London River Cafe’s Chicken in Milk

Jamie Oliver’s recipe for chicken in milk has gotten a lot of love on the Internet. It’s been posted, with heaps of praise, on The KitchnFood 52Huffington Post, and Oprah, plus a slew of blogs. My friend Stacey recently shared her adaptation on her blog, Stacey Snacks (Stacey posts all kinds of wonderful recipes so do check out her blog if you haven’t already).

It’s a good recipe, a clever riff on a classic Bolognese recipe for pork loin braised in milk.

chicken in milk plate 3

But Oliver’s recipes get a lot of love all the time, so I thought I’d send some to the two women who introduced me to the recipe more than a decade ago: Ruth Rogers and the late Rose Gray, founders of London’s famed River Cafe. Before Gray died in 2010, the duo wrote numerous cookbooks together, including this one back in 2004, in which their recipe for chicken in milk appears.

Italian Easy

I remember pulling the book off my friend Michelle’s book shelf. The metallic cover was striking, and oddly appealing, and inside the writing was easy and conversational. I liked the prep-as-you-go style of the recipes (a style that has recently been revived by Mark Bittman in his latest book). I had just signed my first book contract and I couldn’t help wondering (with a fair amount of disbelief) whether my book would ever be sidled up against such a book as this, in a book store on someone’s cookbook shelf.

chicken mise 1

All these years later, it’s still one of my favorite everyday cookbooks, for its uncluttered, almost minimalist style. The chicken in milk recipe is similar to the version that Oliver has made famous, except that Gray and Rogers call for braising the chicken on the stovetop rather than in the oven. Oliver uses lemon zest rather than whole lemon, and tosses in a cinnamon stick. Whichever way you go, you won’t be disappointed.

[Head’s up, though: this is not the prettiest chicken dish. As the milk cooks and reduces, it transforms into a thick, curdled brown sauce that coats the meat in a most unattractive way. HOWEVER, that sauce is rich and savory, and the meat cooks to perfect tenderness.]

Makes 4 to 6 servings

River Cafe’s Chicken in Milk

In this variation on a Tuscan classic, chicken takes the place of pork loin and is braised slowly in milk, a process that yields tender meat and a deliciously savory "curdled" brown sauce. It is, admittedly, not the prettiest chicken dish, but certainly one of the tastiest. This recipe is adapted slightly from "Italian Easy: Recipes From the London River Cafe, by Rose Gray and Judy Rogers (Clarkson Potter, 2004).


  • 1 (4 lb) organic chicken
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 1 lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 1/4 cups whole milk
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 8 to 10 large sage leaves


Wipe the chicken clean and trim off the excess fat. Peel the garlic.

Cut the lemon in half. Rub the chicken all over with lemon, squeezing the juice into the skin and cavity. Season inside and out with salt and pepper.

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan large enough to hold the chicken snugly, and brown the chicken on all sides. Add the garlic and sage and fry for a minute. Pour in the milk and bring to a simmer. Simmer gently with the lid at half tilt for 30 minutes, basting the top from time to time. Turn the chicken and simmer another 30 to 45 minutes, until the chicken is done.

The milk will reduce to make a thick curdled sauce. If the chicken is done before the sauce, remove the chicken to a plate and raise the heat to high. Cook the sauce, stirring, until thickened.

Cut the chicken into serving pieces and spoon the sauce on top.

Serving suggestions: rice pilaf and roasted carrots


21 Responses to London River Cafe’s Chicken in Milk

  1. paninigirl January 28, 2015 at 11:03 am #

    I’ve made the pork version which I love and have this book and never thought about trying this dish-now I will! By the way-you shouldn’t have worried about your books-they are wonderful and I give them as gifts all the time.

    • Domenica Marchetti January 29, 2015 at 8:47 pm #

      Janie, thank you. You’ve been here since the beginning and I’m grateful for your support. As for the recipe, I’ve made Marcella’s pork version, though I add rosemary and sage (her recipe uses no herbs). It’s delicious, but I think you’ll be pleased with the chicken version. Now that I’ve pulled this book off the shelf I’m finding new inspiration in it. I have bookmarked a few more things to make. So many books in my collection get neglected!

  2. Rosa Jeanne Mayland January 28, 2015 at 12:28 pm #

    That chicken must be tender and delicious! This recipe is very original.



