Here’s how to make the ultimate Heston Blumenthal perfect Roast Chicken Sunday lunch recipe. With the help of Heston at Home, Waitrose and ChefSteps we’ve found the absolute best recipes for Sunday Dinner. We think this is even better than the roast chicken recipe from In Search of Perfection.
Have you ever had one of my childhood Sunday lunches? We’d boils peas & carrots until the water wass the colour of the veg, and the veg wass the colour of water. Raw potatoes were roasted in sunflower oil to give them the thinnest, softest skin. The chicken was cooked in the microwave until the meat had the texture (and flavour) of raw porridge oats.
I promise you it’s a lot worse than it sounds, but certainly no worse than the Sunday lunch we got by making Heston Blumenthal’s In Search of Perfection Perfect Roast Chicken recipe (pictured below).
It’s an absolute disaster of a recipe: the bird itself requires tons of complicated steps that end up yielding flaccid skin and raw, inedible thigh meat. The veg was average and there’s a criminal absence of both gravy and stuffing. Good roast potatoes, though.
Thankfully there’s been a lot of better recipes in the 8 years since the In Search of Perfection book and TV series first came out. The Fat Duck chef himself has given us an updated version of his Perfect Roast Chicken recipe in the recipe book Heston Blumenthal at Home, ( and Channel 4’s similar Heston Ultimate Roast Chicken recipe from How to Cook Like Heston). Thanks to Waitrose we’ve even got a new and improved Heston roast potato recipe.
By using these new and improved Roast Chicken recipes, adapting Heston’s Onion Gravy recipe from the Perfection Bangers and Mash and making a few changes to his Waitrose Stuffing recipe, (and with some hints from Modernist Cuisine and ChefSteps) we’re hoping that today we might just have the perfect, the ultimate, Heston Blumenthal Sunday Lunch Roast Chicken recipe.
Recipes: Heston’s Perfect Roast Chicken recipe, Heston’s Ultimate Roast Potatoes recipe, Heston’s Sage & Onion Stuffing recipe
Special Equipment: Brine syringe, two digital probe thermometers, metal trivet
Special Ingredients: None
Time: 2 days
Our Perfect Heston Blumenthal Sunday lunch menu involves 6 separate recipes: roast chicken, chicken gravy, roast potatoes, sage and onion stuffing and at least 2 vegetable sides. What follows is a two day process, some prep work on Saturday before cooking on Sunday.
It might seem like a lot of work for one meal, but we’ve tried to spread the recipe out to make it as easy and hassle-free as possible, because the less complicated your kitchen is the more likely you are to achieve absolute perfection.
Step 1: Saturday, start early for moist meat and crispy skin
Heston’s perfect roast chicken needs a both of the above. And one of Heston’s favourite techniques to make meat succulent and tender is to use a brine. But we’re deliberately not going to use Heston’s recommended brining technique, because we think it’s a waste of time in this recipe.
You see, Heston’s Ultimate Roast Chicken recipe uses immersion brining – where you cover the chicken in a mixture of salt and water, and this brine penetrates and tenderises the meat and helps it hold more water, increasing succulence. How does the science behind this work? We haven’t a clue!
The problem with Heston’s immersion brining is that it’s going to make the skin hold onto water as well as the meat. And the more moisture the skin contains the harder its going to be for you to crisp it up.
Plus, immersion brining is really awkward because you need a massive container to hold the chicken and the brine. It’ll take up all the space in your fridge and be heavy and difficult to handle as well. To top things off you’ll have to waste anything up to two extra hours rinsing the bird in fresh water to get rid of the excess salt. Basically, immersion brining is something only a complete arsehole would demand that you do.
How do we get around these problems, but still reap the succulent benefits of brined meat? Injection brining.
The meat’s gonna soak up a percentage of the salt and water you sit it in. So the solution is to inject only as much brine as you need directly into the flesh of the chicken. Here’s Modernist Cuisine’s Scott Heimendinger to tell you more about how this process works:
So, not only is injecting your brine going to give you all the benefits of Heston’s method, it’s going to help ensure your skin is delightfully crisp too.
