I thought that I made my mother’s roast chicken. I was sure of it. I remember my horror the first time I watched her stick a lemon up the backside of the bird. (These days she spatchcocks her chickens to cook them, but I like my chicken to look like chicken.) I made her roast chicken for one of the families I worked for down in London – complete with roast potatoes. I made it for my in-laws the first time I met them (they were my in-laws-to-be then). I made it for countless visitors and Sundays between that day and this. And I made it one time when my mum was up.
Let’s get this straight. This is not a particularly fancy recipe. This is cutting an onion and a lemon in half, and sticking half the onion, then half the lemon, then half the onion, in the cavity. Sometimes I may even stick a sage leaf or five under the skin. Occasionally there is bacon or pancetta on top (if I’m feeling particularly generous). I also have a recipe for actual stuffing for a chicken – several in fact. (My favourite is the one with pears poached in white wine. Keep the window open if you plan on driving.) But I like this recipe because it is almost as tasty as my super-fancy roast chicken, but so much less bother to make. And it’s my mum’s recipe. Well, it’s her style of cooking. So when I made it for her, I was hoping that she would say that it tasted just like her roast chicken. She didn’t.
“This chicken is soo-oo-o nice.”
“Thanks. It’s your recipe. The one where you stick the lemon and onion up its backside.”
“That’s not my recipe.”
That’s when my mum reminded me about her spatchcocking technique. Cooks the chicken faster. She says she has absolutely no recollection of ever using onions and lemons cut in half as a proxy for stuffing. I believe her. I never was particularly interested in cooking when I was growing up, so it is entirely possible that I got the wrong end of the stick.
So what’s the lesson in all of this? It doesn’t matter that it isn’t my mum’s actual roast chicken recipe, because it feels like her roast chicken recipe. Every time I make it, I smile to think of all the roast chickens she made when I was younger, and all the times before that I have made roast chicken. And so it is in life. It isn’t always about the precise details, but about the possibilities. My mum’s roast chicken is still my mum’s roast chicken, even though it isn’t. Because that is my decision.
That is the story of a roast chicken recipe.
(And yes. I know. It’s a lot of waffle, and all I have managed to do is make you hungry. Unless you are vegetarian.)