Whole Caboodle Good Old Traditional Roast Chicken…. With Two Make-It-Perfect Twists

“You could probably get through life without knowing how to roast a chicken, but the question is, would you want to?”

Nigella Lawson, Eating: Vintage Minis

The two twists involved in this method of roasting chicken are both designed to make it even more juicy and full of flavour.

The first twist involves tucking a couple of sprigs of tarragon and a walnut or two of butter underneath the skin. There is absolutely nothing new about this technique. It’s recommended in Gentyll Manly Cokere, written in 1490: “fat pork…herbs, parboiled and hewed small. And put in saffron and salt. Do together all these and stuff they chickens there with between the flesh and the skin…”

The second twist involves the stuffing – not a bread stuffing which dries out the chicken flesh, but a yoghurt, apple and onion stuffing conceived with the idea of keeping the flesh moist.

The secret to the fabulous gravy is Waitrose mulled wine. I buy a crate in January when there is usually a special deal and it lasts for gravies all year. Once opened it will keep, which is another advantage.

Below, in this post, you’ll find:

There are also separate posts on:

Alternative to roast potatoes to go with roast chicken

If you are feeling VERY courageous you could consider a quick and easy alternative to roast potatoes suggested by India Knight in The Sunday Times:

“[roast] the chicken while it sits on giant croutons, so the juice seeps into them and makes them both deeply chickeny (in the middle) and pleasingly crisp (edges). The original idea comes from a celebrated chicken and bread dish from Judy Rodgers at the Zuni Café in San Francisco, but it’s been endlessly adapted. You need either to slow-roast the chicken so the torn-up bits of bread don’t burn, or add them halfway through. There are tons of recipes online.”

For a good online recipe, go to the Australian site, Delicious.

Cheating with the gravy

Tommy Banks, chef-owner of The Black Swan at Oldstead, thinks there’s no shame in buying pre-made. He recommends the one made by TrueFoods – which he says is so good you can “warm it up and it’s good to go”. Failing that, get a decent supermarket gravy – try The Bay Tree – and add booze, tomato paste etc.

Roasting time for a chicken

Cooking time for roast chicken will be 20 mins per lb/450g, (45 minutes per 1 kg) plus 20 mins.  If you have an aga and it has a lot in it – roast potatoes etc, then bear in mind that everything takes longer to cook). No matter how many you are don’t bother with a chicken smaller than 4 lbs – you can do so many things with leftover cooked chicken.

Recipe for how to roast a chicken

Serves 4


  • 1 4lb/1.8 kg chicken
  • Smoked salt and Indonesian long pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 2 sprigs of tarragon – or you can use thyme or rosemary… you can even rub sumac into the oiled skin
  • 2 walnuts of butter
  • Bacon to cover the chicken (optional)

Ingredients for the stuffing:

  • 240ml/1 cup thick Greek yoghurt (or you can use a mixture of cream cheese and yoghurt). I left this out by mistake once and it was still excellent.
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 1 stick celery – chopped and include some leaves
  • 1 medium cooking apple – Bramley for choice
  • ¼ cup/40g raisins (or you could use dried cranberries)
  • ¼ cup/35g pinenuts
  • 15 grinds Indonesian long pepper
  • 4 fat cloves of garlic crushed with 1 tsp smoked salt
  • 1 tbsp herbes de Provence, and/or fresh sage
stuffing for roast chicken
This non-bread stuffing has been specially designed to keep the bird moist and juicy and give it extra flavour.

Ingredients for the gravy:

  • 2 chicken stock cubes
  • 1 tbsp dried herbes de Provence
  • 240 ml/1 cup Waitrose mulled wine, or dry cider, or any other booze you need to use up
  • 1 tbsp tomato pesto (this is the best option) or sundried tomato paste
  • Few grinds of pepper
  • if your chicken comes with giblets, throw those in too


  1. Ideally you would salt your chicken – inside and out – the day before. This will give time for the salt to diffuse evenly throughout the flesh. In an even more ideal world, you would also bathe it in buttermilk – for which you’ll need a couple of cups/480 ml (for why – see note* below. For a quick way to make buttermilk with milk and lemon go here).
  2. Preheat the oven to 210°C
  3. Dry the chicken, dabbing with kitchen paper – this helps to crisp the skin up.
  4. Cut a couple of slits in the chicken skin (only the skin) just above the wings and pull open gently just enough to allow you to get your fingers in and under, separating the skin from the flesh to form a small pocket about the diameter of a water glass.
  5. Insert into each pocket a sprig of tarragon and a walnut of butter.
  6. Mix the stuffing ingredients and stuff the chicken – any extra stuffing which won’t fit in can go in the roasting tin about halfway through roasting.
  7. Massage some olive oil over the chicken and sprinkle over a little salt and grind over some pepper. You can cover the chicken with bacon at this stage if you want to.
  8. Put in the oven and roast for an hour and 40 minutes, basting every twenty minutes or so.
  9. When the chicken is ready take a fork and tip it up so that all the juices drain out of the chicken into the roasting tin. If you want to incorporate the stuffing, dig that out of the chicken with a spoon.
  10. Check the chicken is done. Using a small, sharp knife cut into the thickest part of the thigh – it’s done if the juices run clear.
  11. Put the chicken on a carving board covered with foil and leave it to rest for about ten minutes.
  12. Put the roasting tin on the hob, and add a heaped teaspoon of chicken stock powder – or crumble in two chicken stock cubes and stir into the juices.
  13. Add a tablespoon of dried herbes de Provence.
  14. Add a cup/240 ml of Waitrose mulled wine, or whatever booze you happen to need to use up.
  15. Stir this in and keep stirring in order to make sure that all the bits which have stuck to the pan during roasting come off and form part of the gravy. Add the giblets if your chicken has come with giblets.
  16. Add a tbsp. of sundried tomato paste, and a few grinds of pepper
  17. Reduce until it tastes how you want it
  18. Sieve, or don’t sieve, according to your own taste.