Make a 6% brine (thats 6g of salt for every 100g of water), you’ll want about 200g of water for a standard sized chicken. Like Scott says in the video above you’ll want to inject the brine evenly around the chicken, working slowly and gently to avoid bursting the muscles. We use a specifically-designed meat injection syringe, you can actually buy these off eBay for about a tenner. You’ll be able to see the meat swelling with the brine.
The final step to achieving crispy skin is making sure it dries out thoroughly and evenly. To get air to the underside of the skin as well as the top you’ll want to make space between the skin meat – so gently work your fingers under the chicken skin until you’ve separated them. It’s a slightly grisly business, which reminds me far too much of John Carpenter’s The Thing. It’s best explained with this photo:
If all the above sounds complicated don’t worry, it’ll only take you about ten minutes to do everything. And now that we’ve had a brief chat about the science behind it all we can let that science do its work in the fridge. Put the bird on a plate –or better, a trivet- into the back of your fridge. This’ll give the brine time to diffuse through the meat while the cold air of the fridge dries the skin.
Step 2: Saturday, Pressure Cooking Stock for Heston’s Gravy Recipe
A good gravy begins with a good stock, so we’re going to be making one of those using a pressure cooker.
Good stocks don’t come easy. This job can set you back anything up to 4 hours. We think the results are worth it though; after all you’re trying to make the “perfect” Sunday Lunch here, not just an “ok” one. If the ingredients list looks wasteful just remember: gravy is just thickened, flavoured water. The more you put into that water to begin with the more flavour it’ll have.
On this occasion, we were lucky to have some leftover blonde chicken stock from Heston’s In Search of Perfection Risotto recipe. Here’s how we made it.
Start by chopping up some chicken bits. Wings are cheap (i.e. best) but you can use thighs, drums, or even chicken carcasses if you can get them. About a kilo should do it. Cover these in water and bring to the boil.
You won’t be using this first lot of water. You’re actually boiling the chicken pieces to remove the scum and impurities that can create bitter flavours. After a couple of minutes on a rolling boil you’ll see a shocking amount of bitter scum rise to the surface of your pan.
Skim the surface if you can, then drain the chicken pieces and rinse them under the tap to get rid of the last bits of scum. At this stage you have the option to toss these chicken pieces in oil and roast them in the oven for an hour, for a brown rather than blonde chicken stock.
Whether you do or don’t roast them your next step is to combine the chicken pieces and some veg in a pressure cooker with fresh water. Stick the lid on the pressure cooker and set it over a high heat. Once it reaches full pressure turn the heat down low and leave it to work it’s magic for the next 2 hours.
When done put the pressure cooker under the tap and run cold water over it to quickly depressurize (this is a Modernist Cuisine trick, and with a recipe this long we’ll take every shortcut we can get). Strain the stock and discard the meat and veg. And try not to think about how much food you’re wasting.
If you have time you can reduce this stock today. If not then cool, cover (Tupperware is ideal) and store in the fridge for tomorrow.
Step 3: Saturday, prepare Heston’s Sage and Onion Stuffing Recipe
We really like this recipe, but it involves a bit of effort. We like to make a big batch and store a few portions in foil trays in the freezer.
Start by blitzing some breadcrumbs and weighing them into a bowl. Then fry sausage meat, onions and so-on, tipping everything into the bowl. We’ve adapted this from Heston’s Cranberry and Caraway Stuffing recipe, and it’s our opinion that you can and should tailor this to your personal preferences.
We tend to go with some parsley and loads of sage for a classic Sage n’ Onion flavour, but you could swap those for thyme and lemon zest if that’s what you’d like – that’d certainly go well with the thyme and lemon used to flavour the chicken later. Dried apples or apricots would suit pork, or maybe dried cherries with roasted duck. Use whatever you want, it’s your kitchen and Heston isn’t going to come in and stop you as long as you remembered to lock all the doors and windows.
You can now put this into a disposable foil tray, loaf tin or other suitable container and store in the fridge or freezer until you’re ready to use it (note: defrost before cooking if you decide to freeze it).
Step 4: Sunday morning, Low temperature chicken roasting
Thanks to all that prep work above the actual roasting of the bird is going be quite simple. Although not by any means quick. Unless you want to start cooking at 7am we’d suggest telling everyone they get to eat around 2pm.
Start by firmly rolling a lemon and piercing it all over with a fork. Place this in the bird’s cavity with a bunch of thyme.
