Yesterday I was in the mood for some serious comfort food, having fallen victim to a nasty cold. (I mentioned that my Cure for the Common Cold was only 90% effective, didn't I?) So I remembered the leftover cold sausages from breakfast over the weekend and the new potatoes in my fridge and came up with the perfect answer: a roast chicken.
There are those (my sister-in-law for example) who hold that to stuff a bird is dangerous, bordering on lunatic. Others (like myself) claim that it's heaven on earth and stuffing that has not seen the inside of a bird is hardly worth the effort. If you are like me, read on...
Stuffing is a really emotional issue. When my brother found out his bride-to-be was anti-stuffing-in-the-bird, there were no loud words but you could have cut the tension in the air with a dull knife. In our apartment, we luckily agree on where the stuffing should be cooked but still have some pretty emotional differences on what should go in it. When it comes to turkey, we have a strict rule: Christmas is his way and Thanksgiving is mine. When I'm doing a small bird (like chicken) we compromise. (He likes it stodgier than I do and he's wrong, just wrong.)
Compromise Stuffing for one small bird
3 cooked sausages
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 small can of chestnuts (about 1 cup)
1 clove garlic
Poultry seasoning, fresh sage, salt and pepper to taste (more is better)
1/2 cup chicken stock
For the sausages, we usually use leftover British breakfast ones. This time they were Butcher's choice. For the breadcrumbs, I usually save up old baguettes until they get embarrassingly prominent in the kitchen (what is that in the huge bag hanging over there??) and then I zap them in the food processor. I use a colander to separate the fine bread crumbs from the bigger pieces and use the latter in my stuffing.
Sauté the chopped onion and pressed garlic clove in a few tablespoons of butter. Be generous with the butter as it will only add to the richness of the stuffing. While the onions are cooking, put the sausages in a food processor or, if you have a new nifty immersion blender with all the bells and whistles, in the small beaker and whip it with the meat grinding attachment. It will resemble rough breadcrumbs when you are done. Tip the meat into the onions, add the bread crumbs and break up the chestnuts in large-ish hunks as you add them. Add lots of spices, salt and pepper and give it a good stir. Turn up the heat, add the chicken stock and cover. Leave it for a few minutes, then remove from heat and stuff it into your bird. This makes slightly more than you can fit in a single bird, but you can bake the remaining stuffing separately in a tin-foil covered pan.
Place the bird in a hot oven (190 degrees Celsius, 375 Fahrenheit) surrounded by small potatoes that have been rolled in olive oil (and/or goose fat if you have it) and salt. My oven has a fan, so it only took about an hour to cook - on a normal oven it takes about an hour and a half. Baste from time to time with the juices in the pan.
Now comes the really amazing part: the gravy was nearly as good as my mother makes. To understand this, you need to know that my mother is a magician with gravy. She can take a lean pork roast and come out with two cups of savoury dark brown gravy. She can make turkey gravy that would make you weep. I have tried so many times to reproduce her gravy, but somehow it never quite makes it. (This is how they ensure you will always come home for the holidays, right?) But this time I came close.
Remove the bird and potatoes from the pan. Pour the grease and juices from the pan into one of those nifty gravy boats that separate juice from fat. Pour the juice back into the pan and place over a high flame (or two if you can - you want even heat under the entire pan). In the meantime, put two heaping tablespoons of flour in a jar with a lid and add 2/3 cup of water. Put the lid on and shake, shake, shake.
According to my mother, the secret to good gravy is patience: you have to let the juices nearly cook away before you add the flour and water. If you are like me, you will find that half the time you don't wait long enough and the other half it burns and sticks to the bottom of the pan. No matter, I have another 40 years or so (if I'm lucky) to work this out.
Once the juices have cooked down, add the flour and water to the pan and stir like mad, getting all the glazed bits up from the bottom of the pan. Last night, I left it on the flame while I removed the stuffing from the bird and carved, adding a bit of the water from the steamed carrots from time to time. (That's the Austrian grandmother's trick, by the way, not my mother's.)
And for once, it worked!
I hadn't planned on writing about this meal (thus no photos) but our friend Sam who came to dinner last night was so enthusiastic I felt I had to share. It really was one of my best meals, as attested by the fact that all that was left at the end was a drumstick and two wings (and a very bare carcass). Tonight I will boil up the carcass with a few vegetables and make a nice chicken stock. And one night soon we'll have some really good soup...