How to cook the perfect roast chicken: Britain's favourite chefs reveal their secrets... and you'll be amazed by what they are! 

Is there a more comforting food than a perfect roast chicken? Simple, healthy, welcoming, endlessly versatile…whether it’s eaten at dusk on a summer’s evening with friends, enjoyed with the family at Sunday lunch, or raided from the fridge the next day, it’s surely Britain’s favourite dish. 

So how should you get the best from your free bird? Everyone has their own favourite and reliable routine, but to whet your appetite, we’ve tested at home seven classic recipes from our best-loved chefs. 

What’s more, our brilliant wine columnist, Olly Smith, has matched each dish with the perfect wine. 

Alice Smellie has tried out seven recipes for cooking chicken to find out the chef's secrets

Alice Smellie has tried out seven recipes for cooking chicken to find out the chef's secrets

 

Gordon Ramsy's stuffed roast chicken

Rating:

Best for... Dazzling your friends 

ALICE SAYS: The combination of chicken and smoky chorizo is a classic, and this stuffing is so yummy that I’d urge you to cook double the amount so you can scoff the ‘leftovers’. 

INGREDIENTS 

  • 1 lemon
  • Olive oil
  • 1 heaped tsp paprika
  • 400ml white wine

CHORIZO STUFFING

  • Olive oil for frying
  • 150g-200g (5oz-7oz) chorizo, skinned and cubed
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
  • sprigs of thyme
  • 2 x 400g tins cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 200g (7oz) semi-dried tomatoes in oil
  • Salt and pepper

To make the stuffing I fry the chorizo in some olive oil and then add the onion and garlic. Next in goes some thyme, the cannellini beans and tomatoes with a bit of their oil.

At this point many of us might stop – the stuffing is healthy comfort food at its absolute best, a divine meal in itself. However, we are supposed to be serving this with the chicken.

With that in mind, I put in as much stuffing as I can bear into the cavity and seal it with the lemon, then tuck in the skin to keep it sealed. Then I massage olive oil and the paprika into the skin and wash my hands thoroughly afterwards (nobody likes paprika in their eyes).

Add 200ml of water, the wine and some more thyme to the roasting pan and cover the whole lot with foil.

Leave it in the oven for an hour and then remove the foil. After putting the bird back in the oven for another 30 minutes I remove, and allow it to rest.

Remove the lemon and squeeze into the cooking juices to add some zest to the gravy.

This excellent chicken has a light taste of pepperoni and the stuffing takes on a tangy lemon flavour too.

All in all, the perfect meal.

From Gordon Ramsay’s Ultimate Cookery Course, Hodder & Stoughton. You can also watch him cook the recipe himself on YouTube. 

Gordon Ramsay's stuffed roast chicken is the best option if you want to dazzle your friends

Gordon Ramsay's stuffed roast chicken is the best option if you want to dazzle your friends

 

 Jamie Oliver's chicken in milk

Rating:

Best for...Impressing the grandparents

INGREDIENTS

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper 

Olive oil

½ stick cinnamon

1 handful fresh sage, leaves picked

Zest of 2 lemons

10 cloves garlic, skin left on

pint of milk

 ALICE SAYS: Chicken? In milk? Has Mr Oliver, saviour of the school dinner, taken leave of his senses? Some people swear that this is the best chicken they have ever tasted. I hate to admit it but they just might be right…

Fry the chicken in a little oil in a large pot to give it a bit of colour. 

Then drain away the oil, put the rest of the ingredients into the pot, shrug at it, and throw the whole lot into the oven for an hour and a half.

I baste it regularly, peering into the pot with some disgust – the sage leaves float like small dead fish and there is also some sediment.

But on removing the chicken I am forced to eat my words along with a large serving of succulent meat. 

The juice in which the bird has been cooked has left it looking plump, and the sage and lemon give it a light tang.

The lemon zest and milk make an extraordinary sauce. Unbelievable. And I mean that.