The reason for this is that we’re going to be cooking the chicken in an oven set between 70° and 90°C. Or as near to that temperature as you can set your own oven. Ours fan oven is pretty imprecise, with a variance of about 5 to 10°C, and the numbers on our temperature dial have very little in common with the actual oven temp.
We found a way to get around this: drop a probe thermometer into your oven and dial the temperature to where you think it ought to be. Keep making slight adjustments until the temperature stays roughly where you want it. To remind us where to set our dial I’ve made a discreet scratch on the correct part of the dial, which is a good way to spoil the appearance of both your oven front and the tip of one of your fancy Tojiro knives.
You’ll also want at least one, if not two, temperature probes. Stick the first into the thickest part of the breast, and the second, if you have it, into one of the thighs. Open the bird out as much as possible so that the heat in the oven can reach all parts evenly, don’t leave it tied up. Then in the oven we go.
Time is less of a factor cooking the chicken than temperature is. You basically want the bird to stay in the oven until it reaches a specific temperature, then remove it from the oven to avoid overcooking it. The official party line from Bray is that you should remove the chicken from the oven when the thickest part of the breast reaches 60°C.
We find that if the legs and thighs only reach 60°C they seem raw and stringy. The official “done” temperature for legs is between 65°C and 75°C. We’d advise slightly overcooking the breast to 65°C if it means you’ll be able to get the legs and thighs higher too. At least this way you won’t have our previous problem of inedible though meat.
The low temperature “roasting” is going to take anything from 2 to 4 hours, depending on your oven and the size of the bird. After the chicken does finally reach temperature you’re supposed to rest it for 40 minutes. If, like us and many other folk, you only have the one oven you’re obviously looking at more like 80 – 90 minutes, which is how long it’ll take you to cook the roast potatoes.
Step 5: Sunday, starting the roast potatoes
You can do this while the stock cooks in the pressure cooker on Saturday if you want to be extra prepared. Or on Sunday while the chicken is in the oven.
Heston has made some slight alterations to his roast potato recipe over the years (back in 2002 he used to coat them in flour) but the basic method remains the same.
Most importantly, make sure you use Maris Piper potatoes (although we hear from reliable sources that Albert Bartlett work very well too). All potatoes are different and we’ve discovered the hard way that the wrong kind can wreck a recipe.
Peel, reserving the skins and keeping each peeled spud submerged in a bowl of cold water while you do the rest. Halve or quarter them, depending on the size of your spuds and how big you like your roasties, then rinse under the cold tap until the water runs clear. This’ll get rid of excess starch.
Most chefs will tell you to briefly par-boil your potatoes, but for Heston’s perfect roast potato recipe you’re going to gently simmer them for anything up to half an hour. This needs to be done carefully because it’s one of the most crucial steps.
Gentle simmering won’t just cook the potatoes, but also open up loads of tiny cracks in the surface that’ll absorb oil and make the surface of your potatoes extra crispy. And remember those skins we saved from before? Tie them up in a muslin bag (or a cheap but effective disposable hairnet, like we use) and put them in the pan with the potatoes. Most of the flavour in potatoes is in the skin, so doing this will help infuse that flavour into your roast spuds.
Keep a careful eye on your potatoes, they have the hilarious habit of falling to mush if you over cook them by even just a few minutes. When the water starts to fill with stray flakes and when your potatoes have a nice raggedy surface lift them out carefully with a slotted spoon.
Leave them to cool in a colander or on a wire rack. You’ll want them stone cold for the next step.
Step 6: Sunday, finishing the stock for the gravy
Heft your stock out of the fridge, tip it into a pan (we wipe clean the roasties pan for convenience) and bring to a simmer. Whatever you do don’t let it reach a rolling boil, as this also risks creating bitter flavours that can ruin all your hard work.
When the stock seems to have been reduced by half put a lid on it and set it to one side.
Step 7: Heston’s Perfect Roast Potatoes recipe
The other trick to Heston’s super-crispy roast potatoes is the oil. In this case a 50/50 mix of olive oil and beef dripping. Nothing crisps up potatoes as well as dripping does, it’s what Harry Ramsden’s and McDonalds used to use for their chips. In fact when McDonalds switched to a vegetarian-friendly oil in the 1980’s the rumour is they had to put a flavouring additive into it to preserve the desired dripping flavour that made their fries so popular.
