I’ve been experimenting with roast chickens. You’ll notice that the method here is rather different from other roast chicken recipes on this site; this time I’m getting you to stuff a buttery mixture under the skin and then blast the chicken at a very high temperature for a much shorter cooking time than usual. I’m amazed at the difference this makes to the finished product. The skin is crisp and flavourful – absolutely the best I’ve ever achieved on a roast bird – and the flesh is incredibly juicy and moist, taking on flavour from the butter, herb and shallot mixture, but requiring no basting or turning upside-down and juggling in the oven.
I had a great email conversation over Christmas with an American gentleman in Japan who was wondering about typically English flavours to cook his Christmas goose with. Sage and onion is one of the classic English mixtures, and here it goes to make a boring old chicken really festive. I’d be very happy serving this as a Christmas dinner for people who (like me) don’t go a bundle on turkey. The gravy here is also typically English – it’s thickened with flour and makes a lovely, glossy, boozy glaze for the meat. I served a side of mashed potato with this to soak up lots of the gravy (because mashed potato and gravy is one of the best things in the world, right up there with sex and roller coasters), some easy stuffing balls to reflect the sage and onion flavours, and a really tart salad to cut through all the lovely butter.
To roast one chicken weighing about three pounds (around 1.5 kg), which should serve three or four, you’ll need:
2 small (round) shallots or 1 large (banana) shallot
125 g (¼ lb) softened salted butter
12 fresh sage leaves
2 medium onions
Salt and pepper
1½ dessert spoons flour
1 small glass dry white wine
100 ml chicken stock
8 sage leaves
Olive oil to fry
Preheat the oven to a blistering 230°C (450° F). Dice the shallots as finely as possible – think micro-dice – using your sharpest knife, and combine them thoroughly in a bowl with the zest of the lemon, a teaspoon of salt and the butter. Use your fingers and the back of a teaspoon to separate the skin over the breast of the chicken from the muscle, starting at the bottom (leg) end of the bird, where the cavity opens. You should be able to make a large pocket between skin and flesh over each breast. Use fingers to stuff this pocket with all but two teaspoons of the soft butter, then slide six whole sage leaves under the skin as well, on top of the butter mixture. Push the remaining two teaspoons of butter and two more sage leaves into the space where the chicken’s legs meet the body.
Chop the zested lemon in half and slice the onions roughly. Remove any lumps of fat from inside the chicken and discard. Push half the lemon and half an onion into the chicken’s cavity with four more sage leaves and some salt and pepper. Make a pile of the onion pieces in the centre of your roasting tin and balance the chicken on top, then rain another teaspoon of salt all over the skin of the bird and roast for an hour.
When the hour is up, use a skewer to poke into the fattest part of the chicken’s thigh. If the juices run clear, remove from the oven; if there is any pinkness, return the bird to the oven for another ten minutes and repeat. Remove the chicken to a warmed platter and leave it in a warm place to rest for ten minutes while you make the gravy and the crispy sage leaves.
Pour any juices from the cavity of the chicken into a small frying pan over a medium flame, along with all the fat, juices and onion bits from the roasting tin. Do not discard any of the flavourful butter and fat from the roasting tin – if you feel guilty after having overdone it at Christmas, go for a run tomorrow rather than deprive yourself of flavour here.
Bring the contents of the pan up to a gentle simmer, and sprinkle over the flour. Use a wooden spoon, making tiny circles in the pan, to work the flour into the fatty mixture until no floury lumps are visible. (There will be onion pieces and bits of chicken kicking around in there – these are fine; you just don’t want any floury bits.)
The liquid in the pan will start to thicken dramatically. Pour over the glass of wine and continue to stir for a couple of minutes to burn off the alcohol. Pour in the chicken stock and continue to stir for a couple more minutes, then taste for seasoning. Tip in any juices which the chicken has released while resting, and get someone to start carving.
Sage leaves method
These are as easy as anything. Just heat the oil in a little pan and throw in the sage leaves for a few seconds. They will frizzle and crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle over the carved chicken.