I THOUGHT I should see the year out with a truly traditional chicken dish, rarely served today, but always included in Scottish cookery books. When I was a child, chicken wasn't eaten on the scale it is today, nor was it a cheap option for a quick family meal, or a dubious, deep-fried, takeaway treat. Chicken was served only on special occasions and sometimes at New Year, instead of the traditional butcher’s steak pie.

Chicken was not a mass-produced ingredient, but something to be savoured as it is in this recipe. The one-pot cooking method is part of Scotland’s culinary heritage, but this undoubtedly improved over time due to French influence, the advent of kitchen stoves and a greater variety of utensils. Howtowdie (towdie as in howdy – not how to die!) is derived from an old French word, hétaudeau, meaning a pullet or capon. Technically, this is a plump, young, tender chicken and back in the days of the Auld Alliance, this most definitely would have been the equivalent of free-range and organic.

Cheap, imported chicken has become the subject of much criticism in the world of good food and farming. Surely this is a product we should be farming sustainably ourselves? Gorgeous fresh chicken is produced in Scotland, but only on a relatively small scale compared with the high volume demanded. The very best is bred and reared using traditional methods: birds are selected for market when they reach a premium age and weight, providing a wholesome dish for a family with enough leftovers for another meal or a large pan of soup. Chickens like these can be purchased from reliable local butchers, farm shops and markets, as well as online. In Skye, I have friends who rear a small quantity of chicken on their croft for our nearby Glendale Highland Market, which takes place throughout the summer months.

Serving Howtowdie with poached eggs is optional. In traditional recipes, the eggs (dropped, or drappit, into hot liquid) were served on a bed of spinach, set around the bird on its serving platter. The addition of chicken livers to the cooking juices, for the final sauce, is also an old tradition, helping to thicken and colour the cooking liquor. It also tastes fantastic – so I'm not sure why we have allowed this culinary secret to fade over time.


(Serves up to 6)

Ingredients for forcemeat:

25g unsalted butter

2 rashers of smoked streaky bacon, chopped

½ medium onion, peeled and finely chopped

120g fine white breadcrumbs

1 heaped tbsp finely chopped fresh thyme leaves and parsley

½ large lemon, finely grated zest only

1 small egg

Freshly ground sea salt and black pepper

Freshly grated nutmeg


1. Melt butter in frying pan.

2. Add chopped bacon and fry until the juices begin to run.

3. Add chopped onion and continue cooking until it is soft.

4. Place breadcrumbs in a mixing bowl with the chopped herbs and lemon zest.

5. Add cooked bacon and onion and season with salt and pepper, plus a grating of nutmeg. Mix thoroughly.

6. Beat the egg with a fork and stir into the forcemeat mixture to bind it all together. Set aside to cool.

Ingredients for chicken:

1 large, fresh, free-range chicken (approx 2kg) plus giblets

1 pint stock made from giblets (see below)

2 additional chicken livers, chopped into smaller pieces

75g unsalted butter

125ml fresh double cream

3 medium brown onions, peeled and each cut into 8 pieces

6 fat garlic cloves, peeled

4 fresh bay leaves

3 sprigs each of fresh parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme

1 tsp black peppercorns

6 cloves

2 blades of mace

Freshly grated nutmeg

Freshly ground sea salt

½ lemon, juice only, plus the other ½ lemon cut into 4 pieces

Finely shredded kale, savoy cabbage or spinach to serve

Extra ingredients & method for giblet stock

Place giblets in a saucepan together with 1 brown onion, quartered, 1 carrot and I stick of celery, washed and cut into chunks, plus a few peppercorns, a large pinch of salt, 1 bay leaf, 1 sprig of parsley, plus the stalks taken from the parsley used for the forcemeat, 150ml red wine, plus enough water to cover ingredients. Bring to the boil and simmer for 45 minutes. Strain stock into a jug through a fine sieve. Set aside to cool and discard contents of sieve. You need 500ml for cooking the chicken. Add a little extra water if required.

Method for chicken:

1. Pre-heat oven to Gas Mark 5, 190°C.

2. Choose an ovenproof casserole dish with a well-fitting lid. If possible, use the same dish on the hotplate to cook the onions, as described below. If unsuitable, prepare the onions in a frying pan and add to the casserole dish when softened.

3. Stuff the wishbone end of the chicken with the prepared forcemeat. Stretch the skin over the forcemeat and securely tuck the ends underneath the bird, using some small skewers, or similar. Place the lemon pieces inside the large cavity of the bird, together with 1 sprig each of fresh thyme and rosemary.

4. Melt the butter in casserole dish. When hot and foamy, add the prepared onions and garlic. Season with salt and toss in hot butter until soft and turning golden.

5. Add black peppercorns, cloves and mace, plus a generous grating of fresh nutmeg.

6. Place prepared chicken on top of onions and spoon some buttery juices over the surface.

7. Poke the fresh herbs all around the chicken and pour over the lemon juice.

8. Heat prepared giblet stock to simmering point. Pour this over the chicken, into the dish.

9. Cover the chicken with a sheet of greaseproof paper, followed by a well-fitting lid. You need a good seal. If the lid is not tight, place a sheet of foil over the whole dish and place the lid on top.

10. Cook the chicken for 1½ hours in the oven, without disturbing.

11. Remove from oven. Test to ensure the chicken is cooked by piercing the fattest part of the thigh with the point of a knife. If the juices run clear it is ready to serve. Lift the cooked chicken on to a warm dish, cover with a clean tea towel and keep in a warm place to rest.

12. Sieve all juices from casserole dish into a saucepan. This stock will be used to poach the eggs and make the chicken liver sauce.

13. Heat the stock until gently simmering. Break each egg into a small bowl and pour into simmering stock, one at a time. Once cooked, use a slotted spoon to lift each poached egg on to a double sheet of kitchen paper or a clean, dry cloth, to drain. Trim off any ragged edges.

14. Add the chopped chicken livers to the hot stock, bring to boiling point then simmer for 2 minutes, until livers are cooked. Blitz the mixture with a hand blender or liquidiser. Keep warm, stir the cream through the sauce and allow to thicken a little more, just before serving. Strain through a sieve into a gravy jug.

15. To serve, steam some finely shredded kale, savoy cabbage or spinach in a small amount of boiling salted water for 3-5 minutes. Strain well and return to the warm pan, cover with a lid and keep warm.

16. Place the cooked chicken in the centre of an ashet or large serving plate. Spoon cooked green vegetables around the chicken and top with poached eggs. The forcemeat stuffing can be removed and served separately in a bowl, or scooped into rough quenelle shapes to place around the chicken.

17. Pour a little sauce over the top of chicken and serve with great aplomb and carve at the table. Happy New Year!