Christmas 2023: 8 Tips To Make Whole Roast Chicken And Duck
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When you imagine a traditional Christmas feast, you will always think of a table laden with delicious goodies. But at the centre of that table, there is always a golden, perfectly roasted bird—either a chicken or a duck—that gets carved and shared with the family and friends sitting around the table. And while you may have this imagination of a Christmas feast centred around a whole roasted bird thanks to popular culture and television shows, the fact is that in the Christian world, this tradition has been a part of Christmas celebrations for centuries. 

History says that the tradition of roasting whole birds and animals can be traced back to ancient civilisations where meals were always communal and shared among large families. Pit-roasting whole animals such as turkey, lamb and goat was an easy way to feed the entire family at one go. With time, as the family unit grew smaller, the number and size of these whole roasts became smaller too. Now, a single chicken or duck can feed an entire family with ease, also because everyone understands that while the roast is critical, it isn’t the only dish on the table.  

But how did the whole roast become a part of Christmas traditions? Well, in medieval Europe, the Catholic church decreed that feasting was an essential part of celebrating the birth of Christ, and so the practice of roasting whole goose took off. With time and changing poultry preferences, chicken roast became the easiest to produce on Christmas Day around the world. And since duck is very popular in East Asian and many European cuisines, this poultry meat also became a Christmas favourite for whole roasting.  

Video Credit: YouTube/Sanjeev Kapoor Khazana

Today, the tradition of roasting whole duck or chicken for Christmas continues worldwide, albeit with adaptations and tweaks based on the local flavours and ingredients too. However, anybody who has ever tried making a whole roast knows that it is simply not the easiest thing to do in the world. If you too are new to whole roasting chicken or duck in your home oven, but want to make one to wow your family this Christmas, then here are all the tips you need. 

1. The Right Bird For You 

Whether you go for the chicken or the duck, the main question you need to address before you buy either is to know what flavours you want for your feast and how many people you will be feeding. If you want a sweeter meat that is delicious, go for duck. If you want one that is more easily accepted and enjoyed by all, then pick the chicken. Think about portion sizes and weigh the bird before you buy it. 

2. Do A Thorough Prep 

Always start the preparation and cooking process after the bird is completely thawed and at room temperature. If you don’t you are likely to get tough meat and diluted flavours. Next, pat the entire bird dry using a paper towel or cloth kitchen towel. This step plays a huge role in achieving that crispy skin you so love on a well-roasted bird. If the duck is fatty around the breast, score with a knife so that the fat melts easily. 

3. Season And Add Flavours 

When you are roasting a whole bird and not making a dish with the parts, getting the seasoning right can be tricky. The easiest way to get this right is to weigh the bird and use a recipe for reference to check the right amount of salt you need. Another way is to make a herb and spice butter with a balance of salt, spices like cinnamon, cloves, ginger and more, and herbs like rosemary, thyme, oregano and even dill. Just mix these with butter or ghee and you will have the perfect rub for your whole chicken or whole duck roast. 

4. The Right Temperature 

Knowing the right temperature is critical behind acing the whole roasted bird, so make sure you test your oven before you start preparing the feast to ensure all is well. For chicken, start off at around 220°C for the first half an hour so that the skin starts crisping up, then reduce to 175°C for even cooking for the rest of the period. Ducks, on the other hand, may benefit from starting at a lower temperature, around 190°C, and reducing to 160°C to render the fat slowly. 

5. Get A Thermometer 

While you can easily set the external temperature in the oven very easily, gauging the degree of doneness on the inside of the whole roasted bird is impossible without a good kitchen or meat thermometer. Chicken should reach 74°C in the thickest part of the thigh for the bird to be fully cooked evenly. Duck can be cooked to 68°C for medium-rare or 74°C for well-done depending on your choices. 

6. Resting period Matters 

If you think your work is done the moment the bird is roasted, you are wrong. You have to keep the whole roast perfectly preserved till dinner is served, so resting it out matters just as much. It is ideal to rest a whole roasted bird for 15 to 20 minutes after taking it out of the oven. Make sure the bird is covered with a foil while resting, which will allow its juices to redistribute and create a moist inside, crisp outside mouthfeel. 

Video Credit: YouTube/Jamie Oliver

7. How To Carve A Whole Roasted Bird 

As mentioned before, carving up a whole roasted bird might evoke pop culture nostalgia, but it is quite difficult to do in real life. So, learn by watching videos or reading guides on how to carve a bird without disturbing its integrity. For chicken, begin by cutting the legs, then carve the wings, breast and the rest. For duck, use the same flow but carve against the grain for best results. 

8. Plan And Time Well 

Why is this tip coming last? Well, because now that you know all the processes involved in whole roasting a bird like chicken or duck, you have a better idea for how much actual prep, cooking and resting time you need and the level of labour you need to put in. Keep these things in mind and get everything you need before starting. Plan ahead and execute one step at a time for a hassle-free Christmas roast dinner experience.