Comfort Food With Cat Sarsfield: The Perfect Roast Chicken
A self-confessed homebody whose favourite activities include cooking, relaxing and finding new places to lie down in her flat, Cat is a writer and food lover who works for our good friends Sonder & Tell.
Having lived in some interesting spaces and places (a shed in Cornwall, a bridal suite in California, an old school building in India, a railway house in Sri Lanka – to name a few), Cat is now spending her time writing, cooking and reading in her London flat.
Cat shares her favourite comfort food recipes. Warning - this blog will make you hungry.
Cat winding down at her home in London
This feels like the right place to talk about comfort food. Or perhaps just food, because to me, all food should feel like a comfort. Something to sink into; to indulge in; to make you feel warmed and welcomed and settled. Could be your bed. Could be your favourite meal. Wild idea: it could be both?
There is zero judgement when it comes to comfort food (or any food, for that matter). Because comfort is so subjective. One person's break-up burger is another one's cry-me-a-river granola bowl.
My comfort foods have changed over the years. When I was a kid, I would request sausage and mash at least once a week, until I scarred myself by eating so much mashed potato followed by running round the house that I have a vivid memory of throwing up on my red socks (sorry for the visual).
My next comfort meal was roast belly pork cooked by my mother, who'd make batches of tart and sweet apple sauce ready for my arrival from university. It signalled coming home – leaving boy dramas and heartbreaks (yes, that's a plural; and no, I didn't get much work done in 2013) behind and entering a sort of insulated food-filled nest.
Then came the lost years when I wasn't quite sure what comfort looked like, until a stir of a risotto helped me off the floor and into the kitchen. A stint abroad tested my comfort levels, but as with most things you just need time to settle; to ease into the disruption and find routine amidst the chaos.
And so: masala dosa washed down with sweet chai in Varkala; coconut pancakes, turmeric yellow on the outside and filled with a mix of sugar and coconut that glimmered like crystals in Ahangama. Wine that time I lived on a vineyard in Northern California, but also the chicken Caesar salad and polenta fries served downtown at the Piazza, and charred Brussel sprouts picked from the gardens seared in my first ever cast iron.
Now: pasta thrown in last minute to a sauce of soft shallots, fresh cherry tomatoes, probably too much garlic and melted anchovies. Or just sticky white rice cooked in the Donabe pot, topped with a crispy fried egg and doused in soy sauce, sesame seeds and chilli oil.
Personally, I don't index comfort food by taste or outcome; for me, the comfort is in the process or the ritual. Which is why roast chicken is the ultimate comfort food. It requires simplicity (not usually my forte) and patience (never been my forte); to step out of the chaos and into a place of salting, chopping, basting and roasting.
When I was younger, I didn't understand the pull of Sunday roasts. But now I understand it's more for the cooks. The satisfaction of its smell flowing through your home and knowing you put it there. How it lingers in stock made the next day, or comes back alive in a bouncy Caesar salad. I live there now. In that warmth. Sometimes I'll make it for loved ones. But for me, the comfort is in indulging in the process solo. Remembering the ritual. And eating the crispy skin all for myself.
"I didn't understand the pull of Sunday roasts. But now I understand it's more for the cooks."
Coming to mine on a weeknight? We're having chicken:For two people (personally I believe two is the perfect number for sharing a chicken):
- 1 small free-range chicken (I usually look for anything less than 1.5kg)
- Bunch of fresh rosemary
- 1 lemon
- Olive oil
- Salt + peps
- Fresh parsley
- Fresh chives
- Fresh mint
- Olive oil
- Fresh red chilli
- Bunch of asparagus (snap the ends off, they'll break naturally where they're meant to. Just like young hearts).
- 6-8 Jersey royal potatoes (depending on how hungry you and your guest are)
- 1 egg yolk
- 3/4 cup neutral oil (olive/sunflower)
- 4 anchovy fillets (if it's your vibe)
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- Squeeze of lemon juice
1. This recipe is all about simplicity but also timing. So first, salt your chicken a couple of hours beforehand. Be generous. All over. Every nook and cranny. Let it be salty in the fridge and once you're ready to cook, bring it out and pat it dry.
2. Turn on your oven and preheat to 230ºC. Stuff the chicken with rosemary and half a lemon, leave the rest for your other sides. Pour olive oil so it's nice and shiny (but not drowning) then finish with a few big twists of pepper. That's it.
In colder months I'd suggest stuffing the skin with butter mixed with chopped parsley and minced garlic; but if it's hot and summer let's keep things light.
3. Once the oven has been preheated, pop the chicken in (I use cast iron, but any baking tray will do). Put the timer on for 1 hour (trust me, I’ve roasted a lot of chicken and it always needs an hour).
4. Now for the mayo. Not scary, I promise. In a large bowl, rooted by a wet tea towel wrapped around the base, add one egg yolk then slowly – honestly, slower than your boyfriend getting up in the morning – pour in the olive oil (top tip, I use a chef's squeezy bottle to control the pour) with your non-dominant hand and whisk vigorously with the other. It will start to emulsify and turn into a glossy, thick masterpiece. Once it looks slick, add in the mustard, chopped anchovy fillets and a squeeze of lemon juice. Season to taste.
Homemade mayo - a glossy, thick masterpiece.
5. At around 30 mins on the time, baste your chicken, spooning the juice over the top.
6. At this point, put your potatoes on to boil slowly on a low-medium heat. Once they're done, remove and put to one side to slightly cool.
7. Use the same water to quickly boil the asparagus (2 minutes max), then blanche (plunge into ice water) so they stay bright.
8. Take the chicken out at 1 hour and leave to rest for 10 minutes on a separate plate.
9. In a bowl add the halved potatoes, some freshly chopped chives and pour over the chicken juices from the roasting tray/cast iron. No need to season.
10. While you're waiting for the chicken to rest, chop up the parsley and mint leaves (more parsley than mint), chives and fresh chilli. Add enough extra virgin olive oil so it's all saucy, then add a splash of lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.
No need to season the asparagus. Just dip them in the mayo. Salsa v on the chicken. Potatoes with both. Enjoy with a glass of crisp sparkling white (might I suggest Tillingham's Col 19?) and luxuriate in the comfort of leftovers tomorrow.