Illustrated Step-by-Step: How to Stuff and Cook a Boned Chicken

The stuffed chicken: Done, and served with caponata.
The stuffed chicken: Done, and served with caponata.
  • 01 of 09

    Assemble Your Ingredients

    Stuffing a Chicken: What you'll need.
    Stuffing a Chicken: What you'll need.

    There are a great many Italian recipes for stuffing birds, especially chickens, ducks, turkeys, and geese. Almost all call for a boned bird [I've also written an illustrated, step-by-step guide to boning chicken, ducks, turkeys, and other birds], and this has a tremendous influence on the outcome of the dish: Since there is no skeleton to hold the meat up, it tends to settle during cooking, and as a result the stuffing is much firmer than it would be in an unboned bird.

    Italian cooks take...MORE this into account in preparing stuffings; they generally use ground meats and other firmer ingredients, for example chestnuts or apples, rather than bread, and the stuffing serves to increase the amount of bird available, rather than act as a side dish. A chicken stuffed in the Italian way will easily serve 8, and there may be leftovers.

    A Simple Stuffed Chicken Recipe

    This is a very simple recipe of my mother-in-law's that works well year-round; I prefer to serve it warm in the winter months, and cool in the summer. You'll need:

    • 1 boned medium-to-large chicken
    • 1 pound (500 g) ground veal
    • 1/4 pound (125 g) ham
    • 1/4 pound (125 g) mortadella
    • 1/2 cup pitted black olives, chopped
    • 1/2 cup pistachio nuts, chopped
    • 3-5 sage leaves, shredded
    • One 6-inch (15 cm) sprig of rosemary, leaves only, chopped
    • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
    • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

    [Edited by Danette St. Onge]

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  • 02 of 09

    Preparing the Stuffing: Grind the Meat

    Put the meats in the blender.
    Put the meats in the blender.

    Put the ground veal in a blender or food processor with the ham and mortadella. Blend the mixture, using the pulse function. Don't overblend or you will end up with a paste.

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  • 03 of 09

    Add the Other Ingredients and Mix Well

    Combine the other ingredients with the meats.
    Combine the other ingredients with the meats.

    Turn the blended meats out into a bowl and add the olives and nuts. You can use whatever kind of olive you prefer; in this case I used plain black pitted olives cured in brine, and left them whole so they would be easier to see in the picture. I generally chop them, and also chop the pistachios. If you want, you can also use a mixture of nuts, for example: pistachios and walnuts.

    Next, add the herbs -- both sage and rosemary are nice with ground veal, and parsley is universal -- and season to...MORE taste with salt and pepper; I went heavier on the pepper here because mortadella and ham are both salty. Feel free to use other herbs and spices as well, for example, a little paprika or freshly ground nutmeg.

    Mix the stuffing well.

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  • 04 of 09

    Prepare the Chicken

    Sew the chicken's neck opening shut.
    Sew the chicken's neck opening shut.

    To keep the stuffing from leaking out as the chicken cooks, sew the neck cavity shut using a heavy needle (an upholsterer's needle is perfect here) and heavy thread or butchers' twine. If you don't have butchers' twine, use a couple of long wooden skewers.

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  • 05 of 09

    Stuff the Chicken

    Stuff the chicken, pressing down firmly to compact the stuffing.
    Stuff the chicken, pressing down firmly to compact the stuffing.
    Fill the chicken with the stuffing, pressing it down firmly -- unlike a bread stuffing, which should be light and airy, here you want something fairly compact. Should you have any leftover stuffing, it makes excellent meatballs.
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  • 06 of 09

    Sew up the Chicken

    The chicken ready to go into the mesh bag.
    The chicken ready to go into the mesh bag.
    Sew the cavity shut.
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  • 07 of 09

    Bag the Chicken

    Tie a knot in the mesh to make a bag and turn it inside out.
    Tie a knot in the mesh to make a bag and turn it inside out.

    Since it's boned, the chicken will be more delicate as it cooks and it can fall apart, especially if you boil it. To combat this problem, use a length of finely woven mesh of the sort butchers have, tying a knot in it and turning it inside out to make a mesh bag. Another option is to use a small muslin bag.

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  • 08 of 09

    Cook the Chicken

    Put the chicken in the mesh bag and tie it so it will keep its shape.
    Put the chicken in the mesh bag and tie it so it will keep its shape.

    Put the chicken in the bag, and tie it as you might a salami, wrapping it crosswise so as to make the chicken elongate. Prick the skin in several spots with a carving fork.

    Though you can roast a stuffed chicken, my mother-in-law prefers to boil it, putting it in cold water to cover with a carrot, a stick of celery, an onion stuck with two cloves, and several sprigs of parsley. Season the water with several peppercorns and salt to taste, and add the bones leftover from the boned chicken carcass,...MORE if you have them. Bring the pot to a boil and simmer the chicken for about 2 hours, skimming the foam that rises to the top of the pot occasionally.

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  • 09 of 09

    Buon appetito!

    The stuffed chicken: Done, and served with caponata.
    The stuffed chicken: Done, and served with caponata.

    Remove the mesh bag and thinly slice the chicken crosswise. Arrange the slices on a platter and serve them with mayonnaise, pickles, and whatever other vegetables you prefer. In this case we had caponata (Sicilian stewed vegetables) with our stuffed chicken.

    The water the chicken cooked in will be an excellent broth; after you have defatted it, you can use it to make something along the lines of stracciatella, a Roman egg-drop soup, or serve it heated with tortellini or small pasta shapes.