Orvieto Chicken


This ravishing main-course dish from Umbria needs no accompaniment since the stuffing contains potato and provides a perfect foil to the chicken, which must be free-range and have its giblets. The quality of the local chickens around Orvieto - where I first came across this recipe - was superb, with a flavour that more than matched a poulet de Bresse.


  • 1 free-range chicken, weighing about 1.8kg/4 lb, with its giblets
  • 450g/1 lb potatoes
  • 1 onion
  • 30 large garlic cloves
  • 1 fennel bulb, preferably with plenty of stalk and leaf
  • 225g/8 oz good black olives
  • sprig of rosemary, about 15cm/6 in long
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 glass (150ml/¼pt of dry white wine
  • 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper


  • cherry Stoner
  • large heavy frying pan
  • 1 or 2 thin wooden skewers roasting pan


Mise en Place

Clean the chicken liver by scraping off any green patches and threads. Cut the top off the heart at the point where it turns white and muscular. Clean the gizzard by cutting open, rinse away any stones or grit under the tap, then slide a small sharp knife against the tough wrinkly membrane to remove the two dark oysters of meat rather as you would when skinning a fish. Dice this meat, the heart and the liver.

Prepare the other ingredients: peel the potatoes and dice them into cubes of about 1cm/½in • Peel and dice the onion • Pull apart the garlic heads until you have 30 cloves. Peel two of them, smash them with the flat of a knife blade and chop finely • Dice the fennel • Pit the olives (the ideal tool is a cherry stoner) • Pull the leaves of rosemary from the twig • Juice the lemon.

Preheat the oven to its highest setting.


Put 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan and sauté the onion with the chopped giblets for 5 minutes or so, until the onion wilts and goes translucent - but do not allow to brown. Add the chopped garlic, potatoes and fennel and sauté for 10 minutes until the vegetables are nearly cooked. Season with salt and pepper to taste, mix in the lemon juice and then allow to cool.

When cool enough to handle, stuff the chicken with the mixture and close with the skewer(s), pushing through the legs and skin around the cavity opening. This works perfectly well: there is no need to sew it shut.

Season the outside of the bird according to taste. We prefer our chickens liberally seasoned, because the sea salt helps crisp the skin.

Arrange the bird resting on one side in a roasting pan and put in the oven. After 20 minutes, turn it the other side up. After 40 minutes, remove it from the oven (remembering to close the oven door to stop the temperature falling too dramatically) and position it breast up. Strew the garlic cloves, olives and rosemary evenly round the bird and drizzle with a little olive oil. Add 1 tablespoon of water to the dish and return to the oven for a further 20 minutes.

Remove and test doneness by inserting a toothpick or small skewer into the thigh: the juices should run clear, but do not worry if they are slightly pink. Put the bird to rest in a warm place for 15 minutes on a hot serving dish, with the garlic and olives scattered round. (Leave the oven on so you can put the assembled dish back in if you find the thighs are still pink when you carve the bird.) Leaving the dish to stand is vital since this completes the cooking process while all the juices go back into the flesh.

Degrease the roasting pan by spooning off the fat, tilting the pan and trying to leave any juices behind. Over a high heat tip in the wine with an equal quantity of water. Deglaze the pan, boiling and scraping. This is an excellent method of making a simple gravy, which applies to virtually all roast chicken recipes.


Pile the stuffing in the centre of the large warmed serving plate. Using a strong serrated knife, carve the bird into eight pieces and place neatly, skin upwards, round the stuffing. Pass the gravy in a sauce boat.