Jamie Oliver's chicken in milk is a great option if you are trying to impress the grandparents

Jamie Oliver's chicken in milk is a great option if you are trying to impress the grandparents

 

 Mary Berry's roast chicken with herb and apple stuffing

Rating:

Best for... Impressing your in-laws

 ALICE SAYS: I love Mary Berry. My mother-in-law gave me one of her books one Christmas and the recipes have never failed me (though I still use my mother-in-law as a dinner party emergency hotline). I haven’t attempted to make my own stuffing before, but I soon discover that it is as easy as making a packet version.

INGREDIENTS

Sprigs of parsley and thyme

½ lemon, sliced

½ onion, sliced

60g (2oz) butter

APPLE AND HERB STUFFING

30g (1oz) butter

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 cooking apple, peeled and grated

60g (2oz) fresh white breadcrumbs

1 small egg, beaten

1 tbsp chopped parsley

1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme

Grated zest of 1 lemon

Salt and black pepper

GRAVY

2 tsp plain flour

300ml good-quality chicken stock

Splash of red wine or sherry and a spoonful of redcurrant jelly or cranberry sauce (optional)

For the stuffing I melt the butter and stir in the onions. After cooling the resulting fragrant mix, I add the breadcrumbs, apple, egg, parsley, thyme and lemon zest. 

The result does not look appetising, being rather pallid and viscous in appearance. 

I chuck the lemon, onion, parsley and thyme into the chicken, tie the legs together to stop it all escaping, and then put the stuffing into the other end. The only way of doing this is with my bare hands, and the eggy mixture feels slimy. Adding stuffing means the cooking time is extended due to the extra weight.

I thread a wooden skewer left over from a marshmallow/barbecue situation the previous weekend through the skin to keep the stuffing in place. 

The chicken starts off upside down in the dish to get the juices into the breast, and is turned over once this is brown. I place it into the oven for an hour and a half.

The Smellie family treat gravy with near reverence and I’d like to think that in making it I have acquired a vital life skill. As the chicken sits in a cosy blanket of foil waiting to be eaten, I make the gravy in the roasting tin, pouring off most of the fat and then cooking the flour in with the remaining liquid for a couple of minutes, stirring vigorously. I add the stock and simmer for a couple of minutes, add a splash of sherry and season.

Oh Mary, you modern day saint, this is just delicious. The stuffing is unusual and tart, and the chicken moist all the way through. The upside down idea is genius.

Mary Berry's chicken will have you in-laws praising your culinary skills

Mary Berry's chicken will have you in-laws praising your culinary skills

 

BBC Good Food's spatchcock chicken 

Rating:

Best for... Impressing your neighbours 

ALICE SAYS: Barbecuing a whole chicken is an impossible dream, right? Wrong. Here, it becomes reality. It helps if you’re not squeamish about preparing the bird. I was fine, but then I frequently fantasise about being a surgeon in Grey’s Anatomy. 

I put the chicken upside-down and use kitchen scissors to cut along either side of the back bone to remove it. I’m amazed that this is easier than it looks (basically, if I can do it, anyone can), though the crunch of bones is not particularly pleasant.

I turn the chicken over and flatten it down hard. There are two disconcerting cracks and an unpleasant squelch, but the chicken duly lies flat and (pretty much) is all one thickness.

I use wooden skewers to pierce through the breast and thighs, criss-crossing them over (mine does not look like the picture, above, but I am still pleased).

The recipe I find suggests barbecuing for 20 minutes each side, but I rub on some olive oil and put it in the oven for an hour and then put it on the barbecue until it’s completely cooked, to create the most delicious crispy skin. It’s as easy as pie (or chicken) and utterly delicious.

