Tag Archives: gravy

To Roast a Chicken

For centuries, the British were famous for their roast meat, attached to a spit before being hand-turned by some poor soul in front of a devilishly hot fire. We no longer do this, today we cook them in the oven, so technically they are baked meats not roasted ones. Searching for historical recipes for roast chicken is rather tricky: they were rarely roasted – they were a dependable source of eggs after all – so only chickens that stopped laying were eaten, those so-called ‘old boilers’. Instead, capons provided tender meat; these castrated cockerels were put to good, being otherwise surplus to requirement. Unfortunately, in today’s mass production of eggs, male chicks are killed as soon as they can be sexed.

When you do find a recipe, there is little focus on the roasting itself. Check out this recipe for ‘Chicken Endored’ from around 1450:

Take a chicken, draw it and roast it; let the feet be on and take away the head. Then make a batter of egg yolks and flour, and add to it ground ginger and pepper, saffron and salt, and spread it over until it is roasted enough.

Mediaeval manuscript c.1300-1350 showing poultry spit-roasting (image via http://www.larsdatter.com/)

By the eighteenth century, there is little more instruction, but we do at least get a cooking time:

To roast young chickens, pluck them very carefully, draw them, only cut off the claws, truss them, and put them down to a good fire. Singe, dust and baste them with butter, they will take a quarter of an hour roasting. Then…lay them on your dish.

We can only assume that the roasting part of the process was already in the readers’ skill set.

My recipe is below, but there are a few things I should mention first: First, never wash your chicken! It’s unhygienic and it will stop the skin crisping up. Second, do not overcook and don’t fear the salmonella; follow the times and temperatures precisely and you will be grand. Thirdly, use plenty of butter and bacon to season the bird and keep moist. I make a flavoured butter for the roasting, but using just butter will still produce great results.

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1 free-range chicken

100 g butter, softened

Salt and pepper

Any flavourings you like: e.g. 1 to 4 finely chopped cloves of garlic, 1 tsp chopped thyme or lemon thyme, truffle trimmings, chopped rosemary, grated zest half a lemon, chopped olives, anchovies or capers, ½ tsp smoked paprika. The list really is endless.

8 rashers of dry cured bacon, smoked or unsmoked

100 ml white wine

300 ml chicken stock

1 tbs cornflour

Remove the chicken from the fridge and hour before you want to roast it. Untruss it and preheat the oven to 190°C.

Mash the butter with the salt and pepper using a fork and stir in the flavouring ingredients, if using. Set aside.

Sit the chicken on a board, untruss it and turn it so that the cavity is facing you and carefully lift the skin away from the breasts. The technique is to insert the tips of your middle three fingers gingerly underneath the skin lifting it away from one breast, using your other hand to keep the skin taught, lest it tears. Repeat for the other breast

Next, place the flavoured butter under the skin, massaging it so to evenly distribute it over the breasts.

Make sure there is plenty under there, but reserve around a quarter of it to spread it over the legs. Next, lay the rashers of bacon over the bird so they overlap only slightly.

Weigh the chicken then pop it on a roasting tin. Don’t be tempted to truss it. Calculate the cooking time: 45 minutes per kilo plus 15 minutes and place in the oven.

Leave undisturbed for 30 minutes, and then baste with any butter that has melted and leaked from the bird. Tip to one side, so that buttery juices come out of the chicken. Baste with the juices every 20 minutes or so, and when the bacon is sufficiently crisp, remove it and let the bird roast without its porky jacket for the remaining time.

Remove and check its cooked all of the way through by easing the leg away from the body, it should be filled with delicious, clear juices. If unsure, use a sharp knife to test the juices are clear in thickest part of the leg. If they are tinged with pink, roast ten more minutes.

Remove the tender chicken – be careful it may start to collapse a bit, so be swift and use a fish slice and a pair of tongs to help you guide it to a board safely and all in one piece. Cover with foil to rest while you make the gravy.

Tip the juices into a jug and allow to settle for a few minutes. Place the roasting tin over a medium-high heat and brown any delicious detritus that remains in the roasting tin. Deglaze with the wine, scraping off any brown bits with a wooden spoon, then tip the whole lot into a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Meanwhile skim away most of the fat from the chicken juices and pour them into the pan along with the stock. Bring to a boil and let it bubble away for ten minutes so it reduces a little.

Now slake the cornflour with a few tablespoons of cold water and whisk it briskly into the gravy. Give it a couple of minutes to thicken, and if it seems on the thin side, slake a little more; it’s all down to preference, I prefer a thin gravy.

Check for seasoning and leave on a low heat whilst you get everything ready.

