A worried text came through from my housemate. 'Your chicken's arrived, feet and all. I gave it a poke, and, er... I think there's something inside it.' I laughed knowingly; the giblets are all inside a bag inside the chicken, of course! I carried on drinking my drink and dancing my dance without a worry in my mind. 5 hours later I stumbled back to South East London, bleary-eyed and my stomach churning. I hauled the big bird out of the fridge and visibly withered away. My dear housemate wasn't lying. Not only did it have enormous, dinosaur-like claws, THE HEAD WAS STILL ATTACHED. Wrapped up in a plastic bag, like some sort of morbid veil. There was no visible hole, which meant... oh god. The insides were still in.
I flapped (sorry) around the kitchen screeching, giggling and hyperventilating simultaneously. It was as heavy as a 4 month-old baby. I thought of my task ahead and a little retch began to take hold at the base of my throat. I was panicking. I'm squeamish, alright?
At that moment, my other housemate strode through the door, tanned and Adonis-like, the vision of manliness, and he took charge. 'Find me a YouTube video and we'll sort this.' I hid behind a door.
'Shit, I don't know if I can do this.'
'HARGH! Huuurrrgghhh.' Squelch-squelch-hack-splinter-squelch.
'Oooh look it's working'.
And like that, my housemate has become my new hero. Even if I did jump and scream from his careful positioning of the claws.
It was all a misunderstanding really. The lovely people at The Ginger Pig asked me to come up with a recipe for the new chickens they'll be selling. Bred in Lincolnshire / Leicestershire and hand plucked, they are offering either pullets (hens) or larger cockerels. I'd been asked whether I wanted the feet on mine, and thinking they'd be small delicate ones - you know, like the kind you have at dim sum - I said yes. Never again.
I wanted something special for this cockerel. Something to be a centre piece, to have everyone ooh'ing and ahhing over it, and something different from your usual. I decided to stuff it. Glutinous rice studded with sweet, porky Chinese sausage would soak up the fat from the bird well. Flavoured with shiitake mushrooms, made plump by the cock's juices (stop it) and finished off with a little dried mandarin peel for a tart dimension, this is quite a traditional Chinese dish. The skin is marinated in aromatics and basted well and often for a deep chrome colour. A little rice, some chicken and greenery made a different kind of Sunday roast, but a gorgeous one nonetheless. This beast feeds 6; at £8.50 / kg you can buy them here. You don't have to get yours with guts and claws.
And how does a cockerel taste? They take a lot of cooking, especially when stuffed. This one was in the oven for 4 hours, but when it came out the meat was tender and gamey, a hint of farmyard about it. The skin was tougher than a chicken's but by no means too tough; the flavour of the meat stood up to that ballsy filling well. It's not a quick recipe, but with a bit of planning ahead it should be relatively straight-forward. Don't be afraid of the blackened, gunky bits - these are quite delicious or you can scrape it off a little to reveal the gorgeous mahogany colour beneath.
Feeds 6 as a cockerel, 4 if a chicken
To do the night before:
350gr glutinous rice, washed well and soaked in water overnight
4 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tbsp dark soy
4 tbsp light soy
6 cloves of garlic, mushed in a pestle and mortar
1 inch of ginger, minced
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
1 tsp level of five spice
Mix this all together and cover your bird in it. Leave for a few hours, or preferably overnight. Don't throw leftover marinade away.
Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C.
For the filling: 3 lap cheong, sliced thinly (Chinese sausage, you can buy it at the Chinese supermarket)
6 shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated in hot water. Reserve the soaking juices.
2 inches of ginger, minced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 dried mandarin peel (you can buy this in Asian supermarkets), soaked in hot water
3 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine, or sherry
1 tsp dark soy sauce
3 tbsp light soy sauce
6 stalks of spring onion, chopped roughly.
1 tbsp cooking oil
Fry the garlic and ginger gently with the lap cheong. Remove the stems from the mushrooms and cut into bite-sized pieces. Add to the pot. Add the mandarin peel, chopped roughly. Add the soy sauces, rice wine / sherry and the rice and toss to coat the rice. Take off the heat and add the spring onions. Stuff the rice back into the cavity of the bird - do not overstuff as the rice expands.
Roast - my 2.5kg cockerel took around 4 hours as I cooked in on a lower temperature. For the beginning, I added the mushroom juices into the pan and then covered with foil and cooked it for 2 hours, then removed the foil, basted with any remaining marinade and roasted it a little higher for the rest of the time, again basting every half hour or so. Leave to rest in a warm place (like the oven, switched off with the door ajar) for half an hour.
Carve so that everyone gets some rice, and serve with some greens, like spinach stir-fried with garlic.