We find the potatoes can take anything from 75 to 90 minutes, depending on the variations of everything from your type of oven to even the height of the sides of your roasting tray. Ensure all the oil is melted and piping hot, then add the potatoes to the tray and turn to coat them evenly.
They’ll want turning every 15 to 10 minutes, and you may have to swap the potatoes from the centre of the tray with those from the edges to ensure even cooking. You know, like in March of the Penguins. Add rosemary, thyme and garlic 15 – 20 minutes before you think the potatoes will be done.
We like to pretend to be healthy by blotting them with kitchen paper before serving. Don’t forget to discard those crispy herbs and garlic cloves.
Step 8: Heston’s Perfect Carrots Recipe
We like Heston’s carrot recipe, where their water-soluble colour and flavour is preserved by gently cooking them in a pan of butter. Flavours are boosted with thyme and a tiny sprinkle of sugar to enhance the natural sweetness.
That’s great, but with a busy kitchen and hob adding an extra pan is asking for trouble. Plus, Heston says you have to cook the carrots in a single layer. For 4 people that either means a miserly serving or deploying a gigantic paella pan, if you even have one.
Let’s just avoid all of this idiocy and cook them in the oven in a double layer of foil. The effect will be more or less the same as cooking them in a pan, and you can just put them in the oven when the potatoes go in and forget about them until serving time. That’s the kind of convenience we like.
Step 9: Cooking the Stuffing
Dead easy. The stuffing takes about half an hour to bake. Just pop it in the oven 30 minutes before you think the roast potatoes will be ready.
To give it a “decadent finish” Heston likes to fry his stuffing in a pan full of butter (Christ!) but we’re happy to just grill our stuffing to get this effect. It’s quicker (you can do all the stuffing at once), slightly healthier and much more convenient.
Step 10: Heston’s Perfect Broccoli Recipe, Part 1
It turns out broccoli’s flavour molecules are actually fat soluble, so they lose flavour rapidly if cooked in butter. You’re best off steaming them for tenderness, or briefly boiling them to preserve their bite. Heston boils for 2 minutes, but given his desperate need to add butter to recipes he likes to finish them off with a brief sauté.
After 2 minutes drain the broccoli and plunge into iced water to remove and residual heat that will overcook it. You can now set this aside until you’re ready to bring the meal together.
Step 11: Crispy Chicken Skin
You can only start this bit once the spuds are out of the oven.
Turn your oven up as high as it’ll go. While you’re waiting mix butter, white wine and some thyme in a pan and brush this all over the chicken skin. Once he oven is mega hot put the chicken, still on its trivet, back inside for ten minutes.
This shouldn’t be long enough to start cooking, or more importantly overcooking, the flesh. The high heat should crisp the skin up.
Step 12: Finishing the broccoli
You can do this bit, as well as assembling the rest of the meal, while the chicken skin crisps.
Melt some butter in a pan, throw in the broccoli, and then put the lid on. Toss occasionally over a medium-low heat for about 3 minutes (or until they’re done the way you like them, really).
Step 13: Gravy
This is just made in a relatively old fashioned way, in the roasting pan from under the chicken.
Add white wine and that pressure cooked and reduced chicken stock, if you can remember where you put it. Finally stir through herbs and Dijon mustard. You can keep at the boiling until it’s reduced further if you need a thicker gravy.
Step 14: Serve
It’s finally time to get your meal together. Maybe you like to plate each portion up, or the more communal joy of everyone helping themselves at the table.
With 6 separate elements to bring together you can be excused if this last step is a bit frantic. Remove the crisped and warmed chicken from the oven. Take the kitchen paper off the roast potatoes, get the crisped stuffing from under the grill, serve the foil-wrapped carrots and pan-sautéed broccoli and pour the gravy into a serving jug.
Congratulations, you’ve just made Heston’s Ultimate Roast Chicken recipe.
If you think this looks like an acceptable amount of work to put in to making Sunday lunch it’s quite possible there’s something wrong with you. Of course this is too much effort for Sunday Lunch.
