Martha Stewart Living (December 2012)
Stuffing was a much discussed topic at the Thanksgiving dinner we attended. (That dinner, by the way, was an amazing spread prepared by Zach's sister, Cassidy. We didn't cook a thing -- it was glorious.)
As we expect happens at many Thanksgivings, there was talk of stuffing (cooked inside the bird) versus dressing (cooked separately, in a casserole dish). There wasn't a lot of love for stuffing at the table. Zach's mom said that every stuffing she had prepared had turned out greasy. It didn't help stuffing's case that Cassidy had prepared two fantastic dressings.
But in that moment it occurred to us that while we've made countless dressings, we've never cooked an actual stuffing inside a turkey or chicken. We took this recipe for Roast Chicken with Fig-and-Pancetta Stuffing as a sign that it was time to try it.
"Capon" -- a rooster that has been castrated so as to improve the flavor of its meat (too soon for that on a Monday morning?) -- was a new word for us. And we couldn't find one. Well, we did find one at the farmers market, but it was a fraction of the size called for in this recipe, so we went with a chicken instead of futzing around with the recipe proportions and cook time.
We love roast chicken, but we were especially excited for this Fig-and-Pancetta Stuffing. It sounded like a great combination to us, a perfect dish for the cold weather we've started getting in the past couple weeks.
Here's something we didn't expect: You can cram an unbelievable amount of stuffing into the bird! It's like a clown car of stuffing. It was a two man job -- Zach spooning stuffing, and Clay packing it in. We didn't get the full recipe of stuffing into the chicken, but to our surprise we got awfully close.
We followed this recipe to the letter. When the full cooking time was up, our chicken was ready, and we dutifully allowed it to rest before carving.
How'd the stuffing turn out? Well, the good news is that unlike those stuffings in Zach's mother's experience, this wasn't greasy. It was, however, largely flavorless. With figs and pancetta at play, that's especially disappointing. In the recipe below, we've included some ideas that might help add flavor.
The chicken itself is a very good roast chicken. The method for the gravy is the same as many others we've made, and adding gravy helps everything have more flavor. But that's a cheat -- we want more flavor out of the stuffing itself, so you're not forced to douse the dish in gravy.
We'll certainly make stuffing inside a chicken or turkey again one day. We just won't make it quite like this.
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours
Notes from Zach and Clay
We recommend changing the ratios of the stuffing, so that you have more figs and pancetta, and less bread. Our recommendation (though we haven't tried it ourselves) is to use 6 or 7 slices of whole wheat bread, 10 ounces of pancetta, and 10 ounces of Black Mission figs, so that the stuffing has stronger fig and pancetta flavors.
Ingredients1 capon (8 to 9 pounds), rinsed and patted dry, neck reserved
1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened, divided
2 small onions, 1 finely chopped, 1 cut into 1-inch wedges
6 ounces pancetta, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon coarse salt, divided
2 1/2 cups chicken broth, divided
6 ounces Black Mission figs, cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 oranges, 1 zested and juiced, 1 cut into 1-inch wedges
2 tablespoons orange liqueur
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage leaves, plus 1 sage sprig
11 slices whole-wheat bread, toasted
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
Let capon stand at room temperature 1 hour. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add chopped onion, pancetta, and 1 teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until pancetta begins to render fat and onion is translucent, about 3 minutes.
Add 1 cup broth and the figs to pan, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, and let stand 10 minutes.
Stir orange zest and juice, liqueur, and chopped sage into broth mixture. Tear bread into 1 1/2-inch pieces, and transfer to a large bowl. Pour broth mixture over bread, and stir until well combined. Fold in egg.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place orange wedges in a single layer in the center of a roasting pan; add onion wedges, sage sprig, and capon neck. Stir together remaining tablespoon salt and the pepper, and season body cavity of capon with half the mixture. Pack body and neck cavities with stuffing. Place capon on top of orange mixture in pan. Rub remaining 2 tablespoons butter all over capon, and season with remaining salt-pepper mixture.
Roast capon 45 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees, and roast, basting every 15 minutes, until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a thigh reads 165 degrees, 55 to 65 minutes more, depending on size of capon. (If skin becomes deep golden brown before capon is fully cooked, loosely tent with foil.)
Transfer capon to a platter, and tent with foil to keep warm. Let rest at least 15 minutes before carving. Meanwhile, shred neck meat, and set aside. Discard oranges, onions, and sage in roasting pan. Tilt pan, and remove excess fat with a spoon. Whisk together 1/4 cup broth and the flour.
Place pan on 2 burners over medium-high heat. Add remaining 1 1/4 cups broth, scraping up browned bits with a wooden spoon. Bring to a boil, whisk in flour mixture, and boil 1 minute. Pour gravy through a fine sieve into a bowl, stir neck meat into gravy, and serve alongside capon and stuffing. Stuffing (without egg) can be refrigerated, covered, up to 1 day. Bring to room temperature before folding in egg and filling capon.