AN AUTUMN LUNCH
wow your guests with sensational seasonal fare
For the brine
* 200ml dry cider
* 100g demerara sugar
* 2 tbsp rock salt
* 1 tbsp whole black peppercorns * 2 thyme sprigs
* 3 fresh bay leaves, crushed * 1 large, free-range chicken (about 2kg), untied, any giblets removed
For the roast
* 50g butter, softened * 10 shallots, halved and peeled * 4 fresh, small bay leaves
* 5 thyme sprigs, plus extra leaves to serve * 1 small pumpkin or round squash, deseeded and cut into wedges
* 3 small pears, halved and cored * 2 tbsp olive oil
* 150ml dry cider
Start with the brine. Mix the cider, sugar, salt, peppercorns, thyme and bay leaves with 200ml water. Put the chicken in a large zip-lock food bag and pour in the brine. Seal the bag and put in the fridge (in a bowl or dish in case of leaks), for 6-24 hours, turning occasionally.
Preheat the oven to 190°C/gas mark 5. Remove the chicken from the brine (discard this), rinse briefly under cool water and pat dry. Pop four shallot halves inside the chicken with a bay leaf and a thyme sprig. Carefully work your hands under the chicken breast skin and lay two bay leaves on each breast, along with a pat of butter. Spread the remaining butter on top of the breast and leg skin.
Put the chicken in a large roasting tin or dish, cover loosely with foil and roast for 20 minutes. Now uncover the bird and add the pumpkin, pears, remaining shallots and remaining thyme sprigs to the dish so that they surround the chicken. Drizzle with oil and season. Add the cider to the dish. Turn the oven down to 180°C/gas mark 4 and roast for 50 minutes more, covering the chicken breast with a sheet of foil if it browns too quickly. Test the chicken is cooked by inserting a skewer into its thigh – the juices should run clear, not pink. Cover and return to the oven for 10 minutes if not quite cooked.
Rest the bird on a board, tented with foil, for 10 minutes before carving. Serve with the vegetables and fruit in the pan (scattered with a little fresh thyme), any pan juices and some buttery mash.