In this dish, the stuffing of sharp plumped apricots and sweet raisiny prunes contrasts beautifully with buttery roasted chickens. Gorgeous, simply gorgeous.
150g (about 5 oz) dried apricots 75g (2-3 oz) soft pitted prunes 1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped 3 Tbsp butter ¼ cup pine nuts 1 tsp ground cinnamon Grating of fresh nutmeg Freshly ground black pepper to taste Salt Zest of 1 orange (squeeze the juice and reserve for the ‘jus’) 1 tart apple (something like a Granny Smith), peeled and diced 1 free-range chicken, about 1.4kg (3 lb) 1 tsp light oil
1 Soak the apricots and prunes in 1½ cups hot water for 30 minutes.
2 Put the onion in a medium-size frying pan (skillet) with 2 tablespoons of butter. Cook gently until soft and pale gold in colour. Add pine nuts, cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper and ¼ teaspoon of salt and cook for a further 2 minutes.
3 Meanwhile, drain the apricots and prunes and chop finely. Add to the pan along with the orange zest and diced apple. Cook for another 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, then remove from the heat and allow to cool.
4 Rinse chicken cavity, then pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle inside cavity with salt, then stuff with cooled fruit mixture. Truss the chicken with string, or secure with small metal skewers. Tie chicken legs together. Heat a large heavy-based casserole over a low to medium heat and drop in the last tablespoon of butter and the light oil. Put in the chicken, breast facing down, and cook gently until a light golden brown, then turn and cook the sides and then the back (keep the temperature low or the butter will burn).
5 With the chicken breast uppermost, transfer the casserole to an oven preheated to 180°C (350°F) and cook for approximately 1½ hours, basting often, or until cooked through. If the juices start to catch, add 1-2 tablespoons of water (remove any sediment that forms on the bottom of the casserole dish – it is usually the result of stuffing juices sneaking out of the cavity and caramelising; if you leave them, they’ll burn).
6 When the chicken is cooked (legs when wiggled feel loose, and a skewer inserted through the thickest part of the thigh produces clear juices), transfer it to a plate and let it cool covered with a food umbrella or similar for 12-15 minutes before carving. Carve chicken when ready and scoop out all the stuffing. Attend to the juices. Turn the heat off under the casserole. Tilt the casserole and scoop off the fat, add the orange juice, grind over some black pepper and sprinkle with salt. If there is very little in the way of liquid, add a little water, stock or white wine. Set the casserole back over the heat and bring to a gentle boil. Bubble gently for 2-3 minutes, then pour jus over the carved chicken and serve.
I’ve emphasised that the chicken stuffing must be cooled before stuffing the chicken, unless you are going to roast it immediately after stuffing and that’s because if you put warm or hottish stuffing inside the chicken and leave it standing around it provides the perfect temperature for bacteria to multiply.
To do this dish for a crowd – 3 chickens as in the pic – roast the chickens and remove the meat from the bones while the chickens are still warm – the meat should slip easily off there bone. Remove the gristle and thin sharp bone in the 2nd joint of the wings, and discard any uncrowned skin. Remove chicken breasts from carcass and slice thinly. Put chicken on a large platter with the stuffing, pour over the jus and serve.
Or, remove meat from bones as described, but cool chicken and stuffing quickly and refrigerate overnight along with the jus. Skim any fat from jus, transfer chicken and stuffing to a roasting dish and pour jus over chicken. Cover with non-stick foil and heat in a moderate oven for about 30 minutes, or until piping hot. Serve topped with fried tarragon sprigs if you have them.