I found it lurking in the furthest recess of a kitchen cupboard like some half-forgotten archaeological artefact, which in a way it is: a 1980s terracotta Habitat chicken brick.
It had gone the way of the garlic press (a bugger to clean and messier than a knife), the olive stoner (for Heaven’s sake, just spit discreetly) and the mandolin. Well, some nifty knifework mostly makes this redundant.
Gosh, how I remember that brick. Chickens came out tasting super-chickeny as they cooked inside this almost primitive mini clay oven. It required no fat, liquids or basting as it roasted in its own juices and when you took the lid off the skin was crisp and brown. For a short time I was terracotta barmy then, for some reason, stopped. I had to try it again.
I can’t remember buying it but must have been last century as it is stamped Made in England. Henry Watson Potteries stopped making terracotta around 2004 and production switched to Portugal. They fell so out of fashion that Habitat discontinued them in 2008 but reconsidered three years later. They retail online at around £30.
I see Watson has a brick featured on its website but it isn’t the Habitat classic, which is all buxom curves: this has a nobbly bit at one end, a sort of parson’s nose. Habitat’s was designed by a friend of founder Terence Conran, David Queensberry, and his business partner Martin Hunt. It first appeared in 1964.
I’d long lost the instructions but I misremembered you had to soak it in water overnight (actually 15 minutes), although some sites claim you can get away with not doing it. But do so because the clay pot soaks up the water to provide the steam. And you put it in before you turn the oven on.
Most sources online instruct cooking a 3lb chicken for 90 minutes at 250C. My oven can’t actually reach that so I settled for 220C. I’ve since noticed that the Watson website seems to be happy with 200C. I’ll be experimenting because higher temperatures mean more money.
The chicken, weighing it at a little over three pounds, was lovely and swimming in juices. I poured them into a fat separator and made some quick gravy, reserving enough fat for dripping. The next day the meat tasted even better, as all roast meats do. And so did the dripping.
The plusses were taste, ease (no basting or turning) and not being a problem to clean. Don’t use washing up liquid, just water, salt and vinegar.
The big minus is that everything else had to cook at this super hot temperature and it took a bit of juggling not to overcook the spuds and stuffing. But my wife’s Yorkshire Puddings rose and cooked in double-quick time.
It will be interesting to see what else I can cook with it. Habitat originally suggested baked ham, pork and pigeons. Some say baked potatoes taste even better. I’ve resumed my friendship with the chicken brick but it will be a friend which drops by my oven only every so often. That makes for a special treat.