A whole roast chicken stuffed with sage and thyme

Some might say that if you call it The Ultimate Roast Chicken it must involve foie gras, winter truffle or a decadent stuffing. But I think the ultimate roast chicken is one that is perfectly cooked, moist and tender, juicy and full of flavour. The top tips that make the difference are lots of fresh herbs (although you can use dried), and soft butter stuffed under the skin to keep the breast super lubricated while cooking.

Start with the best bird you can afford. An organic, free-range and corn-fed bird would be first prize in this arena – and it will reward you with flavour for every additional pound you spend. But if free-range is the best you can do, then go for that. Please avoid injected, chlorinated, pale and flabby caged birds – they are not worth the money or the effort of cooking them and I would rather you made a decadent vegetarian dish instead. One very good roast chicken once a month is better than a mediocre one every week.

One really good reason to cook your own food is so that you know where it’s come from and what’s gone into it – which is why it’s always a good idea to check the label and understand whether it’s been injected with water or treated with chemicals on its way to you.

A younger, smaller chicken is best for roasting, so that the darker leg meat cooks before the breast meat gets dry and chewy. If there are many to feed, cook two rather than a singe big one.

Most supermarket chickens have been cleaned and the giblets removed but it’s always worth checking inside to make sure. When I was living in France my chickens came from the farmer at the weekly market in and they came with head, feet and innards intact. The head, neck and feet were used for stock, and the heart and liver pan-fried for the cook (me). Heaven.

Start your preparation an hour before putting the bird in the oven, and take it out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before you want to cook.

Working backwards from when you’d like to sit down to eat, include 15-20 minutes for the bird to rest at the end while you finish off the veg and make the gravy. This golden hour allows  time to prepare and parcook your potatoes and parsnips for roasting, and time to prepare the bird. It doesn’t really take much more effort than that – once the roast is in the oven, it just needs basting 2-3 times, and turning if your oven cooks unevenly.

When you’re prepping the veg, think about how long they will be in the oven. If the potatoes are cut too small they could burn before the chicken is ready, so if it’s a larger bird make the pieces of potato larger. I always add an onion and whatever other root veg is in the fridge, from butternut or pumpkin to swede or sweet potato – they develops rich, umami flavour in the oven and adds deliciousness to the gravy juices as well as padding out the meal for hungry teens.


(feeds 2-4)

1 (preferably) free-range cornfed chicken around 1.2kg-1.4kg

60g softened, unsalted butter

10 fresh sage leaves, depending on size

10 sprigs fresh oregano, leaves only (or a generous teaspoon of dried oregano)

A bunch of fresh thyme, leaves only (or a teaspoon of dried)

4 tablespoons light olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 lemon, halved (optional)

2 large cloves garlic (optional)

Assorted veg for roasting: floury potatoes (eg Maris Piper or King Edward), onions, parsnips, swede etc

1.5tbsp plain flour

750ml Chicken or vegetable stock

1 roasting pan larger than the chicken, to accommodate potatoes and any other veg you want to add


Begin by peeling your potatoes and veg, cutting to the required size and boiling in salted water for 6 minutes. This won’t cook them all the way through, but soften the outside so they crisp up in the oven. Drain them well, and leave in a colander over the pot to steam dry for at least 30 minutes. You can do this the day before and leave, uncovered, in the fridge.

Set aside 4 whole leaves of sage, and chop and mix the rest of the herbs together.

Remove the packaging from the chicken check all the feathers and giblets have been removed. Remove the string binding the legs together. Some people leave it on, but it prevents the heat reaching the skin underneath and we want as much crispy skin as possible!

At this stage (10 minutes before the chicken goes in), heat the oven to 180C / Gas Mark 5.

Get your roasting tin, pour ½ a tablespoon of oil in and use your hand or a pastry brush to ensure the bottom of the tin is well coated. Now season the tin. Sprinkle sea salt and pepper in the middle (where the chicken will sit), add a small sprinkle of fresh herbs.

Pour ½ tablespoon of oil into your cupped palms and use your hands to massage the oil all over the chicken. Work quickly, and make sure you get under the wings. Now you can place the chicken breast-side up on too of the seasoning in the pan.

Sprinkle salt and pepper inside the bird and put the lemon in the cavity and peeled garlic in the cavity (if using).

Using your fingers, gently ease the skin away from the breast and create a pocket on each side that reaches all the way to the thigh. Now scoop a teaspoon of soft butter and smoosh it in under the skin on each side. As you smooth it from the outside the butter will spread.

Then take a sage leaf and gently push it in flat, on top of the butter. Repeat with the other breast, then do the same from the other end – use your fingers to create a pocket under the skin, go in first with butter, then sage leaves on either side.

Now season the chicken generously with salt and pepper.

Tip your steamed potatoes back into the pot and pour over the remaining olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and the chopped herbs. Put the lid on and give the veg a shake to make sure they are well coated with oil and seasoning.

Place the veg around the chicken and use a pastry brush to sweep all the remaining oil and herbs from the pot. Brush these over the top of the chicken and, if there’s any left, use it to dress the veg in the pan.

Your roast is ready for the oven!

Pop it in on the middle shelf and pour a glass of wine.

After 30 minutes, take the tray out of the oven, rearrange the veg in the corner so you can get a spoon in, tip the tray and spoon the juices over the chicken and the vegetables. Give them all a good soaking.

Repeat this procedure every 15 minutes until the chicken is cooked. This means it’s golden and crispy all over and the juices inside are clear, with no red or pink colour. You can tip the chicken up to check.

A small chicken, 1.2-1.4kg will take around 75 minutes at 180C.

Now grab a smaller, second roasting tin and transfer all the veg over, making sure you don’t lose the crispy bits (I use a palette knife). Pop the tray back in the oven so the potatoes and veg continue to crisp up but watch they don’t burn.

Then gently remove the chicken from the pan, tip it up and allow the juices to fall back into the roasting tin. Put the chicken on a serving dish and leave to rest. You can cover it with foil but if the kitchen is warm it will be fine.

Tip the roasting tin up and spoon any fat off the surface of the juices. Alternatively, leave them and you can spoon them off the top of the gravy before serving (they will rise to the top)

On the hob, heat the roasting pan, sprinkle the flour over the juices and use a wooden spoon or sauce whisk to combine the two. It will start to bubble. Scrape the bottom of the pan and bring everything together in the middle. Add half the stock and keep whisking/stirring as the gravy thickens. Add more stock as you go, until you have the consistency you prefer. Allow to simmer for 3-4 minutes, to cook the flour. Check the seasoning and adjust with salt and pepper if necessary.

Carefully pour off the gravy into a jug and pop it into the oven to stay hot until required. Don’t forget you can skim off any excess fat from the top of the jug before serving.

These are my tried and tested tips for taking a simple roast chicken to the next level. No cheffy flourishes that can’t be achieved in a home kitchen, just amazing comfort food. You will never roast chicken any other way, ever again.