Spring Chicken

This seventeenth-century recipe is from Ockley in Surrey. The original suggests: “Take 12 chickens, which have been fattened for a week. When they are plucked and drawn, split them in halves down the back so that you have two dozen halves for your dish... ” The dish is unforgettable, both for its appearance and because it is delicious, a fine dish for a dinner party.

Ingredients

  • 4 poussins, halved down the back
  • ¾ lb (360 g) long-grain rice
  • Seasoned flour
  • ¾ stick (90 g) butter
  • lb (¾ kg) carrots, scraped and grated
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 1 cup (60 g) flaked almonds
  • cup (1.5 dl) highly seasoned, thick white sauce
  • 2 tablespoons double cream
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon very finely chopped parsley
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs, very finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper

Method

Bring 5 cups (1.2 litres) of water to the boil, add teaspoons of salt and put in the rice. Boil briskly for 20 minutes. Drain the rice and run water from the cold tap through it. Gently heat the rice, uncovered, so that it dries a little.

Rub the chicken halves with the seasoned flour. Lay them, cut side down, in baking tins. Put a knob of butter on each and roast at 400°F (200°C, Gas Mark 6) for 20 to 30 minutes, basting twice.

Meanwhile, cook the grated carrot in cups (3 dl) of boiling salted water for 10 minutes. Drain. Mix with 1 tablespoon (15 g) of the butter and ½ teaspoon pepper.

Fry the onions in 1 tablespoon (15 g) of the butter and when soft but not at all browned, stir it into the rice with the almonds, white sauce and the cream.

Stir until very hot. Pile the rice on to a large, flat serving dish and keep hot until the chickens and carrot are ready. As soon as they are cooked, arrange the chicken halves up the sides of the mound of rice, the leg of each half pointing upwards. Put small heaps of carrot between the chicken pieces and top each heap with a slice of lemon. The dish may be kept warm for a few minutes at this stage if convenient. When ready to serve, sprinkle the parsley and the chopped egg on top of the mound of rice.

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