To carve the chicken I find it easiest to remove the legs first, cutting them at the knee to give two thighs and two drumsticks, and then cutting each breast away in one piece, cutting them into four or five thick pieces.

Arrange them on a warmed serving plate and don’t forget to serve the bacon.


The Culinary Recipes of Medieval England (2013) compiled and translated by Constance B Hieatt

The Experienced English Housekeeper (1769) Elizabeth Raffald



Filed under Britain, cooking, food, General, history, Meat, Recipes

Roast Duck

Bora: Why in the middle I would have a rich favoury foup.   

Lazar: Made with Craw-fifh – Good!  

Bora: At the top two delicate white Trout just frefh from the river. 

Lazar: Good! Excellent! go on go on.  

Bora: At the bottom – a roaft Duck.

Lazar: A duck! a fcavenger! an unclean bird! a wading glutton; his bill is a fhovel, and hif body but a dirtcart: away with your Duck – let me have a roast Turkey, plump and full breafted, hif craw full with marrow

Exerpt from The Hotel by Robert Jefson, 1775

Okay, not everyone likes duck, for those that do, the best way to show it off, whether Aylesbury or whatever, is to roast it, seasoned with just salt and pepper. It’s also the most common way to serve duck. I did look at old recipes for it, hoping to find some crazy over-the-top recipe with many embellishments, but, alas, it was not to be: at best, there was a stuffing. Keept it simple, chaps. It did seem very common to scald the bird in boiling water for a few minutes before roasting it, though modern ones don’t seem to (unless, that is, you are making some Chinese crispy duck – that requires a kettle of boiling water to be poured over it and then drying it thoroughly to achieve the crispy skin).

One of the great things about buying duck is that they always come with their giblets, unlike many chickens these days, so put them to good use. I have included a recipe for some nice rich giblet gravy to go with.

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For the roast duck:

one duck

salt and pepper

For the gravy:

a tablespoon of oil

the neck and giblets of the duck, chopped

one onion, unpeeled, roughly chopped

one garlic clove, lightly crushed

one carrot, roughly chopped

one stick of celery, roughly chopped

one bay leaf

a few sprigs of thyme

about 6 black peppercorns

splash of red wine

1/2 ounce of butter

1/2 ounce of plain flour

one teaspoon of redcurrant jelly or juice of half an orange (optional)

salt and pepper

First of all, place the duck on a large plate and dry it all over with kitchen paper and keep it in the fridge until it is needed. It is important to take it out of the fridge a few hours before you want to cook it though – when you are following roasting times for any meat, it is assuming the meat starts off at room temperature.

The first thing you need to do is get started on the gravy. Get a pan nice and hot,  add the oil, giblets and stock vegetables, when they are good and caramelised, add the herbs and peppercorns.

Pour over a pint of water, cover, bring to a boil and then let it simmer gently for the length of time it takes for you to cook the duck.

Preheat the oven to 220°C (430°F) and calculate the cooking time for your duck: 25 minutes per pound plus an extra 20 minutes. Using a fork or skewer, prick the fatty parts of the duck, i.e. the breast and the area where the legs meet the body. Make sure you prick only the skin – if you stab right through the fat, you’ll lose meat juices, and we don’t want that, now do we?

 Season the duck inside and out with salt and pepper, place in a roasting tin with a rack, and pop it in the oven. After 20 minutes, turn down the heat to 180°C (350°F). After the first 45 minutes or so, baste the bird and every 20 minutes thereafter. It is important to do this if you want good, crispy skin. To test if the duck is done, poke a knife or skewer into the thick part of the leg and if the juices are clear, then the duck is ready. I would check it around 20 minutes before the total cooking time. When cooked, remove from the oven and let rest for at least 15 minutes before carving it.

Whilst the duck is having a rest, finish off the gravy: strain the stock through a sieve into a jug. Pour off any fat from the roasting tin and pour the meat juices into the gravy. Don’t you dare throw that fat away! It keeps in the fridge almost indefinitely, and you can use it for roast potatoes (they will be the best roast potatoes you have ever made).Put the roasting tin on the heat and deglaze it with the red wine, making sure you scrape off all the nice burnt bits. Tip that into the gravy too. Melt the butter in a small saucepan and when it begins to foam, stir in the flour and cook for a minute. Now whisk in the gravy and let simmer for about 15 minutes. Finally stir in the jelly or orange juice (or even better, the syrup from some preserved oranges – see this link here for a recipe). Correct the seasoning and pour into a nice gravy boat or jug.

There you go: a delicious, scavenging unclean bird!


Filed under Meat, Recipes, Uncategorized