Apart from lasagna, nothing says Sunday dinner to me like a roast bird, sitting on the dining room table golden brown, with crispy skin, tender, juicy meat and—for special occasions—a savory stuffing. It’s a dish that was almost a universal feature of family dinners back in the day but, sadly, has become a rarity. Well, this old fashioned dish deserves a come back, and not just for the sake of nostalgia. It’s wonderful eating.
Angelina made a wonderfully simple stuffing from sausage meat, seasoned simply with garlic and parsley and stretched with a bit of day-old bread. Sometimes a chicken liver went in, sometimes a few roasted chestnuts. Then the chicken was roasted in a moderately hot oven with some extra garlic and a sprig or two of rosemary to lend some more flavor until it has golden brown. The sausage lends its savoriness to the bird and, if the sausage is not too lean, some juiciness, too. This dish reminds me a bit of the Tuscan favorite pollo in porchetta, but rather milder in flavor.
If you like, you can add potatoes about halfway through to roast together with the bird. They soak up the cooking juices and become luscious—for me, even better than the meat. And for really special occasions like Christmas, a capon or turkey can be roasted in just the same way.
The dish is very easy to make, the only tricky part is trussing the chicken before roasting. It’s a step you can skip, but it does help the stuffing to stay inside the chicken, and helps the bird keep its shape and cook more evenly. And it’s actually not hard to do once you learn how.
Serves 4-6 persons as a secondo or second course
- 1 roasting chicken (see Notes)
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil
For the stuffing:
- 2-3 mild Italian sausages
- 2 slices of day old bread, trimmed of its crust and soaked in milk, then squeezed dry
- 2 eggs
- A handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1-2 chicken livers, roughly chopped (optional)
- 2-3 chestnuts, roasted, peeled and crumbled up (optional)
- 1-2 garlic cloves, slightly crushed but left unpeeled
- A sprig or two of fresh rosemary
- White wine
- 3-4 firm-fleshed potatoes (see Notes), peeled and cut into wedges, and tossed with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper
Prepare the stuffing by mixing all the stuffing ingredients listed above together in a bowl with a wooden spoon or spatula. Make sure they are well amalgamated. The mixture should be very savory; if in doubt, take a small amount of stuffing and fry it, then taste for seasoning. (Since it is made from raw pork and egg, you shouldn’t try it without cooking it first.)
Take the stuffing and fill the chicken’s cavity, leaving some room as the stuffing tends to expand a bit while the chicken cooks (although not nearly as much as a bread stuffing does).
Now truss the bird. My method for trussing a chicken is simple: First, cut off a nice, long piece of kitchen twine. Tie the two legs together, then draw the string down the backside of the bird until you get almost to the other end, then draw the string around the thighs, all the way around the bird until you’ve gone full-circle. Tie up the loose end and you’re done.
Place the bird in a baking dish just large enough to hold it. Give the bird a good rub down all over with olive oil. (If you don’t like greasy hands, you can use of pastry brush.) Then season the bird well with salt and pepper, again all over. Lay a spring of fresh rosemary along side the bird, and throw in a clove or two of garlic, slightly crushed to release its flavor, but left unpeeled so it doesn’t burn in the heat of the oven. Splash a bit of white wine over everything.
Now place the chicken into a moderately hot oven (190C/375F) with the convection function on. Roast the bird for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the bird. Make sure to baste the bird from time to time with white wine and its cooking juices.
If you want potatoes with your chicken, peel them and cut them into wedges, toss them in a mixing bowl with a good pour of olive oil and generously season them with salt and pepper. About 30 minutes or so before the bird is due to be done, add them to the baking dish all around the bird.
The bird is done when you prick it with a knife and the juices run perfectly clear. (If you have a meat thermometer, it should register an internal temperature of 75C/165F.) Take the chicken out of the oven and let it rest for 15-20 minutes, loosely covered with tin foil. The cooking juices can be deglazed with some more white wine and used as a delicious sughetto (or sauce) for the bird. If you give everyone a bit of chicken, stuffing and potato, and they’ll be happy…
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, in a simple preparation like this, the quality of your ingredients is key. The better the chicken, the better the result. Organic, free range chickens are much more expensive than ‘factory’ ones, but the difference is taste is amazing. And, as mentioned, for special occasions, you can substitute a capon for the chicken, or even a turkey. Proceed exactly in the same manner, but you can skip the trussing (these birds are just too big!) but close the cavity with a trussing needle instead; increase the cooking time, of course, according to the size of the bird.
As for the stuffing, as mentioned you can add chicken liver (the one that came with the bird) or some chestnuts. If you like you can also add other fresh herbs, like sage or rosemary. And you can vary the type of sausage. And if you don’t have day old bread in the house, just use an equivalent amount of breadcrumbs.
I love the potatoes that cook along with this chicken. They soak up the juices and veritably pop with flavor. The only downside is, you will have less for the sughetto, but that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make. The potatoes should be of a firm-fleshed variety like Yukon golds. (You don’t have to peel them if you don’t want to, of course, but in these old-fashioned dishes, Angelina always would.) Some fingerlings or baby potatoes can be added whole. They are also very good made this way, soft within and crispy without.
Once last tip: don’t skip the resting period before serving. It’s important for the juices inside the bird to settled back into the flesh. It also helps the potatoes absorb more of those incredible cooking juices.
- Pollo in porchetta (Spit-Roasted Chicken with Pancetta and Rosemary Stuffing)
- Rose di radicchio (Radicchio “Roses” Stuffed with Sausage)