Bird of paradise: Skye Gyngell's heavenly roast-chicken dinner

Roast chicken was a firm favourite of Skye Gyngell's childhood. And it's no less popular with her own brood

I grew up on roast chicken – we had it at least once a week, always with mashed potatoes, often with peas. And now I make it at home once a week for my own children and, just as when I was little, I always serve it with mashed potatoes – though instead of peas, we have roast butternut squash – and my children love it just as much as I did. (I wonder whether their children will too.)

It is important that chickens are both free-range and organic. I read recently that it is now official that organic food neither tastes better nor is better for you. But I cannot hold to that, whatever any document says – I just feel that food grown close to home, lovingly reared, is both better for the Earth in general and for ourselves. And, quite simply, it tastes purer, cleaner, more of itself. Below is my recipe for the perfect chicken meal.

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, tel: 020 8605 3627,

Roast chicken

Roast chicken cooked in this way does not require a traditional gravy. It is succulent and tender and just right the way it is. I prefer instead to serve it with a jus by deglazing the pan with a little white wine and reducing it slightly.

Serves 4

50g/2oz unsalted butter, softened
4 good-quality anchovies in oil
1 small bunch of marjoram, leaves only, roughly chopped
1 unwaxed lemon
11/2kg/3lb free-range, organic chicken
3 fresh bay leaves
1 dried red chilli
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Start by heating the oven to 200C/400F/ Gas6. Place the soft butter into a bowl, finely chop the anchovies and add to the butter along with the chopped marjoram. Slice the lemon in half and squeeze a little of the juice into the butter mixture. Stir together really well using a wooden spoon.

Using your fingers, gently separate the chicken's skin from its flesh. Spoon the flavoured butter under the skin. Place in a roasting pan and put the lemon and bay leaves into the cavity. Crumble the dried chilli over the top, generously season with salt and grind over just a little black pepper. Using a small, sharp knife, score the legs not quite to the bone and place on the middle shelf of the hot oven.

Cook for 20 minutes then reduce the temperature to 180C/350F/Gas4 and roast for about a further 45 minutes. At this point, turn the heat off and open the oven door two to three inches and allow the chicken to rest in the oven for 15 minutes. Now remove from the oven and carve.

Serve alongside the roasted vegetables and purée of potato (see below).

Roasted butternut squash, fennel and courgettes

The sweetness of roasted butternut squash is delicious with the slight salty heat of the roast chicken. Cooking vegetables in one pan simplifies everything and the flavours mingle together nicely. When cooking accompaniments, always make sure that you repeat the flavours to some extent so the total meal is harmonious.

Serves 4

2 bulbs of fennel
1 butternut squash
5 courgettes
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
The juice of half a lemon
1 bunch of marjoram, leaves only
5 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Remove the tough outer leaves from the fennel then cut into quarters. Slice the butternut squash in half lengthwise – it is important to use a sharp knife for this – scrape out the seeds and slice into generous chunks. Wash and pat dry the courgettes and slice on the bias in one-inch pieces. Now place all the vegetables into a bowl and pour over the olive oil, squeeze over the lemon juice and add the marjoram and garlic. Toss together well and place into a roasting pan. Cover tightly in foil and place on the lower shelf of the oven about five minutes after you have turned the oven down to 180C/350F/ Gas4 as the second part of cooking the chicken. Roast for 20 minutes then remove the foil, gently toss the vegetables and return to the oven for a further 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and serve alongside the chicken.

Purée of potatoes

Although at the restaurant we never serve potatoes, at home it is different. My children love mashed potatoes, creamy and smooth, especially with roast chicken – it is the perfect accompaniment with which to mop up the delicious pan juices.

The variety I find best to use is Desiree – a potato that is buttery, light and creamy all at the same time. Look for potatoes that are smooth, firm and heavy for their size.

Serves 6 or 4 large portions

8 medium Desiree potatoes
Sea salt
300ml/10fl oz milk
60g/21/2oz unsalted butter
To finish, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Using a small knife, peel the potatoes, removing any eyes as you go. Now cut into one-inch cubes and place in a saucepan of cold water. Add a good pinch of salt and place the saucepan over a medium heat. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down slightly so that the water is just simmering. Cook the potatoes until the water is cloudy and the pieces of potato fall apart when gently pierced with a fork. Drain the potatoes and set aside.

Using the same saucepan, pour in the milk and add the butter. Turn the heat to low and warm the milk; once the butter has melted, return the potatoes to the pan, and mash until all the lumps are removed and the potato is completely puréed and smooth – the warm milk will make this process much easier. Season well with salt and pepper and serve alongside the chicken and vegetables.

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