“They also know that the best thing to do in a crisis is feed people something soothing—a cup of tea, a spoonful of warm polenta and mushrooms, a perfect roasted chicken stuffed with Meyer lemons.”

Kim Severson, Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life

*Why marinate in salt and buttermilk the day before

I got this idea from reading Samin Nosrat’s Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. She explains:

“The buttermilk and salt work like a brine, tenderising the meat on multiple levels: the water it contains increases moisture, and the salt and acid it contains disables proteins, preventing them for squeezing liquid from the meat as the bird cooks. As an added bonus the sugars in the buttermilk will caramelise, contributing to an exquisitely browned skin.” 

How to carve a chicken:

  1. You don’t have to take out the wishbone but it makes the whole process easier if you do. The wishbone is a small bone which looks like two small bones fused together with a tab – it’s to be found at the wing end of the chicken between the two breasts. Cut around either side of it and hook it out.
  2. Imagine the chicken split in half – deal with one half at a time to remove the leg, thigh and wing. Take a long, sharp knife and cut between the thigh and the pointy end of the breast. Using the flat of the knife, push the leg away from the breast, tearing the skin in the process. The leg and thigh should just come clean away.
  3. Turn the bird around and apply the same method to the wing
  4. Repeat the process on the other side of the bird
  5. Then carve the breast with confidence and your sharp knife – long, thin slices
  6. Once all the breast is off, turn the bird upside down and look for the oysters, two little flavourful nuggets of dark meat near the thigh. Gouge them out with the knife.

Below you can see an excellent demonstration – excellent except for one omission – he forgets to take off the wing.

To make about four litres of stock with the chicken carcass:

Some purists say that you can’t make stock from roast chicken carcasses – you are supposed to use fresh chickens – but this is still better than the standard stock cube option.


  • 1 leek, washed and sliced (optional)
  • 2 sticks of celery, cut into three
  • 1 large carrots, don’t bother to peel – cut into chunks
  • 1 medium onions, peeled and roughly sliced
  • 1 chicken carcasses
  • 4 chicken stock cubes
  • Enough water to cover


  1. Put all the ingredients in a big saucepan and cover with the water, bring to the boil and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer.
  2. Cook, uncovered, for about six hours – a couple of hours here or there won’t make much difference – if you have an aga, it’s ideal to do this in the simmering oven.
  3. Strain through a sieve – or if you’re not too fussed about clarity, through a colander
  4. Pour into labelled Tupperware containers and freeze.

Roast chicken timeline

Below is a timeline for cooking roast chicken with roast potatoes (follow this link for the full method) and a green vegetable, with the idea of sitting down to eat at 1.00.

roast chicken timeline

How to choose the best chicken

First of all, obviously, you need make sure you have the best materials. Most of us, these days, care about animal welfare, so we’ll be looking for chickens which have not been cooped up, but which have had the chance to scratch about in the fresh air and find the odd unfortunate worm, and a variety of other wildlife. As good luck would have it, these chicken taste better too. They’ve had a chance to develop muscles, and their more varied diet also gives their flesh more flavour.

Most of the other terms you may find on packaging – free-range, hormone-free etc – unfortunately are just phrases without much meaning or regulation. But organic chickens will be fed on organic food; and where it is specified that the chicken has not been fed anti-biotics that will not contain anti-biotics.

One thing to really look out for though is the water content. It the water content is increased it changes the whole texture of the chicken and it tastes disgusting. You want a chicken which has been air-chilled post-plucking, rather than being chilled by being put into cold water.

“‘What was the first dish you learnt to cook?’
‘I think it was roast chicken — a hard dish to beat.'”

David Carter, interviewed in The Financial Times

“The kitchen. If we are both here, it would tend to be me that would cook. I don’t do anything chichi any more, because of family likes and dislikes, so my signature dish is probably roast chicken with herbs and garlic and wine. Nothing elaborate but I do think it’s worth spending money on a good chicken from the butcher…..

….What do I play at full volume while I’m making a roast: Rigoletto”

The actor, Roger Allam, interviewed in The Sunday Times by Alexandra Goss

This is one of my son’s favourite meals, so this post is dedicated to him, with love.

Music to listen to as you roast a chicken

As Roger Allam suggests, Rigoletto at full volume….and, of course, …. Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens.

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