Precision-roasted chicken

Martin Parr in Paris

Precision-roasted chicken

Who’d want to eat a sickly pink gelatin ring cake, or fluorescent bologna ? Or how about a brunch plate that looks nothing like you’d see in a magazine, but rather one you’d find at a diner somewhere in hell ? When you get a look at photographer Martin Parr’s Real Food, you might just feel like skipping your next meal.

A couple of Tuesdays ago, I was lucky enough to grab a ticket to hear the world-famous Martin Parr speak during a “Masterclass” (conference) at one of the cinema complexes located along the Villette canal in the 19th arrondissment. Parr was there to present his new collection, Real Food – or in French, Des Goûts.

Precision-roasted chicken

Surreal and ironic

With over 80 books to his name, Parr has become the social commentator par(r !) excellence, documenting the world in lurid color as a critique of the absurdity and superficiality of consumer society. And even though Parr was born in England, he’s no stranger to Paris.

His work was featured at the Jeu de Paume in 2009 during the exhibit Planète Parr, and at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in 2014. Whether he’s photographing a crowded artificial beach in Japan, or horserace spectators in his 2009 book Luxury, Parr’s trained eye seeks out both the surreal and the ironic.

Fiction out of reality

During the hour-long Q and A session held by two French journalists, Parr fielded some basic questions, and he navigated a few very strange ones. To begin, one of the journalists asked about Parr’s use of the flash to transform objects into “plastic.”

With his characteristic sense of humor, Parr responded by saying he’s addicted to his flash like an alcoholic to his drink ! Parr’s role as a photographer, he explained, is to provide entertainment, and the flash allows him to create fiction out of reality.

Of course, his photos aren’t just entertaining. As he says, there’s a more serious message behind the raw, sometimes kitchsy images, but he doesn’t force it down the viewer’s throat (so to speak) – you have to look to find it.

Food porn

The journalist also asked him about the use of the term “food porn” since Parr creates photos that are diametrically opposed to what we see in food magazines, where dishes look mouthwateringly delicious. According to Parr – and we all know this – the food we eat in real life doesn’t look like what’s in most photos, whether they’re in food magazines or on a box at the supermarket.

Parr acknowledges that “Junk food looks more interesting in photos than posh food.” But, he added, “I’m democratic ! I like junk food, but there’s some organic food too – if it’s colorful.” As long as there’s a contradiction – Parr looks for the clichés around different nationalities’ foods, for example, because they’re a great starting point for his work.

Precision-roasted chicken


Unfortunately, the other journalist couldn’t seem to contain himself once the word “porn” was pronounced. The editor of a well-known French restaurant guide, he asked Parr if he became sexually aroused (excité) by the food he shoots. And just in case there was any ambiguity in the term excité for the translator, the journalist used the word érection to rephrase his question !

Parr laughed – such a bizarre question – and answered that he’d “never had a hard while looking at my own pictures !” The journalist, maybe thinking he’d end up on the intellectual newsmakers’ list by taking the issue even further, asked Parr if there wasn’t a suggestion in his work of “digestion, what comes after we eat, like a child who turns around on his potty and looks at what he made.”

Food bomb

Precision-roasted chicken

The audience groaned – who WAS this horrible human being ? – and I’m pretty sure if we’d had in our hands some of the food Parr photographs, we’d have all bombed that so-called journalist with it. Of course Martin Parr ignored the persistent perversion, and handled the situation with aplomb and his affable sense of humor – the journalist clearly had none whatsoever.

And when the conversation turned to real food – not his book, but what Parr eats on weekends – he said, without hesitation, “I’m a self-confessed foodie. I like the traditional Sunday joint of beef or roast chicken.” He doesn’t use recipes, but loves foods that demand a high level of precision and timing to get right.

The best part of the evening ? After fending off the heckling of the faux-journalist who quite clearly needs some real food for thought – and perhaps some therapy – Mr. Parr invited each of us to climb inside an adorable caravan, to sit opposite him on a gingham-cushioned seat, and have a real conversation while he signed our books. Delightful !

Precision-roasted chicken

According to Martin Parr, roast chicken is one of the most well-loved dishes in England. Fortunately many Brits agree, and among them is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, author of the fantastic River Cottage Meat Book. So what better person to guide us through a precision-cooked roast chicken than one of Parr’s compatriots ? He describes roast chicken, a little like Parr, as “an iconic dish in British culture.”

Over the years, I’ve tested many recipes for roast chicken. Creative techniques abound : turning the bird every 15 minutes, using a rack, fashioning an aluminum foil “collar” to get the perfect level of browning, and the list goes on. So far, this is the best recipe I’ve found, even though I’ve made a few changes to it. One of its secrets is to smother the bird in lots of good-quality butter, thereby creating plenty of delicious pan juices – no need for gravy !

For all oven-roasted meat, Fearnley-Whittingstall uses a technique he calls the “half-hour sizzle” which means starting out with a hotter oven than you’ll end up with. So be prepared to adjust the oven temperature a couple of times during the roasting process.

Precision-roasted chicken

special equipment : an oven-proof roasting pan or lasagna-type pan, just large enough to hold the chicken

ingredients :
- 1 best-quality free-range chicken (3 to 4 pounds, or 1.3 to 1.8 kg)
- 5-7 tablespoons (75g-105g) softened, high-quality butter (quantity depends on size of bird)
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- freshly ground pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried herbes de Provence

how to make it :
1. Remove the chicken from refrigerator 30 minutes before you want to cook it. Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C).
2. Remove any string or trussing from the bird. Place the chicken in a roasting pan just slightly larger than the bird, and wiggle the legs around, separating them a little from the body to make sure the cavity is open so that air can circulate inside it.
3. In a bowl, mix together the softened butter, salt, plenty of freshly ground pepper, and herbes de Provence. Spread this butter mixture all over the chicken, inside and out.
4. When you’re ready to roast, reduce the heat to 400°F (205°C), and place the roasting pan on a rack in the lower-middle of the oven, legs first. Roast for 20 minutes.
5. Quickly remove the chicken from the oven and baste the top with the pan juices. Lower the heat to 350°F (175°C) and place the chicken back in the oven, legs facing the door this time. Continue roasting for 30-45 minutes, depending on the size of the bird.
6. Test for doneness by moving the thigh joint around where it’s attached to the breast – if it moves easily and the juices running from it are clear, the bird’s cooked.
7. Transfer the chicken to an oven-proof dish. Put it in the oven and leave the oven door slightly open to let the chicken rest for 15-20 minutes.
8. Cut the chicken into pieces and place them in the roasting pan on top of those delicious pan juices. Spoon the pan juices over the pieces as they’re served. Eat the chicken with a big green salad, or your favorite accompaniment.

serves 4-5

Tags : chicken , roast chicken , Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall , River Cottage Meat Book , Real Food , Martin Parr


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Alisa Morov 5 juin 2016

Such a nice post !

Allison Zinder 5 juin 2016

Thank you ! Glad you enjoyed it.

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