Though I enjoy cooking, I would absolutely have to slot myself into the culinary category of the one-pot wonder. I’m capable of whipping up a really delicious feast, though I often struggle to ready and serve multiple meal components at the same time.
I’m more than happy to eat a steak followed by mash half an hour later when I’m on my own, but it’s why my very talented partner always does the cooking when we have guests over for dinner, which is often.
I’ve been aware of the Marley Spoon offering for a long time. Family members and friends rave about it, though I’ve never purchased the boxes for my own household. So when I was recently offered the chance to trial Marley Spoon’s latest box — a Matt Preston-curated collaboration with Tanqueray in the form of a ‘winter’ dinner party box — I jumped at the chance to cook for my friends.
How could I fail? Marley Spoon’s boxes are designed for all skill levels and make cooking easy by portioning out ingredients for each dish and providing step-by-step instructions to help you assemble everything to be ready at once.
The winter dinner box contains everything a cook needs to whip up a two-course meal for four people, with a warming menu of Saskia Beer roast chicken with duck fat potatoes, buttered dutch-carrots, bread sauce, and butter lettuce salad. There’s also a dessert of dark chocolate mousse with shimmering almonds, and in a special treat, the box comes with a bottle of Tanqueray and Fever-Tree tonics for delicious drink pairings. All for $139 or less than $35 a head.
I was told my box would arrive on Friday afternoon, so I invited two friends to swing by on Friday evening. The scene was set for a great night, except, with the delivery of the box came my first curveball of the day: A frozen solid chicken.
Below, I break down my cooking of the Marley Spoon x Tanqueray window dinner party box in hour-by-hour instalments.
My dinner party box arrives earlier than expected, and I’m thrilled to have a few extra hours of prep time. The website says the meal requires 2.5 hours of prep but since it’s a Friday I’m also working until 5.30pm, so I plan to use my lunch break to get started on a few things.
First impressions: There is a lot of plastic in here. I had expected this, but I have to admit I’m a little disappointed at the sheer number of plastic bags, many of which are used to hold herbs in really small quantities (three bay leaves, for example). I recycle soft plastics in my household so I at least know that all of this will end up being reused in some capacity, but I feel a little sad knowing that this plastic will end up in general rubbish at a lot of households.
Aside from the plastic, I’m impressed by the quality of ingredients. Free-range poultry, fresh quality produce, and name-brand extras. The recipe booklet is comprehensive and I’m feeling more and more capable as I make my way through the unpacking process. It seems my first major hurdle, however, is the fact the chicken is frozen solid. The recipe booklet actually suggests defrosting your chicken a whole day ahead of the dinner, so I now find myself Googling the safest way to do this in just a few hours.
I use my lunch break to make the chocolate mousse. The recipe is easy and results in four generous portions. I’ll finish off the dessert with whipped cream, maple syrup and toasted almonds a little later on, but I’m feeling good about having one less thing to do this afternoon.
Since this only took around 20 minutes, I use the remainder of my lunch break to prepare vegetables. I clean carrots, wash and dry lettuce, make croutons and blitz breadcrumbs. I’m feeling on top of things.
My research would suggest that the safest way to defrost a whole chicken quickly is to use cold water. I pop my chicken in a leakproof bag and submerge it completely. From now until it’s time to prepare the bird, I’ll have to swap out the cold water every 30 minutes for the next four hours.
My editor gives me an early mark and I am THANKFUL. Despite my efforts earlier, I still have a lot of prep to get through, plus I need to ready my house for guests and change out of my track pants uniform. I peel and chop my potatoes for par-boiling, I thinly slice radishes and shallots, I assemble my salad and I make the dressing. The recipe booklet actually recommends assembling the salad much later on, but I can’t imagine regretting an effort to be overprepared, so I push on.
I continue to swap out the water for the chicken every half an hour and am pleased to note the flesh is starting to soften. It’s still quite frozen inside, but I have some time before my guests arrive. I use this time to par-boil my potatoes and carrots and steep the milk with onion and cloves for my bread sauce, which smells incredible. I also make my herb butter, which will be used under the skin of the chicken. It’s comprised of lemon rind, garlic, tarragon and chives. If I could spread this on toast I would. Wow.
