Once the skin is crisped up, remove and keep for later. Not eating it immediately is the most technically challenging part of this whole dish”
This is the easiest and (almost) foolproof way to make a stuffed leg of chicken (or ballotine), which is both delicious and beautiful.
- 1 whole chicken, preferably free range
- Carrot, onion, garlic, bay for the stock
- A few stalks of kale
- Pumpkin (or any root veg)
Always start with a whole bird. Using the entire chicken is not only far more economical than buying those sorry plastic-wrapped spare parts from the supermarket, but also allows for no wastage, either in meat or in flavour. You can use everything; Making multiple meals out of one carcass, and allowing the appropriate cooking techniques for each part. There is a reason that roast chicken is so technically challenging to do well – each type of meat on the bird cooks best at radically different temperatures and for different times. And of course the bones make the most wonderful stock, which forms the basis of so many sauces. Roast them first to achieve a deep brown richly chickeny flavour (as in the sauce for this recipe), or make the stock light without pre-roasting and use to add subtle depth of flavour for risotto, soups, purees.. anything you can think of.
this is also a great dinner party dish where you can make everything well in advance. Just cook the ballotines and warm up sauce and puree at the last minute”
1. First bone the chicken. You can find all sorts of tutorials on how to do this on YouTube etc. Like most things in the kitchen, it’s easy. You don’t have to do it perfectly. Try it. No one will die if it goes wrong and nothing will get wasted.
(Boning a chicken is a skill every cook should have. Its easy, and very satisfying)
2. Take the two now-boneless thighs and remove the skin. Sandwich the flattened skin between two baking sheets, lined on either side with baking parchment or foil to stop sticking, and place in the oven for 30 mins at 280c/356f. Once it’s cooked and crisped up, remove and keep for later. Not eating it immediately is the most technically challenging part of this whole dish. Taking the skin of the thighs also cuts the difficulty factor of the dish in half as trying to crisp it up later without it unravelling requires a lot more fiddling around. I’ll also show that later on another post, but for now we stick to a simpler version.
(Place the chicken skin flat on some foil, cover with a baking sheet/more foil and weigh down with a pot, place in the oven until amazingly crisp)
3. Make the sauce. Brown the chicken bones in a hot pan or in the oven at 200c/392f for 40 mins. Place in a large pot and add whatever veg you have around. Think any combination of : Carrots, leaks, onions, celery. Go easy on the carrots though, it will end up very sweet if you put more than one in. Add spices and herbs: a bay leaf, a few pepper corns, maybe a couple of coriander seeds, a teaspoon of tomato puree, parsley, thyme, rosemary… experiment… see what you like. The only rule about stock is it is not a garbage bin for anything that is going off… put decent stuff in or it won’t be good in the end. The same goes for any wine you add. Garbage in, garbage out.
Now add water to just cover (don’t drown it), and boil rapidly until heavily reduced. Pass through a sieve, plus muslin if you can be bothered. Check seasoning.
4. Meanwhile chop some pumpkin (a handful for 2 servings is enough) and roast in a hot oven for about 40 mins. Purée in a blender and keep warm.
5. Blanch some kale leaves, having removed the stalks, in boiling water for 1 min.
6. Waste not want not. Chop the inner stalk of the kale and mix with chopped mushrooms to make the filling. Cook the mixture on a very high heat in a dry pan until dry.
(The filling can be whatever you want, but cook it first, and it can’t be watery!)
7. Now is time to assemble the ballotine. Lay some cling film on a board and place blanched leaves of kale across it. Now place a chicken thigh on top, season with salt and pepper, and then about 2 tablespoons of mushroom filling. Take one end of the cling film and tightly roll up the chicken so it’s first encased in the kale and then film, twisting the ends of the plastic as you go. Once tightly wrapped, tie off the ends and then tie some string around the inside edge of the knot just to make doubly sure its sealed. You can now refrigerate these for a few days if you want – this is also a great dinner party dish where you can make everything well in advance, and just cook the ballotines, plus warm up sauce and puree at the last minute.
(The ballotine is wrapped up in the kale leaf and then tightly encased in the plastic wrap)
8. Cook the parcels in a sous vide or just throw into a pan of water at around 60-70c/150f for 1.5 hours (that’s hot enough that you can still just dip your hand in quickly. It must not boil).
9. Assemble. Remove the plastic wrap, and slice the chicken however you want. Pipe/dollop some puree of pumpkin around the plate and sauce with the deep chicken glaze. Garnish with some extra veg, or even a flower! Enjoy.