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A roast chicken recipe for a picky pre-teen

What to do when an 11-year-old who once offered fulsome praise for anything her father cooked is more critical than ever. Try harder

Whole roast chicken stuffed with walnut-pistachio rice (Photo: Samar Halarnkar)
Whole roast chicken stuffed with walnut-pistachio rice (Photo: Samar Halarnkar)

It’s funny, isn’t it, that you spend more than a decade writing a column that has a reasonable following but finally there you are, anxiously watching the reaction of a precocious and altogether smug 11-year-old at your dining table.

The said 11-year-old took the first bite of the chicken whose photograph you see here and said, in quite a matter-of-fact manner, “Ummm, the chicken is awesome, appa.” To put it mildly, I was astonished. I know 11 is the new 13 and that the once fulsome praise she used to offer had become rarer than a prime ministerial press conference.

So, while this was nice, it was rather pathetic, don’t you think? To seek and receive validation from a pre-teen with a wandering mind who will sometimes say—with, I am convinced, the expressed desire of irritating you—that the capital of Tamil Nadu is Kerala.

But this is what we are, putty in the hands of our children, willing to forgive transgression and rudeness to receive titbits of affection and praise, a smile and a hug.

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Actually, that isn’t strictly true. I have always been a bit of a disciplinarian and I am still resistant to my girl’s—now admittedly rare—flattery. I am the commander and you are my army, I used to tell her. When she was younger, she would be indignant. Now, she ignores me, looking balefully in my direction if I say, “because I said so”, before proceeding to steadfastly ignore what I just said.

I have mixed feelings about her growing independence and assertiveness. I am delighted, of course, to see her make her own breakfast. That morning, as I lay groggily in bed, I heard the crackle of the lighter and the whomp of the gas lighting up. By the time I emerged, breakfast was done.

It’s nice not to be needed, especially at times when you don’t want to be. But when I do make something she likes—or once did—for breakfast, there are an increasing number of days when she says she doesn’t want it. I ask you, would you prefer her maida- and butter-laden pancakes over my lacy, oil-free dosas?

Hmm, silly question, don’t answer that.

In the event, the roast chicken emerged that day because I realised I had to try harder. Before the daughter arrived in our lives, I used to make it ever so often, stuffing it with whatever took my fancy or whatever was at hand: minced meat, boiled eggs, rice and minced meat, rice and herbs.

The thing about a whole roast chicken—with skin please—is that it is hard to go wrong. Indeed, I remembered nothing of my original technique. I did remember that a well-marinated chicken is two layered—the skin soaks in the spices; only a hint seeps inside.

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I thought the insides might serve to rekindle my daughter’s paternal faith. She likes skin, but you can never tell with spices. Plus, the chicken had cloves tucked into slashes made in the skin, and clove is one of two things she will not tolerate—the other being cardamom.

The entire affair was such a spectacle—the decoration, the carving, the serving—that she did not look too closely. Only when she was satiated did she become somewhat more critical.

“There were cloves, you know,” I said, grinning, after the “awesome” comment.

I got an unamused look in return. “I know, I could taste it,” she said.

“How were the vegetables?” I asked, trying to change the subject and get back to the praise.


She noticed my smile fading. “Just being frank,” she said, beaming. “Take it as customer feedback.”



Serves 5


1 full chicken with skin
2 tsp mustard oil
7-8 whole cloves
2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp sumac
1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
1 tsp cumin powder
2 tsp coriander powder
2 tsp ginger-garlic paste
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
Salt to taste

For the stuffing

1 cup cooked white rice
2 tbsp crushed walnuts
2 tbsp pistachios
1 tbsp dried mixed herbs


Slash the skin of the chicken, rub it with all the spices, oil, vinegar, ginger-garlic and salt. Rub the spice mix into chicken cavities and under skin. Stuff the cloves into some of the slits. Wrap in foil and allow the chicken to marinate overnight. Mix rice with nuts and mixed herbs, and stuff into the chicken cavity. Close the rear of the chicken with toothpicks if you wish.

Preheat oven to 170 degrees Celsius. Bake the chicken for one hour. Open foil, increase the heat to 200 degrees Celsius so that the chicken starts browning. Use its own liquid to baste and keep moist. Do this for about 45 minutes until the chicken gains a rich, golden-brown colour. Remove and place on a serving tray.

For the accompaniments

3 medium potatoes
5 carrots
2 onions
1 sweet potato
2-3 tbsp cooked peas
1 tsp sumac
1 knob of hard butter, slivered
1 tsp dried, mixed herb
Salt to taste (only for the carrots)


Make deep cuts in potatoes, carrots (lengthwise) and multiple cuts in the sweet potato. Stuff slivers of butter, sumac and dried, mixed herb into all the cuts. Wrap the potatoes, onions individually in foil, the carrots in another greased foil together.

Bake with the chicken until done. Discard the foil and place the vegetables around the chicken in the serving tray with peas.

Our Daily Bread is a column on easy, inventive cooking. Samar Halarnkar is the author of The Married Man’s Guide To Creative Cooking—And Other Dubious Adventures.


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