In an ideal world you might get to dedicate this much time and effort to create something as magnificent as Heston’s Perfect Roast Chicken Sunday Lunch recipe, but back in the real world most of probably have to mow the lawn, wash the car, do the laundry and all the other chores that cut into our frivolous kitchen time.
But just supposing you do have this much time? If so Heston’s In Search of Perfection-based Perfect Sunday Lunch recipe is going to give you an outstandingly good meal. From the crisp roast potatoes with their melting centres to the tender, flavour packed carrots and the luxurious gravy, this really is the humble Roast Chicken taken to a stratospheric level of quality.
The chicken meat itself is the real star of the show, succulent and juicy in a way that only brined and low-temperature meat can be. If you haven’t tried either of those techniques then this is the kind of recipe that will make you a convert.
Heston’s gravy was much better than we expected a combination of thin stock, wine and mustard to be. The herbs are what give it a refined flavour, mainly the tarragon. Trust us, you want to climb aboard the tarragon train.
That gravy, along with the veg and stuffing all serve as support acts to the chicken and those roast potatoes. We’ve been fans of Heston’s roast potato recipe for a long time now. Now with more crunch and flavour thanks to the inclusion of beef dripping, they’re now even better.
Cons? Well, I was hard to tell there’d been a lemon and some thyme in the bird during roasting , as they hadn’t put much of their flavour into the meat. Perhaps that’s the low temperature not causing enough water evaporation to transfer the flavours. Maybe a better bet would be to make a thyme and zest-infused brine?
Speaking of that brine, we found the meat a fraction on the salty side. Not ruinously so, but definitely on the heavy side of seasoning. This is a drawback when using standard injection brines. I’d have liked to use the milk & apple juice poultry brine from Modernist Cuisine, but the book advises against using it for on-the-bone meats.
Also, the injection brine helped stop the skin from becoming soft and flabby, but we’d still have liked it to be crispier. We’re looking for that glossy brown of rotisserie chickens, and with a texture that shatters like the T-1000. For this we might need to increase the fridge drying time up from 12 hours to, waaaaaait for it, 72.
That’s how long ChefSteps leave their chicken to dry for, and the results look perfect. And while we’re on the subject of criticism, the gravy was still too thin for us. But that’s nothing you couldn’t fix with a quick sprinkle of xanthan gum (don’t freak out, Modernist-haters, xanthan gum is a naturally-derived ingredient for gluten-free baking, and you can buy it in every decent UK supermarket).
And we’ll fully admit it’s a major hassle to make the stock for the gravy. Our only suggestions would be to make a big batch and freeze the remaining litre-and-a-half , or go to the supermarket and buy the poshest, most expensive chicken stock they have on the shelves. If it’s just for a one-off it’ll probably cost less than all the seperate ingredients.
But you and I both know that the main criticism about Heston’s Perfect Roast Chicken Sunday Lunch recipe is going to be the absurd amount of time and effort involved. But, be honest, if the most important thing about making Sunday Lunch was it being “easy” then you could just go get one of those fuckin’ rotisserie chickens, a bag of Aunt Bessie’s roast potatoes, some Paxo, some Bisto and two tins of veg. Come on guys, of course it’s ridiculously comlicated, what else did you expect from a Heston Blumenthal recipe?!
And this is probably why Heston does so well at Christmas. It’s the one time of the year when you’ll be happy to put this much effort into a meal (plus, what’s a traditional Christmas dinner, if not a glorified Sunday Lunch).
So, yes, it’s hard work, and yes, it could be easier. But with so many different subtle improvements to every aspect of this classic meal, we can’t say Heston’s Perfect Roast Chicken Sunday Lunch recipe isn’t worth making at least once.
- Leave the chicken to dry for 72 hours before cooking
- Alternatively try dry-brining, as recommended by Gary and Kenji from Serious Eats
- Zap that lemon in the microwave just before inserting in the chicken, a top tip from the savvy Frankie Salmon
- Squeeze the lemon and thyme into the gravy for more flavour
- Add a flour roux or xanthan gum to the gravy to thicken it
- Use the best available shop-bought stock for convenience
How long is too long to make Sunday Lunch? Two days? Five days? A week!?!? Have you tried making this recipe or could you suggest a way to get all the benefits in a different way? We’re always open to new ideas and suggestions, and we’d love to hear yours in the comments section below.