BBC Good Food's spatchcock chicken -  being prepared, left - will ensure your neighbours are delighted

The resulting chicken - pictured above - is 'utterly delicious' 

The resulting chicken - pictured above - is 'utterly delicious' 

 

 Yotam Ottolenghi's chicken with sumac, za'atar and lemon

INGREDIENTS 

2 red onions, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

4 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

1½ tsp ground allspice (pimento)

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tbsp sumac

1 lemon, thinly sliced

200ml chicken stock or water

1½ tsp salt

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

2 tbsp za’atar

20g unsalted butter

50g pine nuts

4 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley

Rating:

Best for...A dinner party

 ALICE SAYS: Don’t be put off by the exotic list of ingredients – you’ll find sumac and za’atar in large supermarkets or delis. The result is stunning.

 I divide (with a sharp knife) my chicken into quarters and then pop into a bowl with onions, garlic, lemon, stock, olive oil, the spices (but not za’atar, a mixed spice blend) and then put it overnight in the fridge to absorb the flavours. 

The next day the chicken smells fragrant and looks deliciously appealing.

 After scattering the za’atar over the top I put it in the oven on a baking sheet skin side-up for 40 minutes.

Next I melt the butter in a pan, add the pine nuts and cook until they’re toasted.

I toss the pine nuts, the parsley and a little more za’atar over the top. Taste-wise this is divine and melt in the mouth. 

The spices and lemon have infused the chicken with a rich taste and the sauce is packed with flavour.

Yotam Ottolenghi's chicken with sumac, za'atar and lemon is the best option for a dinner party

Yotam Ottolenghi's chicken with sumac, za'atar and lemon is the best option for a dinner party

 Nigella Lawson's basic roast chicken

Rating:

Best for...A swift comfort supper 

ALICE SAYS: My kind of recipe. Barely an instruction or ingredient in sight.

The amazing Nigella recommends simply putting half a lemon into the chicken, and rubbing a bit of oil or butter on its breast to crisp up the skin. That’s it.

I achieve a heavenly roast in no time, and with no stress.

Basic roast chicken is versatile: perfect for the children’s supper, and the leftovers can be made into a sandwich.

It’s a classic dish that cannot be faulted.

Nigella Lawson's chicken is great for those wanting to make a quick supper

Nigella Lawson's chicken is great for those wanting to make a quick supper

 Madhur Jaffrey's whole roasted masala chicken

Rating:

Best for... Lunch with friends

ALICE SAYS: Skin a chicken? It’s like undressing a baby in a baby-gro that’s too small. I left the skin on the wings – too fiddly.

Madhur Jaffrey's whole roasted masala chicken is great for lunch with friends

Madhur Jaffrey's whole roasted masala chicken is great for lunch with friends

Assembling the marinade ingredients is like mingling the strongest and most delicious scents in the world in one blender. 

I remove the skin of the chicken and slice into the flesh six times and then rub in the bright red marinade. 

After half an hour I add the chilli powder and black pepper to the fiery-looking result and put the whole lot, covered in foil, in the oven for an hour. 

The kitchen is flooded with a mouth-watering scent. 

After an hour I unwrap the bird and cook it uncovered for another 15 minutes.

I cover the potatoes in oil and roast them for 20 minutes on a baking tray and then mix up the coriander, cumin, turmeric and chilli powder on a plate, cover each potato, then roast for a further 20 minutes.

The spices have permeated the chicken to create the most incredible piquant flavour, and the potatoes are so delicious that anyone who walks past swipes one.

INGREDIENTS 

FOR THE MARINADE 

4 tbsp lemon juice

2 tbsp peeled, finely chopped root ginger

2 tbsp finely chopped or crushed garlic

3 hot green chillies, finely chopped

1 tsp salt

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp garam masala

FOR THE CHICKEN

½ tsp chilli powder

½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

For the roasted masala potatoes

6 tbsp olive or sunflower oil

5 medium potatoes, peeled, halved lengthways, and cut into 5 x 4cm/2 x 1½in chunks

¾ tsp of salt

¾ tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground cumin

½ tsp turmeric

1 tsp Kashmiri (mild) chilli powder