Did you know there’s a traditional alternative to turkey that’s not goose? Say hello to the cockerel (aka a male chicken). And not just any cockerel, a free-ranging bird that’s been slow-grown over 120 days (that’s four times longer than your average supermarket bird) on grassy pastures at Fosse Meadows Farm in Leicestershire. Fed a natural cereal diet rich with corn and as recommended by The Sunday Times, if you enjoy high welfare chicken, this takes the flavour to another gamier level.
Here’s how to cook it with care, keep it moist and impress at Christmas dinner with five steps to cooking the perfect cockerel brought to you by The Food Busker. [Warning: contains game-changing brine].
100g unsalted butter, softened
1 clementine, zested and sliced in half
1 lemon, zested and sliced in half
1/2 bunch of thyme, leaves stripped off stalk with a few sprigs saved
3 cloves of garlic into puree
6 rashers of streaky bacon
For the brine
3 cups of salt
3 cups of sugar
3 bay leaves
1/2 bunch thyme
1 x cinnamon stick
1 tsp pink pepper corns
1 tsp pepper corns
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery stick, chopped
3 tsp fennel seeds
“Brine its sexy little ass.”
First make the brine. Heat a pan of large pan of hot water big enough to submerge the cockerel in. Add the salt and sugar, stir and dissolve. Put the lid on and bring up to the boil. Add in the rest of the brine ingredients. Stir and allow the brine to cool down as it needs to be completely cool before adding the cockerel. Drop the cockerel in and leave in the brine for 24 hours.
Bend a baking tray rack (trust me)
Take a large baking tray rack and bend it in the middle. This creates a V-shaped rack for the cockerel to sit on and raises the bird up, so it’s not sat burning on the bottom. This special rack also allows more heat to reach the underneath, so the whole cockerel is cooked more evenly. After brining the cockerel for 24 hours, place it on your V-shaped rack on top of a large baking tray.
Use a flavoured butter
To ensure the cockerel remains moist, slather over a flavoured butter. Combine softened butter with the clementine and lemon zest, thyme leaves and garlic. Season the inside of the cockerel with salt, pepper, half the clementine, half the lemon and a few sprigs of fresh thyme. Spread the flavoured butter over the breast and legs of the bird.
Cook it high, then low and flip it over
Preheat the oven to 200°C. Cook for 20 minutes for it to sizzle and then turn down to 140°C. Take it out of the oven, turn it upside down and cook it upside down for 1 hour. Doing this helps to keep the breast moist as all the juices run down into the breast. When the hour is up, turn it back over so it’s breast side up. Add a lattice of streaky bacon on top of the breast and put back in the oven. To calculate the full duration of the cooking time, make a note of the weight of your bird before cooking.
Here’s how to calculate how long to cook it for:
20 minutes at 200°C + 45 minutes for every kilogram at 140°C = total cooking time. So if your bird is 4 kilograms, that’s 20 minutes at 200°C + 180 minutes at 140°C = 200 minutes, or 3 hours 20 minutes.
Rest it upside down
When it’s done, take it out of the oven, cover in tin foil and leave it to rest for a minimum of 20 to 30 minutes upside down. Do not skip this step! This step allows the moisture to seep through the cockerel and back into the breast as it relaxes, ensuring the meat is perfectly moist and ready for the Christmas table.