Neil Rankin's fail-safe roast chicken plus fantastic ideas for the leftovers

​Poultry returns? If you cook a whole chicken, you'll really see the benefits, says Neil Rankin, from the juiciness of the bird to the delights of the leftovers

Neil Rankin
Saturday 17 October 2015 18:39 BST
Roast chicken
Roast chicken (Paul Winch-Furness)

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Who doesn't grab packs of chicken breasts, wings or thighs from the supermarket in a rush on the way home from work? But what tends to be forgotten is that roasting an entire chicken can be just as convenient and simple as pre-packed cuts – and great value for money, too: it's the meal that keeps on giving, for everyone: families, couples and people living on their own.

For those who do decide to buy an entire bird, a common worry is how long to cook it: no one wants undercooked flesh but neither do they want dry, stringy meat. I was recently invited by a friend to a dinner party, for which he bought a couple of £30 poulets de Bresse. These chickens are delicious – or at least they should be. Unfortunately, he cooked them to the point that they were as dry as my nan's slippers, and we ended up getting a take-out.

The other reason people don't cook whole birds is that they fear having leftovers cluttering up the fridge. In fact, leftovers are the joy of well-cooked chicken: sandwiches, soups, salads, stir fries, omelettes or just picking away at the carcass on a sneaky fridge visit. As long as the chicken isn't overcooked in the first place, it can be kept refrigerated for several days and used in meal after meal.

Here, I'm giving you my bulletproof roast chicken recipe that requires no brining, no fancy equipment and no need to pay £30 for a bird – any reasonable quality free-range chicken will get nice juicy results. And there's a couple of easy leftover recipes, too, so ensure you cook too much in the first place…

Neil Rankin is co-owner of Smokehouse and Bad Egg, and food boss at London Union

Fail-safe roast chicken

Preparation time: 2 mins

Cooking time: 2¼ hours

Serves 3-5

1 whole chicken, 2-2½kg

A little oil (vegetable, olive, nut – your choice)


Preheat your oven to 120C/ 250F/Gas½. If your chicken is tied up with a bit of string making it look all neat and perky, take that string off. Spread the legs out a bit and place it on a roasting tray. Take a clean cloth or use your hands (but wash them after if you do) and rub a bit of oil on the surface then cover it with salt. The oil is there to help the salt stick, so don't go crazy with it.

Cook for 1¼ hours then remove and place to one side on a cold plate. The chicken will be fully cooked and should have kept all its juices thanks to the cooking temperature, but the skin will not be crispy yet.

Turn the oven to its maximum heat and leave it to heat up for about 45 minutes, which will also allow the chicken to cool down. When you come back, roast the chicken for 15 minutes then serve hot or let it cool for a few minutes. It should be perfect.

Chinese crispy shredded chicken
Chinese crispy shredded chicken (Paul Winch-Furness)

Chinese crispy shredded chicken

Crispy shredded beef is a classic Chinese takeaway dish. I find it hard not to have it every time I order in. This version could be the easiest fried chicken in the world. There's no need for a big deep-fat fryer – you can do it in a simple pan or wok, and the best thing is that pre-cooked chicken works better in my opinion, as you won't be worried about undercooking it.

Preparation time: 5 mins

Cooking time: 10 mins

Serves 1-2

100g leftover shredded chicken

100g easy-cook white rice

20ml soy sauce

20ml honey

20ml rice-wine vinegar

20ml hoisin sauce

1 chopped red chilli

5g chopped fresh ginger

50g cornflour

Few fresh mint leaves

Tear off strips of the cold leftover chicken. Lumps are fine – there really are no rules to this. You can even get lots of meat off the bottom of the chicken and by scraping the carcass.

Rinse the rice in cold running water then place in a pan and add double the volume of water to rice with a little salt. Simmer till the water is evaporated and the rice is cooked and fluffy.

Place the soy, honey, vinegar, hoisin, chilli and ginger in a saucepan and cook until thick.

Get a wok or saucepan hot on the stove. Toss the chicken pieces in the cornflour. When ready, add some oil to the pan until it is about 1cm deep, wait till it is hot, and throw in the chicken, tossing halfway through (cook for about a minute on each side).

Once the chicken is crispy and light brown, remove and drain on kitchen paper.

Toss the chicken in the sauce and serve with the rice; top with some mint for freshness.

Roast chicken noodle soup
Roast chicken noodle soup (Paul Winch-Furness)

Roast chicken noodle soup

As the weather gradually deteriorates, it's the time of year for sniffles, splutters and coughs. Chicken soup is still to my mind the best medicine around and, of course, it's delicious even if you're not ailing. This version has extra spice to power though any stuffy nose and is quite simple to make. To boost the flavour, you can substitute chicken stock for the water.

Preparation time: 5 mins

Cooking time: 1 hour

Serves 1-2

Leftover chicken carcass

1 litre water

1 tbsp sesame oil

Leftover chicken (as much as you have)

2 tsp sriracha sauce

2 tsp hoisin sauce

Small handful coriander leaves

2 spring onions, sliced fine

2 portions dried egg noodles

Sprinkle togarashi (a Japanese pepper seasoning available in many supermarkets)

Preheat the oven to 180C/ 350F/Gas4 and roast the carcass for 30 minutes. Place in a pan, cover with the water, and simmer till reduced by half, skimming off fat as you go. Drain the liquid, season to taste and add the sesame oil.

Lay out the cold leftover chicken at the bottom of two bowls. Put a few blobs of sriracha and hoisin sauce on top of the chicken, then add a few coriander leaves and the spring onion slices.

In a pan, cover the noodles with the stock and heat for a few minutes until cooked. Transfer the noodles to the bowls then pour over the hot stock. Finish with a few shakes of togarashi. (If you can't find togarashi, for a similar flavour, mix 1 tsp cracked black pepper, 1 tsp Chinese five spice, 1 tsp sesame seeds, 1 tsp crushed chillies and some grated orange zest.)

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