What’s Cooking is a series in which I answer questions and share advice about food and cooking that you may have but are too shy to ask.
Roasting a chicken whole is one thing but roasting a chicken filled with stuffing is quite another. With an unstuffed roast chicken, all one has to “worry” about is the chicken being cooked through; and testing for doneness is easier. You cook the bird until the juices run clear when the thickest part of a thigh is pierced with knife. However, when making stuffed roast chicken, not only must the chicken be fully cooked, but the temperature of the stuffing must be right in order to avoid bacteria that can develop to food poisoning.
Sounds scary and intimidating right? Don’t worry, by the time you are done reading this column, you will feel confident enough to try it, and that confidence will grow each time you make stuffed roast chicken. Stuffing a whole chicken and serving it for a Sunday meal elevates it from being a regular Sunday roast. I don’t know about you, but I love the stuffing that is cooked in the bird better than stuffing baked on its own. It is because of all the cooked meat juices that bring added flavour to the stuffing.
Let’s start with the chicken.
If you can, give the bird an overnight seasoning of salt and pepper or whatever dry spice or herb seasoning you prefer (but be sure that it includes salt and pepper). This provides excellent depth of flavour and seasoning. You can season the chicken just before cooking, but the seasoned taste would not be as well rounded. If the chicken was seasoned overnight, it is very important that it be brought up to room temperature before cooking. Pat dry before stuffing and cooking.
Any combination of ingredients can be put together to make stuffing – breads, biscuits, dried fruits, nuts, meats (raw and cured), rice, legumes, vegetables, herbs and spices. All are brought together with liquid such as meat or vegetable stock, water, or milk. Therefore, make the stuffing with whatever combination you prefer or like, the main thing to know however, is that the stuffing must be cooked before it is packed into the cavity of the chicken; even if you are using cured and cooked meats such as sausages or charcuterie. There are certain bacteria that exist in raw ingredients, and by cooking the stuffing, you are reducing the risk of foodborne illness.
The cooked stuffing can be hot or warm just before stuffing the bird. It is best to mix together the cooked and heated dry and wet ingredients as you are about the stuff the chicken. Only stuff the chicken just before putting it into the oven. Letting the heated stuffing sit in the room temperature chicken outside of the oven can cause bacteria to grow. It is important to note here that at no time should you pre-stuff a chicken, refrigerate it, bring it up to room temperature and then cook it. That will result in a serious case of food poisoning.
Pack the stuffing loosely into the cavity of the chicken; you want to give it room to grow as it cooks. Remember that much of a stuffing is made with ingredients that contain leavening agents such as baking powder, baking soda and yeast, these will cause the stuffing to swell and fully fill the cavity.
The chicken can be trussed (wings and legs tied together) or the legs tied together. My mom used to stitch the opening to secure the stuffing. All of this is not necessary, you can simply place a piece of foil over the cavity with the stuffing to prevent it from drying out. Fifteen to 20 minutes before the roast is done, the foil is removed so that the stuffing develops a crust.
Side note – most recipes for stuffing will yield more than you need to stuff the bird, put the leftovers in a buttered dish and bake alongside the roast until it reaches 165 degrees F.
An unstuffed chicken cooks in less time than a stuffed chicken and the cooking time will also vary depending on the size (weight) of the chicken. Therefore, factor this in to the preparing and cooking of your meal. To test the doneness of the chicken, use the same method you would as with the unstuffed chicken – pierce the thickest part of the thigh and if the juices run clear, the chicken is done cooking. Check the doneness of the stuffing by inserting a meat or cooking thermometer into the centre of the stuffing; if the thermometer registers a minimum 165 degrees F, the stuffing is done.
When you test, if the chicken is done cooking but the stuffing is not, let the roast continue to cook until the stuffing registers the right temperature. You can loosely cover the chicken with foil to prevent it drying out while the stuffing finishes cooking.
When the stuffed chicken is finished cooking, remove it from oven and let it rest for 20 minutes. Not only does this allow for the juices of the chicken to redistribute making the meat moist and tender but it also allows for the stuffing to cook more and stay hot. Remove the stuffing completely from the chicken, then carve and serve. Do not store left over stuffing in the cavity of the chicken.
Tools and equipment
Here are a few things that will help with cooking a stuffed roast chicken (or turkey)
● Roasting pan with a rack – this ensures even circulation of the heat around the bird. However, if you do not have a rack, place the chicken on a bed of coarsely chopped vegetables, onions or herbs.
● Kitchen string or large needle and coarse thread to truss or sew the cavity to secure the stuffing. Alternately, simply put a piece of foil in front of the stuffed cavity.
● Meat or cooking thermometer – this for me is more important than anything else in this section. A trusted thermometer will tell you if the stuffing is fully cooked. If the stuffing is undercooked, it could contaminate the cooked meat.
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