Roast Chicken on a Bed of Spelt

Serves 4-6 2 December 2021 Dairy Free Gluten Free
When the going gets tough, the tough roast chicken.

Apologies for radio silence from the Building Feasts kitchen of late. It’s not because I am retiring from the recipe sharing department, nor that I’ve given up cooking for greener pastures. It is simply, in recent months I have devoted my attention and focus to where it’s needed the most.

My son’s remarkable survival from emergency brain surgery at the beginning of this year is truly (as I have said before and will never stop repeating), nothing short of a miracle. In many ways, he’s bouncing back better than I am. But it’s a long journey with no recuperation road map, full of twists and turns and the occasional stumbling block. I have also learned that a full time staunch advocate is necessary to navigate a complex and overloaded health system in order to assemble the support team required for the best possible recovery.  

It became clear imminently post his surgery and discharge from hospital that in order to help William back on his feet and find a new normal, I had to press pause. My multi tasking, many hat wearing head acknowledged that I don’t always all need to, or want to, or simply just can’t do it all. I am calling this hiatus a self enforced creative sabbatical. But let me tell you, it’s no picnic.  

I miss sharing my latest experiments and adventures.  I miss the conversation about what everyone is making, eating, seeing and experiencing. I am finding my feet in this new world with my new voice, my new chapters and my new life. I can’t wait to both slowly and fully return and share new stories over coffee and a piece of cake. Classes, supper clubs, private events, kitchen escapades and adventures will all return in full force when the coast is clear.

In the meantime, roast chicken is keeping us together. In its familiarity, roast chicken brings consistent comfort and is my surefire way to gather everyone around the table without complaint.  I have roasted, grilled, poached, sautéed and braised birds in every form with more regularity than ever over the past year. With flavour variations to reflect the mood of the household, the season, or simply on request, roast chicken has graced our sharing table and remained our constant on a weekly basis through these tougher months.

So as I wax lyrical to those closest to me about my fears of creativity loss, I still find myself cooking new dishes and adding new favourites to the rolodex. Today I wanted to share this recipe for a one pot wonder to see you through these cosier short days of warm sweaters and fluffy socks.

I hope you find this dish soothing and reassuringly reminiscent of recipes archived on these proverbial pages. Roast Chicken on a bed of Spelt is the all-in-one version (and culmination) of many old favourites. My love of grains of any kind is no secret, and here your grain of choice cooks right under the chicken, allowing them to swell with all the luscious juices. Truly, this needs nothing more than crisp salad or simple greens on the side.  

Please do write and let me know how you are, any inspiring inspiring ideas and what’s cooking these days. I love seeing pictures of your creations and what’s tickling your tastebuds. I will continue to drop in periodically with a recipe or two and news on life and events and anything of remote interest.  

Thank you all for your continued support, encouragement, messages and love.  I appreciate it more than you know. 

I list pearl spelt in the ingredients list here, but white basmati rice, short grain brown rice, freekeh, barley and quinoa are also excellent alternatives.  It works every time with every grain.  It’s the tried and tested simple ratio of 1 part grain : 2 parts liquid.  

I love a spatchcocked chicken (there’s something for everyone). At the bottom of this page I show you a simple way to flatten your bird. Browning the meat is a process I usually avoid in my recipes, but here it’s key to crispy golden skin as the chicken cooks covered.  Feel free to use pieces (I always prefer thighs) they are great here (but marginally more of a browning faff).  

A pan or pot that goes from hob to oven with a tight fitting lid is your cooking vessel of choice here.  I use a 30cm sauté pan for absolutely everything (no, I am not sponsored) and in my humble opinion it is a kitchen essential. You can also make this in a deeper dutch oven.

If you want to increase the grain quantity (or if you are making it in a deeper vessel), simply scale up the grain : water ratio. (1 part grains : 2 parts liquid).

I love using Sherry for half of the liquid amount here. It brings a dry sweetness and depth of flavour which marries beautifully with both the grains and the chicken. Alternatively you can also use either Vermouth, dry white wine, or only stock or water.  

Roast Chicken on a Bed of Spelt

  • 1 medium spatchcocked chicken (or 8 chicken thighs)
  • 3 finger pinch of kosher salt 
  • 1 tsp Aleppo pepper (optional)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium/large yellow onion
  • 1 leek
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 sprigs of thyme
  • 250g (1 cup) pearl spelt (or any other grain of choice, see above)
  • 250ml (1 cup) dry fino sherry ( you can also use vermouth or dry white wine)
  • 250ml (1 cup) chicken or vegetable stock or water
  • A good squeeze of lemon to finish

Remove the chicken from the fridge at least an hour before you want to start cooking to bring it to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to fan 180C (350F)

If you want to spatchcock your chicken simply, see below for how I cut through the breastbone instead of removing the backbone. It is one simple cut.  Arguably not quite as pretty but its so much easier and the oysters are left in tact, which to me is clutch.

Season the chicken with a good 3 finger pinch of salt and some Aleppo pepper (if you have any to hand and want a little extra heat).  Drizzle with about a tablespoon of olive oil

Place your sauté pan or dutch oven on a medium heat and place the chicken skin side down into the pan.  I don’t usually let the pan heat up first, I add the chicken to a cold pan as I like the way it sears.  Allow the skin to brown without touching it for about 5-7 minutes or until its golden and releases without any resistance.  Remove from the pan and set aside for a few minutes while you work on the grain.

While the chicken is sautéing, peel and halve the onion and slice into thin half moons.  Wash the leek and slice into thin rounds all the way up to the tough green top. Once the chicken is out of the pan, add the onion and leek to the hot fat and stir to coat. (Add a little oil if the pan is on the dry side) 

Reduce the heat to medium low and add a pinch more salt.  Allow the alliums to soften and brown slightly, but do not let them burn.  This should take about 5 minutes, depending on their thickness.  

Using a fine mesh sieve, rinse the spelt or grain of choice under cold water until the water runs clear while the onions are softening.  

When the onions are ready, add the bay leaves and thyme to the pan and stir.  They will crackle under the heat, but don’t worry.  Add the rinsed grains and stir to cover completely with the onions and oil. 

Pour over the sherry and the stock (or your liquid combo of choice).  If you are using water, add a pinch more salt to the party.  Bring everything to the boil and give it one final stir before nestling the chicken on top and covering it all tightly with a lid.

Transfer the entire dish into the preheated oven and roast for an hour.  Remove from the oven and allow to rest without removing the lid for 10 minutes.  Squeeze a little lemon over everything and serve.  

Note: I usually just cut the chicken in a very indelicate fashion into pieces right in the dish and scoop out the portions with the grain underneath, or its equally delicious to shred the chicken into the grain).  













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