There are few simple meals I enjoy more than a roast chicken. My favourite part is the crispy skin, so wonderful a thing when you've seasoned it with lots of salt and pepper and rubbed it with butter or olive oil. The contrast in texture between the crunchy exterior and the soft chicken flesh underneath is a wonderful thing. The only thing that makes this experience even more delicious is the promise of some juicy, flavoursome stuffing encased within the meat. I know some chefs advocate cooking the stuffing separately to make sure it cooks through, and because stuffing a chicken takes a bit of effort, but for me the main reason to eat stuffing is because it has soaked up all the delicious chicken juices during roasting. The only problem when roasting a whole chicken for several people is that this gastronomic gold has to be divided up, and you can't fit that much stuffing inside a chicken. Serving poussin, however, solves this problem. It feels, somehow, as if you get so much more because you have it all to yourself. No faff of carving a whole chicken and trying to make sure people get all the bits they like; with poussin, you get a whole bird per person. It feels so much more generous and looks so much neater. Plus, there's more crispy skin, all for you.
I've made this before, using dried cherries instead of fresh. However, there are a lot of imported cherries around at the moment, and I can never resist the lure of fresh fruit coupled with meat in a dish. Cherries and goat's cheese go particularly well together, both aesthetically and flavour-wise. The slightly acidic sweetness of the cherry couples nicely with a chalky white goat's cheese, and I think there's something rather beautiful about the way the cherry-stained knife leaves pink trails over the surface of the cheese, reminiscent of the rose-coloured pout of a porcelain doll, or those lilies whose petals are bright pink at the base and taper out into whiteness.
The stuffing also involves dill, which works very well with chicken. Every time I use this herb I can't imagine why I don't use it more. It has a lemony, aniseedy freshness that is very good with fish, but also with the blander meats like chicken. I put rather a lot in the stuffing; it stops the cheese being too rich. Other than that, it's just onions, garlic, and breadcrumbs.
The poussins, after being stuffed with the mixture, go into the oven at 180C for about 40 minutes. I rubbed the skin with olive oil and sprinkled it with salt (rather a lot), pepper, and dried herbs. I put the stuffing that didn't fit in the birds underneath them once they'd been in the oven for about 20 minutes, so that all the roasting juices ran down into it. You may have to keep adding a bit of water to stop it burning.
The result is a beautifully burnished skin, crunchy and salty like the best French fries. The flesh of the bird is lovely and moist, and the stuffing is truly wonderful. I do think, actually, that it's better with dried cherries rather than fresh - they add a nice tartness that is lacking in the fresh ones. However, either work well, and the goat's cheese and dill give an unusual flavour to the mixture. The fresh cherries look rather beautiful, as they soften and turn rather jewel-like in appearance, a bit like pomegranate seeds. It's as comforting as a good roast dinner, but fresher-tasting, and - the real bonus - you don't have to fight over the crispy skin or juicy stuffing. Excellent.
Poussin with cherry and goat's cheese stuffing (serves 2, with lots of extra stuffing):
(Adapted from Diana Henry's Food From Plenty)
Pre-heat the oven to 180C.
Melt a little butter in a frying pan and sauté one finely chopped onion and 3 crushed garlic cloves until soft. Put into a bowl and mix in 100g white breadcrumbs, 100g goat's cheese in chunks, and 4 tbsp chopped fresh dill. Add 100g dried sour cherries or pitted fresh cherries. Season with salt and pepper and mix together gently.
Stuff into the cavity of two oven-ready poussins. Place in an oiled baking dish and rub the skins with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and dried herbs (a mixture of thyme, rosemary, basil and oregano is good, or any one of those). Place in the oven and roast for 20 minutes. After this time, put any remaining stuffing in the dish around the poussins, and put back in the oven. Keep checking to make sure it isn't burning - if it is, pour in a little water.
After 40 minutes, check the birds for done-ness as you would a chicken - you want the juices to run clear.
Serve the birds with any extra stuffing, a big green salad, and couscous, rice, mashed potato or potato wedges.