Roast Chicken with Watercress and Apricot Stuffing

As a general rule I dislike combinations of meat or fish and fruit. The apricot in this stuffing is an exception, adding moistness and lift to both stuffing and chicken.

Most people consider themselves expert at jobs like roast chicken or scrambled egg. A little humility in approach to this dish will improve results more than any chefs tip.

Ingredients

  • 1 × 3-4 lb (1.3-1.75 kg) free-range chicken
  • 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 8 oz (225 g) unsalted butter

Stuffing

  • 4 slices white bread
  • 2 oz (50 g) dried apricots
  • 1 small bunch watercress
  • 2 oz (50 g) hazelnuts

Method

The stuffing

  1. Convert the bread into crumbs with a food processor. Bring the apricots to the boil in a small saucepan of water; drain them and then add to the breadcrumbs. Roughly chop the watercress and hazelnuts, then add these also.
  2. Process these ingredients together for a few seconds and then scrape out the resulting stuffing base into a bowl.

The salt and pepper

  • In a small dry frying pan cook the salt and peppercorns together. Use a low heat and toss the pan frequently so that they cook evenly. This will take 10 minutes and can be done in an oven if you prefer (the same temperature as below). Grind the pepper and salt together in an electric mill or alternatively with a pestle and mortar.

The chicken and stuffing

  • Sprinkle the chicken with half the roast pepper and salt. Leave the butter to soften slightly, then spread it generously over the chicken. Roast in a moderately hot oven – 375°F (i90°C) Gas 5 – for an hour, until completely cooked.

    Cook the chicken on its side, turning it over after half an hour. The aim is to protect the breast meat from the fiercer heat as it is more tender and tends to dry out.

  • At this midway point, when turning the bird, pour 3 tablespoons of the sizzling butter in the roasting tray on to the stuffing base you have made. Mix it in completely. Roll the stuffing in foil so that it is sausage shaped, like a small salami, and put this into the roasting tray with the chicken for the remaining cooking time.

To Complete

  • Lift the stuffing and chicken on to a large plate to rest. Pour away the buttery fat and deglaze the roasting tray – a useful term for boiling out residual flavours from pans which have been used for frying or roasting – with 10 fl oz (300 ml) of water. Boil this down by half and add any meat juices from the chicken which accumulate on the plate.
  • Carve the chicken into joints, not slices. Start by cutting away each leg and splitting them into thighs and drumsticks. Next cut away the breast from each side of the carcass, and halve them. Finally turn the bird over and take out the two oysters of tender meat that lie midway along the backbone.
  • Serve each person a piece of leg and a piece of breast, a spoonful of stuffing and a spoonful of the unthickened gravy. Offer the remaining roast pepper and salt.