Are you curious to know what is served as the main dish on a Greek Christmas table? Greek Christmas food is amazing! So versatile that you can hardly choose between so many delicious dishes. Meat is usually the perfect centerpiece of the table and, truth be told, for many of us Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without an impressive stuffed whole chicken or turkey or our favorite poultry. This year, I chose a unique main dish for you. It looks like a turkey, and it tastes like chicken but it is more tender and tasteful: Roasted rooster stuffed the Greek way.
A ROASTED ROOSTER? WHAT IS IT?
Actually, to be precise, it is called capon and it is a special type of meat resulting from castrated roosters (I know it is graphic. Apologies…). I am not going into more details but capon’s (or rooster whatever you like to call it) meat is more flavorful than chicken and definitely more tender and juicer than turkey.
This is exactly the reason I save so much time because I don’t prepare it before roasting and I totally avoid any pre-cooking trouble. Just put the bird in the pot and let it be.
WHERE TO BUY A ROOSTER?
The truth is that purchasing a capon isn’t as easy as buying a chicken. If you live in a big city you may find it in supermarkets or hyper stores in the poultry section. Additionally, it is highly probable to find it in a butcher shop, meat market, or other specialty groceries. There are always online meat purveyors and stores. It isn’t that rare but you may have to search a little.
If you cannot find it or you don’t have the time or the energy to purchase it, this recipe stands perfectly for any kind of poultry/birds (turkey, chicken, goose, duck, guinea fowl, etc).
HOW TO COOK A ROOSTER?
Braised or roasted is your best choice. You have probably already heard of the famous French dish Coq au Vin and there is, of course, the Greek version named Kokoras Krasatos (rooster braised in wine) which is another divine dish for your festive or Sunday table.
For this post, the roasted version is equally delicious and simple to make. It is a special dish and you can make it even better if you go the extra mile and make stuffing.
BEFORE THE RECIPE…THE HISTORY BEHIND IT
If you are here only for the recipe, no problem Jump to Recipe
If you want to find out more about the history of Christmas Stuffed whole chicken, turkey, rooster, etc, keep on reading.
Turkey and other produce (potato, tomato, etc) came from the American continent and quickly became welcome and received special treatment in Greek rural households. That’s how turkey has been a part of the Greek table for over a century and hence it can be considered “a traditional ingredient” of the Greek Christmas food menu.
What about stuffing? For years, I was under the impression that stuffed poultry was exclusively a foreign custom but after some research, I discovered that stuffed poultry, as a festive treat, is an old culinary practice in Greece certified by oral tradition as well as written documents. When I say old, I mean really old…
In Ancient Greece, "stuffed poultry were common", says Maria Thermou in the book "In the Kitchens of the Ancients" (editions Ulcer). For example, Athenaeus speaks of a goose stuffed with peanuts (OMG, what a wonderful idea for a recipe!). *
During the Byzantine period, birds and especially chicken meat was usually braised but the wealthy and nobles served them roasted, stuffed, and seasoned. For example, hen marinated in wine or vinegar, with pepper, cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg and stuffed with breadcrumbs, almonds, raisins, pine nuts, and chopped mushrooms, baked in a clay pot. (OMG again, it must be so good!).*
*Source: OLIVE MAGAZINE
WHAT POULTRY TO CHOOSE FOR MY CHRISTMAS TABLE?
It is totally up to you: the hen (chicken) is smaller, the rooster is bigger than the hen and smaller than the turkey, the duck is fatter, the guinea fowl is finer, the goose is rarer and the turkey … is the famous turkey.
I would recommend choosing according to the quality of the product. Purchase the freshest poultry you can find and follow my recipe. It will be excellent.
My choice for this year is a rooster (capon) because my butcher informed me that a reliable farm delivered fresh products of the best quality. So, I purchased a 4-kilo (9-pound) rooster, a big bird!
You may choose the poultry of your choice. Even though I highly recommend a rooster (or capon), you can easily adapt this recipe to all kinds of poultry and birds.
STUFFED OR NOT STUFFED?
Another decision that isn’t really that difficult to make. For me, it is so worth the extra step. Apart from the undeniable flavor, you serve another impressive and insanely delicious side dish which is cooked along with the bird. Kind of like, killing two birds (actually one for this recipe) with one stone.
One more reason I like poultry stuffing is the endless combinations. The abundance of the ingredients has a symbolic character: the main food categories are fruits, nuts, and seeds but we also like to add bird livers (it’s the zero-waste practice meaning we use all the parts of the bird) that they are actually quite tasteful and nutritious.
In Greece, the most popular stuffing for poultry contains minced meat, chestnuts, raisins, pine nuts, bird livers, and rice. We could name it a kind of Greek turkey/chicken or other poultry stuffing. Of course, many additions are welcome like figs, mushrooms, onions, veggies, almonds, walnuts, sausages, etc. The list is literally endless.
THE RECIPE – THE DETAILS
Doesn’t my poultry look perfect? It’s because it is (lol.) Seriously, now! It’s cooking time!