My guests are arriving at 7.00pm so I really need to get cracking on my chook now if I want to be able to hang out with them like a relaxed host. The water bath has worked pretty well but she’s still a bit icy inside. I’m not majorly concerned because I’ve read that it’s OK to roast a chicken even when it’s still a bit frozen, but that it could take double the amount of time. I’m alright with this, so I begin to work the herb butter under the skin.
I was never really looking forward to this part since I don’t love handling raw chicken, but I’m finding I’m pretty good at this and I’m feeling quite proud of myself. The rest of the butter goes all over the chicken but I think mine’s still a bit cold as it doesn’t glide over very smoothly. Regardless, its time for the chook to hit the oven so I chuck her in and hope for the best. I also pop my duck fat onto a roasting tray and let it melt before coating my potatoes in the fat and putting them in the oven, too. My house smells amazing now, and just in time for my friends to arrive.
My friends arrive with two huge wedges of cheese and lavosh bites which is great because dinner is still a little ways off and the Marley Spoon box doesn’t include any appetisers. As per my recipe book, I whip them up a Tanqueray gin and tonic with a very delightful garnish of fresh grapefruit slices and tarragon. This goes down really well with my pals and it’s not long before we all have a second one.
I head into the kitchen to check on the chook and am pleased to see she’s looking delicious. It’s supposed to roast for one hour although when I cut into the space between the thigh and breast (as Matt Preston suggests) the juices do not run clear, so I know she needs more time. For the first time in the evening, I am forced to phone a friend and call in my boyfriend for advice. He assures me that another half an hour should do the trick. My friends are good sports and I did warn them I was a chaotic cook, so I’m relieved when they’re happy to nibble on more cheese and down another G&T without complaint.
That’s more like it. The skin is now crisp and the juices are definitely running clear. I’m ready to rest the bird and finish off the side dishes now. I warm up my milk and add the bread crumbs, allowing it to thicken up. Then, I allow a good nob of butter to brown and pour it over the bread sauce for serving. I also toss my carrots in more butter, plus some mustard and let them blister up. I drain my potatoes of their duck fat and give them a good sprinkling of salt. I have never in my life been able to multitask in this way and I’m feeling chuffed.
A little later than I anticipated, I finally serve my dinner. It looks just like the pictures, although I have no proof because we dived into the meal so eagerly that I forgot to take a photo. After all of that… can you believe it?
My friends award plenty of compliments, particularly for the duck fat potatoes and for the bread sauce, which was a bit of a silent hero in pulling the meal together. My favourite part would have to be the salad and in particular, the dressing. I’ll definitely make it again. I feel like my chicken is a little dry — probably because it had to stay in the oven for longer than the recipe, but that’s OK!
My lovely friend’s review is proof the meal was a success: “Definitely worthy of an immunity pin,” she said.
I’m full and content after a really delicious winter meal, but it’s time to pull together dessert. I stray from the recipe and actually opt out of making the whipped cream because I already had an open tub of double cream in the fridge. I toast my almonds and top my mousse with cream, nuts and a drizzle of maple syrup. Lastly, I dust some edible gold shimmer onto the top and serve only two of the four ramekins of mousse. We did not have the appetite for a whole serving each. It was really tasty.
I made a real effort to clean as I went throughout every stage of the prep and I feel this was super important to the success of the meal. After serving everything up, however, there were a lot of new dirty pans to get through, especially as finishing touches were prepared. It wasn’t a problem, just something to note for those without dishwashers.
The menu itself was delicious and definitely on-theme for a comforting winter meal. Collectively, our favourite element was the duck fat potatoes while the chicken carried a fantastic flavour from the herb butter. The carrots were tasty, the bread sauce a surprising winner, and the salad was fresh and cut through the richness of the other dishes well thanks to the mustard vinegar dressing.
Of course, you can’t beat the convenience of having everything delivered to your door, and the price per head is actually outstanding considering the sheer amount of food, quality of the produce, and the fact there’s enough gin and tonic to serve up around 12 cocktails.
But would I buy it again? It’s unlikely I’ll end up cooking for four people again anytime soon. My partner always designs the menu of our dinner parties because he genuinely loves to cook and discover new recipes, but if I did find myself in the position of hosting again, I would absolutely look to Marley Spoon and Tanqueray’s dinner boxes. In addition, I would encourage others to do so, too.
The Tanqueray x Marley Spoon winter dinner party box is available now until the end of August. Head here to buy yours and find out more about the menu inside.