n normal times, a whole roast chicken can create unwanted obligations: once Sunday lunch is over, you’ve got to find way to use up the leftover bits within the week. Sometimes I manage it; sometimes the remains get divided up between the dog and the cat on Thursday.
Now that we’ve got the time and space to plan, all that’s required is a little inspiration. Here are 17 miraculous ways to make a whole chicken disappear.
First, we need to roast the chicken. As the co-author of Roast Chicken and Other Stories, Simon Hopkinson is something of an authority on the matter. His version is a good place to start – it’s not fussy, but it is particular.
I tend to roast a chicken according to the first recipe I consulted on the subject: Marcella Hazan’s chicken with two lemons. It doesn’t require anything beyond the lemons and some salt, plus a bit of string to truss up the chicken’s legs. The major innovation here is cooking the bird upside down for the first half hour, before turning it breast side up. If you do everything right, it comes out of the oven puffed up like a balloon. During lockdown, I’ve achieved acceptable results with minor variations, including chicken with one lemon and chicken with a half a lemon.
If you’re in a hurry, a spatchcocked chicken will take less time, and you can also cook it in a big frying pan or on a barbecue. Spatchcocking is easily mastered – it’s almost harder to say than it is to do – as long as you have got good kitchen scissors (this video tutorial is just over a minute long). I highly recommend Rachel Roddy’s chicken alla diavola recipe for chicken cooked this way. You need something heavy to pin the chicken to the pan. I use a 7lb (3kg) iron weight from an old set of scales.
Stock and soup
When you’ve had your fill, pull all the remaining meat off the chicken and put it in the fridge, then use the carcass to make stock. Along with the chicken and the water, stock usually includes an onion, a few carrots, a couple of celery stalks, parsley, possibly some leeks, peppercorns, thyme and a bay leaf or two. Don’t worry too much about leaving out a few of these – and don’t be tempted to chuck in random vegetables – not everything works. The simpler it is, the more versatile it will be. Basic instructions can be found here.
Once you’ve got stock and chicken, you are ready to make chicken soup. A lot of soup recipes call for a whole fresh chicken, which defeats our purpose. This one doesn’t, and it can serve as a solid template for any experimental variation.
For something a trifle more exotic, Nigella Lawson’s thai chicken soup can be made from the store cupboard, as long as you consider tamarind paste a store cupboard ingredient (I’m not saying it isn’t one, I’m just saying I don’t have any). It’s remarkably forgiving and still works well when you’ve missed out a few ingredients, or don’t have much chicken left over.
Across hundreds of Sunday nights I relied on a post-roast chicken and rice staple known in our house as spicey ricey. So unpopular did this dish eventually become that, when threatened with it again one evening, my youngest son stormed into the kitchen and started making risotto. I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing – it was like watching a cat install a satellite dish.
What he produced that night was a surprisingly delicious conflation of the two Nigel Slater recipes found here – risotto with pancetta and blue cheese. And he put chicken in it. That was the end of spicey ricey.
Along with the meat and bones, a roasted chicken will supply you with a good amount of fat which, according to Tom Hunt, can be whipped into a versatile substitute for butter, or a tasty spread you can put on toast. His chicken butter keeps in the fridge for up to two months, giving you plenty of time to get your head round the idea.
Jamie Oliver’s roast chicken pasta requires intention – the chicken is cooked specially for the dish, with a sauce coming together in the roasting pan. It’s good, but it does leave us back at square one, leftovers-wise.
Nigel Slater’s pasta with roast chicken and pine kernels is a more opportunist dish – as long as you’ve got a leftover chicken, you can decide to make this at the last minute. It’s sort of a winter thing, but it would still suit a rainy summer evening.
This leftover chicken and bacon pasta from Chris Collins is slightly eccentric – it’s got sweet chilli sauce in it – but it’s perfect for a night when even the store cupboard is looking a bit bare.
Slater again: his asparagus with chicken and basil dressing is almost too simple to call a salad. The key to it is the dressing, which should be made at the last minute.
Chicken and freekeh salad with salsa verde requires a bit more chopping, but that’s all. If you don’t like freekeh, or don’t know what it is, you could easily substitute bulgar wheat or couscous. We’re only dressing up leftover chicken, after all, so it makes sense to work with what you’ve got.
If you’re fortunate enough to have some stale bread on hand, Thomasina Miers’s chicken panzanella salad needs only the addition of good tomatoes, capers, anchovies, basil, peppers and an onion to create something considerably more elegant than the sum of its parts.
When Sunday comes, it starts all over again.