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Eric Akis: Stuffed chicken a tasty option for Thanksgiving

If you’re downsizing Thanksgiving this year and not roasting a large turkey, what else could you serve if you still want to enjoy a whole bird? Well, if taste, juiciness and aroma all matter to you, a stuffed roasting chicken would be a tasty option.
Roast chicken with apple herb stuffing. ERIC AKIS

If you’re downsizing Thanksgiving this year and not roasting a large turkey, what else could you serve if you still want to enjoy a whole bird? Well, if taste, juiciness and aroma all matter to you, a stuffed roasting chicken would be a tasty option.

Roasting chickens weigh three and half pounds (1,600 grams) and are more flavourful and plumper than younger, smaller frying chickens, also called broilers. That makes them great for roasting.

The one I chose for today’s recipe weighed around five pounds (about two and half kilograms), and yielded four generous servings and leftovers.

For the finest-tasting chicken, your best bet would be to buy a Vancouver Island-raised bird from a smaller-scale production. Look for a plump, firm-looking roasting chicken that has almost bright-looking skin that tightly adheres to the body, and is ridiculously juicy when cooked. You’ll find locally raised chickens for sale at local farms, farm markets, butcher shops and some grocery stores.

Before roasting the chicken, I filled the main cavity, and the one around the neck area, with an easy bread stuffing richly flavoured with herbs and sautéed onions, celery and apples. It was a wise decision, because as the chicken and stuffing roasted together, the aroma they generated was incredibly warm and inviting, perfect for a home at Thanksgiving.

When the chicken was cooked, I removed the stuffing from the bird, set it in a serving dish and kept it hot in the oven while the chicken rested before I carved it. While the chicken rested, I also made gravy for it by setting the roasting pan on the stovetop and simmering a chicken stock/flour mixture until thickened and flavourful.

You can serve the chicken, stuffing and gravy with mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, yams and cranberry sauce, as you would for roast turkey. A meal perfect for Thanksgiving or any other fabulous fall day.

Roast Chicken with Apple Herb Stuffing and Gravy

A plump, juicy chicken roasted with an aromatic stuffing rich with bits of apple and four types of herbs.

Preparation time: 35 minutes

Cooking time: 120 to 135 minutes

Makes: four servings, plus some leftovers

2 Tbsp olive oil (divided)

1 medium red apple, cut into small cubes

1/2 cup finely diced onion

1/2 cup finely diced celery

1 tsp dried sage leaves (divided)

1/2 tsp dried thyme (divided)

1/2 tsp dried marjoram (divided)

8 slices white or whole wheat bread, cubed

2 Tbsp chopped freshly parsley

3 1/2 cups chicken stock (divided)

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 (about 5 lb/2.25 kg) roasting chicken

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

3 Tbsp all purpose flour

To make stuffing, heat 1 Tbsp of the oil in a skillet set over medium, medium-high heat. Add apples, onion and celery and cook until tender, about four to five minutes. Mix in 1/2 tsp dried sage leaves, 1/4 tsp dried thyme and 1/4 tsp dried marjoram and cook one minute more.

Remove skillet from heat. Place cubed bread in a bowl, along with the apple mixture in the skillet, 1 cup of stock, parsley and salt and pepper, to taste. Toss to combine and stuffing is ready.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Pat the chicken dry with paper towel. Remove neck and any innards from chicken. Place chicken and neck in a large, shallow roasting pan. Discard any innards, unless you want to cook them (see Eric’s options).

Pack stuffing into the main cavity of the chicken and the cavity behind the flap of skin at the neck end. Tie chicken legs together and, if you still have some left, pack some stuffing in the space between the legs (see Note).

Combine remaining 1 Tbsp oil, 1/2 tsp dried sage leaves, 1/4 tsp dried thyme, 1/4 tsp dried marjoram and smoked paprika in a small bowl. Brush mixture all over the chicken.

Roast chicken one hour.

When chicken has roasted 60 minutes, give the pan a 180-degree turn. Baste the chicken with pan juices. Roast chicken 45 minutes more. Now insert an instant-read meat thermometer deep into an inner thigh of the chicken, not touching the bone. If it registers 180 F, the chicken is ready. If it doesn’t, baste chicken again and roast 15 minutes more, or until the 180 F temperature is achieved.

Transfer chicken to a large cutting board or platter. Remove stuffing from the chicken and set it in a heatproof dish. Set the dish in the oven, turn the oven off, and keep the stuffing there until the chicken is carved. There will be plenty of residual heat in the oven to keep it hot there.

To make gravy, skim excess fat from the juices in the roasting pan. Set pan over medium-high heat. Place remaining 2 1/2 cups stock and flour in a bowl and whisk to combine. Pour into the pan and bring to a simmer. Simmer gravy a few minutes, until thickened, and then season with salt and pepper.

When chicken has rested, carve it and serve with the stuffing and gravy.

Note: If all the stuffing did not fit inside the chicken, place any leftover stuffing in a small, lightly oiled or buttered baking dish. Cover and bake alongside the chicken 20 minutes. Uncover and bake five to 10 minutes more, or until hot.

Eric’s options: Depending on the seller, roasting chickens are sometimes sold with some of the innards, such as the liver and/or heart. If you like to cook them, put them into the roasting pan after the chicken has roasted one hour and 15 minutes. Take them out of the pan when the chicken is cooked. Slice and serve them with the carved chicken meat.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.