This Christmas has proved impossible to plan, so here is a beautifully versatile recipe that can be adapted for however many of you there will be. Whether you choose a turkey, a cockerel, or a plump, free-range chicken, there is real theatre when you lift the lid at the table, letting the interweaving scents of lemon, sage and garlic waft up as the bird sits in the golden, caramelised, sherry-rich sauce. If you are fewer still, try some small partridges, rich in nutrients and undeniably festive, or even chicken thighs. Have a ball.
Chicken braised with celeriac, pancetta and sage
The bird braises slowly in the milk, which curdles and caramelises to produce a rich, lemony, sticky sauce.
Prep 15 min
Cook 1 hr 30 min
2 tbsp olive oil
100g lardons or pancetta chunks
Salt and pepper
1 large chicken, at room temperature, or 8 chicken thighs, 3 poussins or partridges, or 2 pheasants
1 large celeriac, peeled and cut into 3cm chunks
1 head garlic, cloves separated but unpeeled
1 handful sage leaves
1 sprig rosemary
Peel of 1 lemon
75ml oloroso sherry or marsala
1 litre whole milk
Heat the oven to 180C (160C fan)/450F/gas 4 and get out a large casserole with a lid in which the bird(s) will fit comfortably.
Set the pan over a medium heat, add the oil and, once hot, fry the lardons until they’re golden and have released their fat. Scoop out on to a plate and set aside.
Generously season the chicken, add the butter to the pan and brown the chicken all over until golden, then remove and set aside. Add the celeriac and garlic to the pan (with a little more fat, if the pan is dry) and saute for a few minutes, until nicely browned all over.
Push the celeriac to the sides, and return the chicken to the pan breast side up. Sprinkle over the cooked lardons, herbs and lemon peel, and pour over the sherry and milk. Season generously with salt and pepper, then transfer to the oven for 60-70 minutes, basting the chicken and celeriac as often as you can. Check that the juices run clear before serving with greens and roast potatoes.
And for the rest of the week …
Oloroso sherry is spectacular in puddings. Reduce some in a pan to pour over ice-cream and/or mince pies; roast apples with it, or use in fruit tarts and trifles.