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Levi Roots: 'Stop washing my chicken? No chance!'

POULTRY PREPARATION: Washing chicken with limes is a common practice in African and Caribbean households

WHEN PREPARING chicken – whole, legs, thighs and wings – for a cook up, of course, before seasoning and marinating, you would give the meat a good scrubbing.

So at the side of the kitchen sink would be the usual cleansing suspects: limes, lemons, vinegar, salt and water at the ready.

Rinsing the meat in a mixture of the above, while rubbing the lemon all over it, helps to remove any unwanted slimy or fatty tissues left on the bird. Next, you rinse again, pat the meat dry, and then – and only then – would you start seasoning.

If you think that’s bad, I would bet that there are people out there who would go even further than that with the cleanliness thing. So you can imagine the shock, the horror, when someone on the telly was saying we shouldn’t be washing our chicken anymore; that washing it was dangerous.

Hold on, pull up, rewind and come again. Ah wha dis mi hear, massa God? Yes, it was claimed that washing raw chicken before cooking it can increase your risk of food poisoning from bacteria. Specifically, the splashing that can occur while washing the chicken can spread germs, particularly campylobacter – a form of bacteria – which is the most common cause of food poisoning.

Well, as a Jamaican, you know I do not want to hear that! The man on the telly said that 65% of chicken meat sold was contaminated with the bug and over 100 deaths a year are caused by this culprit. So with those figures in mind, it is likely that campylobacter is clutching onto the bird in your fridge right now.

But the worst news was still to come. Apparently water droplets can spray as far as 50cm, and only a tiny amount is needed to contaminate and poison us. It’s a process called aerosolization – or splashing, to a layperson like me. So essentially, the recommendation was: Don’t wash your chicken.

Are you kidding me? My Gran must be turning in her grave right now, just knowing that I am even writing about this! I can just imagine how she would have cut her eye and kissed her teeth with the biggest chups!
As a Jamaican, one of the worst things you can ever do with food is to cook chicken with the gullet and red bits on the inside, or serve fish with the gills still in it.

Perhaps it’s the reason Jamaicans don’t usually cook chicken whole, because you cannot completely see inside to give it a good scrub. We like to dissect and to cut off the derriere, of course!

The man on the telly was telling us to put away traditions and work with modern science, which is saying that cooking food at the correct temperature is the only way to kill off the dreaded campylobacter and annihilate his mate salmonella. He was saying that splashing around in the kitchen sink could be doing more harm than good and that really, chicken should go from pack straight to pot.
You certainly won’t hear me tell you not to wash your chicken, even if it is scientifically sound advice.

But I would recommend that you cut down on the splashing and cook your bird to 75 degrees, stick a thermometer in the thickest part of the meat and if the juices run clear, then you can send me my dinner invitation. If it runs red or pink then I will skip the main and wait for desert!

More love, LR.

Recipe: Citrus, Ginger & Honey Roast Chicken

Serves 4

1 orange
2 limes
4cm (1.5in) piece of fresh root ginger, peeled and grated
1.5kg (3lb 50z) chicken
Salt and black pepper
5 sprigs of thyme, plus an extra sprig to garnish (optional)
250ml (9fl oz) orange juice
5tbsp clear honey
30g (1oz) unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 170ºC (fan)/190ºC/gas mark 5. Finely grate the rind of the orange and the limes. Put in a bowl with the grated ginger and mix together. Cut the orange and limes into wedges.

Season the inside of the chicken with salt and pepper and rub it with half of the citrus rind and ginger mixture. Put the thyme sprigs inside the chicken together with 1-2 orange and lime wedges.

Add the orange juice, honey, melted butter and some salt and pepper to the remaining citrus rind and ginger mixture and mix together.

Put the chicken into a roasting tin, which fits quite snugly and drizzle a little of the flavoured butter over it. Season the outside with salt and pepper. Add the rest of the orange and lime wedges to the roasting tin, scattered evenly around the bird.

Roast for I hour 20 minutes, basting the chicken every 20 minutes or so with the flavoured butter. Check to see if the chicken is cooked – pierce the thickest part of the thigh with a sharp pointed knife and the juices that run from it should be clear with no traces of pink. If they are still pink, roast for another five minutes, then test again. If the chicken gets too dark (the honey does make it darken), cover it with foil.

Leave the chicken to rest for 10 minutes then serve it with the cooking juices from the tin, garnished with a thyme sprig, if you like.

Recipe taken from Levi Roots Spice It Up

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