Roast chicken with pine nut, bacon and sage skin-stuffing with a cider gravy with leeks baked in 'Little Hereford' cheese sauce

April 22, 2012

A proper Sunday roast! serve up crispy garlic and rosemary
roasted potatoes and some fresh steamed vegetables
Nothing makes a Sunday like a proper roast dinner, lovely juicy meat with crispy potatoes. Chicken is fab if you fancy something a bit lighter and there's usually some meat left over you can save for sandwiches or a risotto later in the week. I visited my soon to be in-laws this weekend and took advantage of the local farmers market; I picked up a great cider made from Herefordshire apples called Yarlington Mill brewed by Gillow Cider in Ross-on-Wye their website is where you can find out all about them and their range of drinks. I also got my hands on a beautiful cheese called 'Little Hereford' made by Monkland Cheese Dairy, find them at which goes so well with the baked leeks. Both these beauties (and the ale I'm going to use in tomorrow's recipe) were from the Pengethley Farm Shop,, in Peterstow just outside of Ross-On-Wye, a gorgeous little gem of a shop that stocks loads of local bits and bobs as well as a few specialist little things.


I made this recipe for 2 people and will have loads of left over chicken to use in the week, so all the quantities are suitable for a small chicken for 2 people.

The chicken-

1 chicken, try not to scrimp on the chicken if you can, food is expensive but when it comes to meat I do like to try and make sure its good quality.
50g salted butter
3 rashers of dry cured bacon
6 large fresh leaves of sage or 1 heaped tsp of dried sage
3 tbsp pine nuts
250ml cider, I used Gillow Cider's Yarlington Mill

The leeks-

150g baby leeks, you can use normal sized leeks but the baby ones look really nice for a special dinner
25g butter
2 tbsp plain flour
200ml milk
65g cheese, this is where I used my 'Little Hereford' cheese

Turn the oven on to its highest setting, for me this is 230c

To make the stuffing for your chicken snip the bacon into little pieces, I use scissors to make this quicker but you can use a knife and board, into a mixing bowl. If you are using fresh sage, snip this over the bacon or sprinkle over your dried sage. Pour your pine nuts into a pestle and mortar and using a pounding action squash the nuts until some have become a chunky powder but some remain whole, this will give you a lovely varied texture. Tip the pine nuts into the mixing bowl then add the butter, it will be easier to mash together if you've softened your butter in the microwave for a few seconds before hand. Mill some fresh pepper into the mixing bowl then crush the stuffing together with a fork until it's a well mixed paste.

Place your chicken in front of you with its bottom facing you, if it's trussed up with elastic or string then cut the ties and pull the legs apart a bit so you can get to where the skin of the breast finishes before the cavity. Using your fingertips peel the skin away from the flesh of the breast of the chicken, push your fingers down across the breast until there is a large pocket between the skin and the flesh over the entire top of the chicken. Stuff two thirds of your butter mixture into this pocket, to make sure its evenly spread smooth the skin back over the stuffing and press the lumps out with you palm until he butter has been push down across the entire breast and there is an even coating. Using a very sharp knife make a slice in the skin on the drumstick as close to the end of the leg as possible, prise the skin away from the meat on the legs and repeat the stuffing process with the remaining butter mix on both legs.

The butter sitting under the skin like this will baste the bird whilst protecting the meat from the fierce heat of the oven, giving you a beautifully moist, succulent chicken with golden, butter, crisp skin dotted with salty bacon and creamy pine nuts.

The chicken should be cooked according to the timings on the packaging, if there aren't any timing instructions then this is a pretty good rule for how long to cook and chicken:

20mins for every 1 lb or 450g the chicken weighs plus an extra 10 to 20 mins

You then need to make sure it's cooked by piercing the thickest part of the chicken, between the drumstick and the breast, and watching for the colour of the juice that runs out of the piercing. It should be perfectly clear but not at all pink or red.

Use a metal pan to roast the bird in if you have one as this mean you'll be able to then put the pan directly on the hob later to make the gravy.

I like to start the chicken off in a searing hot oven for half an hour to get the skin initially crisped and the colour started. then i turn the chicken down to about 180c for the rest of its cooking time. When I turn the chicken down I splosh the cider into the bottom of the pan, all of the chicken juices and fats will run into the cider making the beginnings of a lovely silky gravy. Take the chicken out when its finished cooking, cover it and leave it to rest for 10 mins while I gather all the other bits of the meal together, then throw it back in the oven for 5 mins on the highest heat in a clean, dry pan to make sure that the skin is really crisp when I serve up.

By putting the chicken into another pan for its final burst of cooking it ensure that no moisture is around the base of the chicken to steam and soften the skin and also give me the original roasting tin to make my gravy in.

Place the roasting tin directly onto the hob and turn it up to a medium heat, bubble the juices that are in the roasting tray and use a whisk to scrape off and mix in any sticky bits of chicken juice that have stuck to the bottom of the pan. If you don't have much juice in the pan, turn the heat up very high under the tin and splosh in a little more cider or some water to loosen the sticky residue, this is called de-glazing the pan. If you need to thicken your gravy do this mostly by reducing it by bubbling it away but you can add a dusting of cornflour to the hot mixture to thicken it a little quicker. Season the gravy to taste with salt and pepper.

To make your leeks, which I would do during the cooking time of you chicken, first slice about an inch off the top of them. Then slice them in half length ways and pop them into a non metallic dish with a tablespoon of water sprinkled over them, cover with clingfilm and microwave for 3-4 mins. This will blanch the leeks and tenderise them before baking. My nearly mother-in-law turned me on to microwaving vegetables, by covering them with clingfilm and putting a little water in with your veg microwaving the them steams them while trapping in all the goodness and flavour. A big thanks to Miranda for this little kitchen gem xxx.

While the leeks are steaming, put the butter into a saucepan and melt it gentle. When it is melted sprinkle over the flour and turn up the heat under the pan. Whisk the butter and flour mixture until its become a golden paste, it may be lumpy but do not worry, pour over a little of the milk and continue to whisk them paste should melt into the milk and become a thick sauce very quickly, add a little more of your milk whilst stirring, wait for it to thicken then continue to add milk until its all gone. This is your basic white or bechamel sauce, grate your cheese and add all but a generous pinch to the sauce and whisk in until melted. The pinch you save will be scattered over the top of your finished dish to brown in the oven.

Lay the blanched leeks in an ovenproof dish, if you are using the same dish as they were steamed in make sure to drain off the water or you'll have a very sloppy bake! Pour over the cheese sauce then sprinkle on the reserved cheese. This needs to be baked n the oven for about 20 mins at about 180c so I usually keep it aside until the last 20 mins of the chicken's cooking time so it's all ready in one go.

Serve up some sliced chicken breast or whole legs and wings with some crispy roasted garlic and rosemary potatoes, a good generous pile of your bake cheesy leeks and some fresh steamed (in the mic!) vegetables all topped off with your gorgeous cider gravy. Gather up the pine nuts and bacon bits that will invariably escape as you carve and scatter them over your chicken for the perfect Sunday roast.

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