New-look chook

From fancy ro­tis­series to up­scale restau­rants – a bird’s-eye view of the roast chicken re­vival

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - FRONT PAGE -

Ben Greeno has clocked in at the Miche­lin-starred restau­rant Sat Bains in the UK, at Noma in Den­mark and at Mo­mo­fuku Seiobo in Syd­ney. So when the ac­com­plished Bri­tish chef, who over­sees The Padding­ton, re­cently un­veiled a hum­ble chicken take­away in Syd­ney’s eastern sub­urbs, many ob­servers clucked with de­light. Greeno is load­ing up the ro­tis­serie at The Chicken Shop in Padding­ton with Ban­nock­burn chooks, and is also of­fer­ing pris­tine sal­ads. The mes­sage is clear: chicken is chic.

Lately, we’ve en­coun­tered an ar­ray of fab­u­lous fowls – spicy Nashville fried, crunchy Korean-style and Ja­panese karaage among them – but the clas­sic ro­tis­serie ver­sion is de­flect­ing at­ten­tion away from them. It’s not hard to dis­cern why. An exquisitely cooked chicken, whether spit-turned or oven-roasted, rep­re­sents a sat­is­fy­ing, health-giv­ing and bud­get-friendly meal.

A wave of chefs and restau­ra­teurs is tap­ping into the ap­petite for bet­ter birds, open­ing ca­sual venues like Greeno and the Merivale group, or of­fer­ing next-level it­er­a­tions of the tra­di­tional dish on their menus. And through prove­nance, breed or brine, each is restor­ing what has be­come com­mon­place to a cen­tre­piece.

“I think chefs are look­ing to use their knowl­edge to el­e­vate the ba­sic for­mula,” says Scott Pick­ett, chef-owner of Mel­bourne restau­rants Estelle by Scott Pick­ett, Estelle Bistro and Saint Crispin. At his lat­est project, Pick­ett’s Deli & Ro­tis­serie at Queen Vic­to­ria Mar­ket, Pick­ett in­stalled ro­tis­series so that he could sell high-end roast chicken.

For him, that means a process that starts with brin­ing lo­cal chooks in a sugar and salt so­lu­tion for 24 hours.

“Once they’re out of the brine we give them a rinse and stuff the cav­ity with lemon, gar­lic, thyme, bay leaf and pars­ley,” he says. “Then we truss them, and let them air dry for a day or two. That way when you roast it you get a won­der­ful, crispy skin.”

Pick­ett has a “se­cret” dry rub too (take that Colonel San­ders) but whether it’s packed into a foil bag, shared whole at the counter with hand-cut chips, or stuffed into a roll with tar­ragon and gravy, the ten­der white meat is a long way from the stan­dard fare.

For Greeno, it’s im­por­tant that The Chicken Shop is a repos­i­tory of out­stand­ing spec­i­mens. “We’ve only got four me­tres of space,” he says. “We’re not go­ing to be of­fer­ing dim sum salad.” Nonethe­less, they do have shoe­string fries and sand­wiches to go.

Greeno uses a cus­tom-made French Ro­ti­sol ro­tis­serie – the Chanel of spits. Pick­ett swears by ro­tis­series from French man­u­fac­turer Cuisines De­sign. “Each ro­tis­serie is built as a unique piece of art,” says dis­trib­u­tor Jac­ques Morin at Phoeniks in Mel­bourne.

As the in­dus­try likes to crow, chicken re­mains Aus­tralia’s pre­ferred meat. Chicken ex­cels at in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion, says food his­to­rian Michael Sy­mons in his book One Con­tin­u­ous Pic­nic: A Gas­tro­nomic His­tory Of Aus­tralia. Sy­mons notes that the first lo­cal branch of KFC opened in 1968. Red Rooster soon fol­lowed, and then char­coal chicken shops mul­ti­plied. In the last 40 years, our con­sump­tion of poul­try has quadru­pled. We now each eat, on av­er­age, 46.2kg of chicken a year, while take­away sales are at $2.9 bil­lion.

It is cer­tainly tastier than ever. So­phis­ti­cated roast chook has been turn­ing up on an in­creas­ing number of menus at fine-din­ing restau­rants, too, es­pe­cially in Mel­bourne.

Con­sider Philippe Mouchel’s Ban­nock­burn ro­tis­serie chicken at Philippe, the miso but­ter glazed birds at Belleville, and Stu­art Brook­shaw and Ruth Giffney’s in­jec­tion-brined, free-range chooks at Hen­ri­etta’s Chicken Shop & Bar.

Haute hens are also tempt­ing din­ers in Syd­ney.At No.1 Bent Street, Mike McEn­ear­ney roasts them in a wood­fired oven.At Ester in Chip­pen­dale, Mat Lind­say chan­nels chicken-shop-chic in an oc­ca­sional lunch spe­cial: pulled meat and chicken crack­ling sand­wiched be­tween hot bread and served in a bowl of gravy. Mean­while, the but­ter­flied, mar­i­nated birds served with Le­banese bread, pickles and lux­u­ri­ous toum (gar­lic sauce) at El Jan­nah in Granville have a cult fol­low­ing.

In Bris­bane, Damian Grif­fiths, the mogul be­hind chains Mister Fitz and Dough­nut Time, is cur­rently pre­par­ing to open a ro­tis­serie-chicken restau­rant in the Queens­land cap­i­tal.

Bird-lovers cite the whole-roasted Barossa chicken at Pearl Cafe in Wool­loongabba, served with leeks and lemon myr­tle, the gar­lic and pa­prika chicken at La Ro­tis­serie in Newstead, and the chilli chook at Robyn’s Char­coal Chicken in Greenslopes.

Steeped in nos­tal­gia, crisp, golden chicken is ar­guably never go­ing out of fash­ion. But for now, whether it’s high or low, free-range or or­ganic, served with crin­kle-cut chips or char­grilled corn, all th­ese new-look chooks are def­i­nitely com­ing home to roost.

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