunks. Cook them, turning them regularly, until they’re golden all over – this doesn’t take long and you will need to keep an eye on them as they burn quite rapidly. As soon as they’re ready, scoop them out onto paper towels to drain.
I usually serve this salad family style. To do that, toss the watercress with its dressing and scoop half of it into a large serving bowl. Scatter chunks of chook and bread over the cress, then add the remaining cress, chicken and bread (if you have made extra fried bread, tip the leftover chunks into a small bowl to serve alongside). Sprinkle the finely sliced shallot over the top, and dribble on some of the reserved chicken juices – serve the remainder separately.
Credits: Extracted from The Salad Book by Belinda Jeffery with photography by Rodney Weidland, Lantern, RRP$39.99
Photo Credits: Extracted from The Salad Book by Belinda Jeffery with photography by Rodney Weidland, Lantern, RRP$39.99