  3. Elvira January 28, 2015 at 3:32 pm #

    I wish I would have seen your post earlier today, I would have made this chicken for dinner tonight, for sure! It must be exquisite and seems to be no fuss, fairly easy to make. I can see myself scooping up that curdled sauce with some crunchy bread ….boy this must be good!

    • Domenica Marchetti January 29, 2015 at 8:52 pm #

      Ciao Elvira, no fuss is the best part about it. Very easy and definitely have bread on hand to soak up the sauce. It’s delicious. Cheers, D

  4. Marisa Franca @ All Our Way January 28, 2015 at 4:29 pm #

    I sounds delicious!! You know what this reminds me of? Buttermilk. You know that if you don’t have buttermilk you can add lemon to regular milk and then it sours it a bit. Do you think you could use buttermilk to the same advantage? For the extra lemony taste you could then add zest. Hmmmmm! You’ve just inspired me to try it. I may fail dismally but it may be worth a try. I love your recipes and they always make me think of what is possible – Grazie!! I love cookbooks and I didn’t know about the Easy Italian London River Cafe — I’ll put it on my wish list.

    • Domenica Marchetti January 29, 2015 at 8:54 pm #

      Marisa, lemon zest is a nice idea. Jamie Oliver has zest in his version. As for buttermilk, I have no idea how it would turn out but I say go for it. Definitely worth a try. Let me know how it turns out.

  5. Frank Fariello January 29, 2015 at 8:59 am #

    Interesting idea. I love the original pork version, and I’ve enjoyed (and blogged about) pollo alla panna, so I have to think I’d enjoy this one. Bookmarked for a future dinner!

    • Domenica Marchetti January 29, 2015 at 8:55 pm #

      Thanks for mentionioning pollo alla panna, Frank. I’ll hop over to your site to look it up. My mom used to make a recipe with chicken, cream and pistachios. It was out of this world. I haven’t had it in years but I may have to revive that one, too.

  6. ciaochowlinda January 29, 2015 at 10:18 am #

    Ciao Domenica – I made Jamie Oliver’s recipe after seeing it on Stacey’s blog and yes, it was delicious and very fall-off-the-bone tender. But I still missed the crispy skin and roasted flavor of my old fashioned roast chicken recipe. It’s good to change once in a while though and I’m glad I found out what all the fuss was about.

    • Domenica Marchetti January 29, 2015 at 8:56 pm #

      Nothing beats a simple roast chicken, Linda. I agree cento per cento. This is a nice alternative, though, and a good cold weather dish.

  7. Tracy January 30, 2015 at 11:51 am #

    I like the simplicity of the recipe. I’ll have to give it a try.

  8. elisa January 31, 2015 at 11:43 am #

    My mon used to put a whole head of garlic, fully peeled, in a liter of milk and let the cloves cook till very soft, then removed the garlic and put the chicken in with salt and celery, nothing else. It was so tender and the bones just fell off. mmmmm!

    • Domenica Marchetti February 2, 2015 at 11:17 am #

      This is brilliant, Elisa. I’m going to do it the next time I make this recipe. Did she discard the poached garlic? Or did she use it in some way?

  9. sippitysup January 31, 2015 at 10:02 pm #

    I ate at River Cafe (I don’t even want to tell you when). It was before I gave cooking much thought. But (thanks to my mom) I was a good eater and appreciated good food. The memory of that meal has stayed with me, and has influenced the way I think about food– even today. There are (maybe) five meals in my life I can say that about. GREG

    • Domenica Marchetti February 2, 2015 at 11:27 am #

      Wow, that’s quite an endorsement Greg. Do you remember any specifics of the meal? I haven’t been back to London since my junior year of college. I have a feeling that was even before your trip to River Cafe!

  10. elisa February 2, 2015 at 1:08 pm #

    Domenica, my mom did not discard the garlic, she added all the mashed cloves to a creamy pasta sauce for spaghetti aglio e olio. … vampires would dare to enter our home!

  11. Chiara February 4, 2015 at 2:44 am #

    mi piace moltissimo, è una ricetta delicata che apprezzano tutti !Buona giornata Domenica, un abbraccio

  12. Molly February 6, 2015 at 5:52 pm #

    Looks delicious! I will be making this next week.

    As for your books, I absolutely love them! I have tried almost all of your recipes from the pasta book and each recipe is more delicious than the last!

    • Domenica Marchetti February 7, 2015 at 1:46 pm #

      Hi Molly! It makes me happy to know that you are getting good use out of the books. Thank you!

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