Ainsley trained as a chef at 16, graduating to commis chef, but his TV career started away from the kitchen: someting that is not so well known is that once he finished his chefs’ training, he toured Europe as part of a musical duo, The Calypso Twins. It was a turn that earned him several TV credits, a record release and a prominent position on London’s comedy circuit. However, cooking remained Ainsley’s first love, so he resumed his career in top hotels and gained experience in all aspects of the craft.
After almost three decades as one of the country’s favourite TV chefs, Ainsley Harriott has become something of a national institution. In 2020 he was delighted to be awarded an MBE for his services to broadcasting and the culinary arts. Best known for his twenty-one series’ of Ready, Steady, Cook, and with many solo primetime cooking series under his belt, he has become the master of fresh, fun, accessible cuisine.
Ainsley trained at Westminster College before a career in London’s top hotels and restaurants – and with his years of experience working in professional kitchens, he has developed a deep understanding of his craft. In the early 1990s Ainsley was invited to become resident chef on BBC TV’s Good Morning With Anne And Nick.
This in turn led to Ready, Steady, Cook and his TV career took off. Series include Ainsley’s Barbeque Bible, Ainsley’s Meals in Minutes, Ainsley Harriott’s Street Food, Len and Ainsley’s Big Food Adventure, the hit ITV series Ainsley’s Caribbean Kitchen and Ainsley’s Mediterranean Cookbook. Ainsley has also hosted The Ainsley Harriott Show and Ready Set Cook for the US, Off The Menu for South Africa Television and in 2019 Ainsley’s Market Menu for SBS Australia.
I’ve always liked Ainsley’s basic accessable approach to recipes so below I’ve pasted one of my favourites – Rob Burns
Aromatic Moroccan Roast Chicken with Apricot Couscous Stuffing
This is a delicious and easy way to jazz up a Sunday roast – the wonderfully aromatic spices of North Africa work so well with chicken and our Moroccan Medley couscous makes a fantastic stuffing with pistachios and apricots. This also works well with Turkey for a Festive meal – just slightly increase the Ras El Hanout butter quantities to ensure you have enough to cover the bird.
- 1 chicken, about 1.5kg, cleaned inside and out and patted dry
- 1 large clove of garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp Ras el Hanout
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- juice and zest of ½ lemon
- 60g butter
- olive oil for drizzling
- 1 small onion (or 2 shallots), finely chopped
- 1 x packet of Ainsley Harriott Moroccan Medley couscous
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 tbsp of chopped coriander
- 1 tbsp of chopped parsley
- 50g dried soft apricots, drained and finely chopped
- 1 preserved lemon, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp pistachios, toasted and chopped
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- For the Gravy
- 75ml of dry white wine
- 1 tbsp plain flour
- 300-400 ml of chicken stock
- ½ lemon, for squeezing
In a bowl mix together the garlic, ground spices, lemon juice and zest.
Mix half the marinade with 45g butter. Loosen the skin of the chicken and carefully push the butter under the skin. Put the chicken into a roasting tray, drizzle with a little olive oil and then rub the remaining spice mix well into the meat. Season well with salt and pepper inside and out.
Cover and leave to marinate in the fridge for at least an hour, preferably longer. Remove the chicken from the fridge at least 30 minutes before you want to cook it.
Preheat the oven to 200C/180Cfan
Prepare the couscous according to the packet instructions and place in a bowl.
Heat the remaining butter in a frying pan with a drizzle of olive oil over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 4- 6 minutes until softened but not coloured. Remove from the heat and add to the bowl with the prepared couscous. Mix in the egg, preserved lemon, apricots, pistachios and seasoning. Mix together and then spoon into the cavity (and/or neck) of the chicken (don’t pack it too tight because the couscous swells further). Put any remaining stuffing into small dishes to bake alongside for the last 15-20 minutes of cooking.
Cover the chicken loosely with foil and put it in the oven for 1hr 20 minutes for a 1.5kg chicken. With 45 minutes to go, baste the chicken with the juices and remove the foil. The chicken is cooked when the juices from the thigh run clear when pierced.
Remove from the oven, take the chicken out of the tray and place it on a board. Cover loosely with a tea-towel and let rest for 10-15 minutes before carving.
Meanwhile make the gravy. Skim off any oil from the surface of the cooking juices and place the roasting tin over a medium heat. Pour in the wine. Boil until reduced by half, scraping the base of the tin with a wooden spoon to release all of the caramelised juices. Stir in the flour, then the chicken stock and boil once more until the gravy has reduced and is well flavoured. Stir in the lemon juice and seasoning to taste. Remove from the heat and pour the gravy through a sieve to discard any solids.
Serve the carved chicken with spoonfuls of couscous stuffing, roasted vegetables of your choice and the Ras El Hanout gravy.
By Rob Burns