This is a 9-pound (4-kilo) rooster (capon), so keep in mind that the quantities are equivalent to that poultry size and weight.
This is important because if the poultry isn’t defrosted properly, it will result in either underdone (God, no, please!) or overdone since it takes longer to ensure it’s all fully cooked.
To calculate how long the poultry will take to defrost allow:
Fridge (up to 39.2°F (4°C) – allow 16 hours per 2 pounds (1kg)
Cool room (10°C-15°C - 50°F-59°F) – allow 5 hours per 2 pounds (1kg)
I don’t like defrosting at room temperature because it’s usually hot outside and hence inside the house. I always like playing safe, so, I prefer defrosting in the fridge where the temperature is stable.
Otherwise, please be very careful if you choose to defrost the poultry in a cold room – don’t leave it out too long, especially if it’s hotter than 59°F (15°C). Another important notice is to get the poultry straight into the fridge once it has defrosted. Food poisoning for Christmas isn’t fun at all.
The preparation starts with brining. I usually skip this step not only because I like keeping things simple but also because I am too lazy (lol). Under one important condition! I have to be sure that the meat is the best quality I can find: fresh and from a reliable farm. I am so lucky that my local butcher provides me with top-quality products. So, no need to brine a perfect rooster.
But if you aren’t as lucky as I am, don’t feel disappointed. Because brining can make miracles. Nevertheless, truth be told, the best practice starts with that procedure. Leave the poultry for several hours in a brine containing broken aromatic seeds (fennel, pepper, allspice), sprigs of dry herbs (bay leaves, thyme, rosemary), and citron peels. You are going to end up with tender, tastier meat, for sure.
STEP#2b WITHOUT BRINING
If you have decided to brine the bird, skip that step.
Remove the poultry from the fridge one hour before roasting. Remove the neck and giblets (if any). Rinse well and pat dry (inside-out) with paper towels.
Rub the poultry inside out with the salt and pepper and allow it to come to room temperature.
STEP#3 PREPARE THE STUFFING
Sauté the onions and simmer the leeks for a few minutes. Add the leeks and garlic to the onion. Cook until succulent.
Gradually add the rest of the ingredients starting with minced meat. Cook until browned.
Stir in the rest of the ingredients: the chestnuts, the raisins, the pine nuts, and finally the cheese.
Let the stuffing come to room temperature before spooning it into the poultry’s cavity.
STEP #4 STUFF THE POULTRY
Use a spoon to fill the poultry’s cavity. It is important not to put too much stuffing because it will puff up and turn into a mass.
Be careful with the spoon to avoid cross-contamination with any leftover stuffing. Keep in mind that the stuffing is only half-cooked and you need to cook it at least for another 10 minutes. That means another side dish on our festive table. Super!
Transfer leftover stuffing to a saucepan or pot on the stove, add vegetables, or mix it with pasta/ rice. Simmer on the stove or bake in the oven for at least another 10 minutes. I like to mix it up with mushrooms and simmer it with some broth or water or add tomato paste/passata.
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and bake with the lid on. If there isn’t a lid, cover it with parchment paper. Estimate that you need one baking hour for every 2 pounds (1kg) of meat.
A 9-pound rooster needs 4 hours in the oven! This is an estimated time frame because every baking pot and oven is different. That's why you should take a look every 30-40 minutes, especially if there is no lid to cover properly the bird.
Every 50 minutes to 1 hour, remove the poultry from the oven and coat it with the juice using a big spoon.
In the last 50 minutes add the potatoes. If it needs more liquid (probably not), add some more water or broth, preferably hot. For the last 15-30 minutes open the lid or remove the parchment paper for crispier skin.
When the desired browning has occurred and the thigh meat has reached 180°F (82°C) (using a thermometer) and 160°F (71°C) in the stuffing, remove from the heat.
To check without a thermometer, stick a small sharp knife in the fattest part of the poultry (between the breast and the thigh). The juices should be clear and the meat should be white.
Transfer the turkey to a cutting board, cover loosely with foil and let rest for 20-30 minutes before slicing.
MY STUFFED WHOLE CHICKEN/ROOSTER/TURKEY IS READY! NOW WHAT?
Congratulations! You deserve the best of compliments! Hey, I mean it. It takes so much time and effort to serve a stuffed whole bird!
While the poultry rests, you make the table, if not already ready! Alternatively, it would be better to rest (like the bird) and pour yourself a nice glass (or two) of red wine. For me, it’s Merlot or Agiorgitiko (Greek variety). Let the rest of your friends or family make the table and serve all the dishes. You just bark out orders ... politely and accordingly to the Christmas spirit (you are dead if you drop the sauce lol. Just kidding).
By all means, don’t allow anyone to serve the poultry because it’s the fruit of your labor and it is going to be you to have the honor to serve the impressive centerpiece of the table to your hungry guests! Enjoy their approval with all the “owoo” “aaaaa” “Super!” “Sweet!” “Cool!” and enjoy an excellent festive meal!
MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL OF YOU! THANK YOU FOR BEING A PART OF MY ONLINE HOME!
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Greek Christmas stuffed whole poultry: rooster, chicken, turkey
- 2 pounds 4 kilos poultry: Rooster (capon) or 2 chickens, turkey, duck, goose, giblets and neck removed, defrosted
- 5-8 (750g-1kg) medium potatoes, cut into wedges or baby potatoes
FOR THE BRINE (optional)
- Water to cover the poultry
- 1 cup salt
- 1 cup orange juice, fresh
- ½ cup (120ml) dry white wine
- A bunch of fresh thyme or oregano, or 1 teaspoon of dried thyme or dried oregano
- A handful of peppercorns
- A handful of allspice berries
- 3 cloves of garlic, cut in half
- 2 bay leaves
FOR THE STUFFING
- 1 pound (450g) minced beef (or lamb)
- ¼ cup (60ml) olive oil
- 1 big onion, finely chopped
- 3 leeks (only the white part), cut into rolls
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 10 chestnuts, boiled or roasted roughly chopped
- 1 handful of raisins
- 1 handful pine nuts
- ½ cup (120ml) dry white wine
- 1 pinch of sweet paprika
- 1 pinch of hot paprika
- 1 pinch of ground cinnamon (optional)
- 1 pinch of ground allspice (optional)
- 1 cup (200gr) Greek kefalotyri or pecorino, cubed (optional)
- 1 pinch of salt and pepper to taste (not too much salt because of the already salted cheese)
- ½ cup (120ml) olive oil
- ½ cup (120ml) water
- Bunches of fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon of dried thyme
- Sweet paprika to taste
- Garlic powder to taste
- Salt, black pepper to taste
PREPARE THE POULTRY: BRINING
- Place the poultry into a large pot with lid. Add enough water to cover the bird and remove it from the pot.
- Add the orange juice, the wine, the herbs, the spices and the salt. Place the pot (without the bird) on the stove and boil for a couple of minutes. Let it cool completely before placing the bird inside the pot.
- Cover the pot and refrigerate for about 24 hours.*1
- One hour before roasting, remove the poultry from the fridge (or bring it into the house) and the poultry from the brine. Rinse well and pat dry. Discard the brine.
- Preheat your oven to 356°F (180°C).
PREPARE THE POULTRY: WITHOUT BRINING
- Remove the poultry from the fridge one hour before roasting. Rinse well and pat dry (inside-out) with paper towels.
- Rub the poultry inside out with the salt and pepper and allow to come to room temperature.
- Preheat your oven to 356°F (180°C).
PREPARE THE STUFFING
- Meanwhile, in a big saucepan or pot over high heat, add the olive oil and the onion. In another smaller pot simmer the leeks in water for 2-3 minutes. Drain the leek and add them to the onion. Add the garlic and cook for about 5 minutes or until succulent. Reduce heat if needed.
- Add the minced beef and the spices of your choice: sweet paprika and hot paprika (recommended), ground cinnamon and allspice (optional).
- Season to taste but be careful with the extra salt.*2
- Cook over high heat until browned, about 10 minutes. Stir constantly and reduce heat if needed.
- Stir in the chestnuts, the raisins, and the pine nuts. Pour into the wine and let it evaporate stirring well. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until all the liquid has been absorbed, about 5 minutes.
- Remove from heat and add the cheese. Let the stuffing come to room temperature.
FILL THE POULTRY’S CAVITY
- Use a spoon to fill the poultry’s cavity. Don’t overfill it because it is going to end up a mass.
- Be careful with the spoon you used. In case of leftovers, keep in mind that the stuffing is half-cooked and to avoid cross-contamination from the spoon, you have to cook (bake it or simmer) it for at least 10 minutes*3.
- Stitch with some wooden skewers to seal in the stuffing. Wrap the legs with kitchen twine to keep them closed.
- Place the poultry in a large roasting or oven pan or a large baking pot with lid or Dutch oven.
- Add the olive oil and the water. Season it with thyme, salt, black pepper, sweet paprika, and garlic powder.
- Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and bake with lid on. If there isn’t a lid, cover with parchment paper. Estimate that you need one baking hour for every 2 pounds (1kg) of meat. A 9-pound rooster takes 4 hours to bake!
- Every 50 minutes, remove the poultry from the oven and coat with the juice using a big spoon.
- In the last 50 minutes, add the potatoes. If it needs more liquid (probably not), add some more water or broth, preferably hot. For the last 30 minutes open the lid or remove the parchment paper.
- When the desired browning has occurred and the thigh meat has reached 180°F (82.2°C) (using a thermometer) and 160°F (71°C) in the stuffing, remove from the heat. To check without a thermometer, stick a small sharp knife in the fattest part of the poultry (between the breast and the thigh). The juices should be clear and the meat should be white.
- Transfer the poultry to a cutting board, and cover loosely with foil. Let rest for 20-30 minutes before slicing.