Every now and then cooks run out of time and suddenly find themselves under pressure, with a meal looming and a hungry family impatient for their baked chicken dinner. Stay cool. It does not have to take 60 minutes or more to roast a chicken, it just takes a little cunning and a fairly relaxed half an hour. Well, alright, it will take 35 minutes, but it will still be roasted and will still be the entire chicken. There are two methods you can use, one of which involves practically no work on your part at all.
So let's start with that one. You need a 1.5kg (that's about 3lbs) chicken or smaller. Mix together a little olive oil, some dark soy sauce, a teaspoon of paprika, a tablespoon of mixed dried herbs and two crushed cloves of garlic. Paint this mix all over the chicken, then put it into a roasting bag and seal it by twisting the end of the bag and folding it under the chicken.
Punch a couple of holes in the bag and microwave on High for 30 minutes. At the end of the cooking time, leave the chicken in the microwave, without opening the door, for a further 5 minutes. Be careful when you open the bag, just in case there is still some steam waiting to escape.
It can burn you. If you don't like that idea, or you don't have a microwave, then you can use a conventional oven preheated to 180°C, 350°F, but now you will have to joint your chicken. Don't worry, it's easy. You simply cut it into quarters using either a sharp cook's knife or kitchen shears. Start at the tail end with the chicken on its back and cut down through the parson's nose. Now stand the chook on its neck with the backbone towards you and cut straight down, using the notch in the parson's nose as your starting point.
Flatten out the bird, skin-side down, and cut from neck to tail, through the center of the gelatinous membrane that forms the breast-bone. Finally, cut across the halves between the thigh and breast to make your quarters. You will easily see where to do this. It's a natural cutting point.
Place the pieces skin-side up in a roasting tin large enough to hold them without overlapping, brush them with the mixture given above, and bake for 30 minutes, basting once. For the last five minutes turn the oven heat to full, which will help to give a crisper finish. You can miss out this step if you intend to discard the skin. As always with roasted meat, once the cooking time is over keep the chicken warm but let it stand for five minutes before carving. This lets it relax and allows the juices to spread evenly throughout the joint.
When you carve the breast, instead of slicing it lengthways as you normally would, remove it from the bone in one piece and then slice it at a slight angle, starting at the neck end and working back. You can joint the legs in the usual way.
Michael Sheridan is a former head-chef as well as an acknowledged authority and published writer on cooking matters. His website at http://www.thecoolcook.com contains a wealth of information, hints, tips and recipes for busy home cooks