I cannot say enough how much I love chicken. It’s relatively cheap and so easy to cook. I think I got a fondness for it from my mum. She always made a great chicken at home, tender, juicy and never ever stringy. So naturally the first thing I wanted to learn was how to replicate my mum’s dish. I had so many problems feeding this to J when we got married! For him it was either pasta or nothing. In my family pasta was something quick – something to prepare when you’re pressed for time, i.e. like homemade fast food (which is nonetheless good for you in moderation). Ironically I consider almost anything that goes in the oven as quick; it does take it’s time to cook, yes, but you don’t need to do anything else with it once it’s in there. Perhaps that’s why I prefer baking to cooking. And no wonder there are many many variations of the following recipe in almost every book I own: it’s quick and so easy that anyone can do it.
It’s also ideal for feeding a big group – all you have to do is to scale it up and prepare some greens and couscous, and you’re ready to go. You could also start cooking the chicken pieces in the oven for 15 minutes in their oven dish, then chuck them individually on the grill for the rest of the cooking time. The amount of marinade I am giving you will be enough for around 6 to 8 chicken pieces. I’m not talking about chicken wings here – legs, thighs or drumsticks are the business here. But be my guest if you like wings, especially for an informal drinks party with friends. I would never tell you what to do! You will need:
- 3 tablespoons (15ml each) dark soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons chilli flakes (or 1 fresh chilli, chopped)
- 2 cubes or crystallized ginger, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 tablespoon runny honey
- juice and zest of 1 lime
- 1 star anise
- Place your chicken pieces in a dish, preferably using one with a glass lid like those old fashioned Pyrex ones. (If you don’t have one of those, use anyone that you like and use some kitchen foil as a cover.) Gracefully (or not) pour the above ingredients all over the chicken. Mix everything together using the cleanest hands or a spoon, making sure every bit of meat is covered.
- Cover the dish with its lid or cling film and put it in the fridge for at least 4 hours or overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C/392 F/Gas mark 6 and bake for around 45 minutes. Chicken wings need no more than 20 minutes, so always keep an eye on them.
When Rick Stein published his latest book, and was coming over to Guildford for a book signing, I had the flu. Typical. When J saw that I just couldn’t make it, he went to the venue for me with my copy, making sure I wouldn’t miss the autograph part. I would have like to say hello to Mr. Stein myself, but that’s how life is sometimes.
I have not been able to cook much from Rick Stein’s book Spain, but I have found a recipe which inspired me to make a version of his Paella Valenciana. I have changed a few things here and there primarily because I didn’t have some of the ingredients. So I raided the fridge to see what I could find. It was a bit touch and go; I wasn’t confident that this would work, so I asked J for some advice. If you decide to try this make sure to read the recipe before. It’s really simple mind you, but the steps are very important.
Paella is ideal for a supper party. With these quantities you will have enough for 6 people with some left-overs. This dish is very easy to make; it just requires a bit of looking after…
Before I go on I would just like to say something about paella in general. Although it is not a risotto, so no continuous stirring is needed, you still need to check that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan. So make sure to stir and scrape the rice from the bottom of the pan once in a while. Thus ended my rant. You will need:
- 500g boneless chicken thighs, chopped into bite-sized pieces
- 500g paella rice (available in supermarkets)
- 1 large onion, chopped in large dice
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1.25 litres chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
- 1 green pepper, diced
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 2 teaspoons saffron, steeped in warm water and sieved*
- 240g dried chickpeas, cooked (or 410g can drained and washed under cold water)
- 400g polpa di pomodoro (or large can whole tomatoes cut in chunks)
- 1 teaspoon dried rosemary (Do not use too much or it *will* taste so soapy!)
- Place the chicken in a bowl and season it well with a little salt and as much pepper (approximately ½ a teaspoon each is ok) as you like. Mix well. When you think you have enough seasoning, heat a large ovenproof pan. I use a large cast-iron one – a favourite of mine. Using a tablespoon or so of olive oil (not extra virgin), brown the chicken on all sides. Remove the chicken pieces from the pan and wrap these in some kitchen foil to keep warm. Set aside until needed.
- If see the need add another tablespoon of olive oil in the pan and tip in the onion, garlic and paprika, and stir. After 5 minutes or so add the polpa di pomodoro. Let the bottom of the pan de-glaze for a few more minutes. Now add the green pepper, cooked chickpeas, frozen peas. Mix everything together, add the stock, rosemary and the saffron infused water.* You just need the water here; that’s where the flavour is.
- It’s time to add the rice, and stir this into the stock. Scatter the browned chicken pieces onto the rice and leave it be. Simmer on a medium/high heat for around 5 minutes, then turn the heat low and leave it for another 15 minutes or so, that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pan.
- When you see that the rice has absorbed the stock, turn off the heat and cover the pan with a clean dish cloth for a few moments. At this point it’s ok if your guests turn up a bit late! Fluff up the rice with a fork before serving.
Please note that the above photo was taken before any fluffing occurred, in case you’re asking. Enjoy.
One of the things we learnt when we moved to England was to take advantage of the countryside. Even though it’s not really my style, I have grown to love the outdoors because of various reasons. I wouldn’t say that our last trip to the Lake District was a total success but at least it was enjoyable, and the peaceful surroundings were truly priceless. We are lucky because in Surrey there are quite a few National Trust houses with beautiful grounds. Apart from loving the many houses and gardens we also like to visit the shops and most often than not we purchase a couple of books.
During a short trip up to Cambridge I got The National Trust Complete Traditional Recipe Book by Sarah Edington – mostly because I liked the cover. I don’t know what it is with me and book covers. I have bought loads of books for that reason (and I *know* I’m not the only person to do that, so please don’t give me that look). Unlike some other NT publications it looks modern, definitely neater and it’s also a good read. I love reading where each recipe originates from and how it was developed, and there is such a good recipe selection. I am going through some of them very slowly, and was planning to write about this book much further along the way. However I cannot help including the recipe for Coronation Chicken right here. It’s an oldie I know, but hey, the book says *traditional* so you were advised. Traditional does not necessarily mean boring, so with a few tweaks here and there it is possible to make something really tasty. It’s great for when you have people round for lunch or an informal summer supper, and adding coriander makes it even fresher.
For this recipe you need some cooked chicken, either leftovers from a roasted bird or you may prefer to get some boneless and skinless thighs from the store and cook them beforehand, as I did this time round. The quantities given here will make enough for 6 to 8 servings, depending on how hungry you are. I would serve it with rice and some salad on the side. My take on the recipe goes like this:
For cooking the chicken:
- around 1½ kg chicken, cut into bite size pieces
- 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- ½ teaspoon ginger powder
- ½ teaspoon curry powder
- (You might need to add 1 tablespoon of water to all this.)
For the sauce:
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon of oil
- ½ teaspoon ginger powder
- 2 small cubes glacé ginger, chopped (replace by another ½ teaspoon of powder if needed)
- 1 teaspoon curry powder
- 2 tablespoons mango chutney
- 150ml (½ cup) good quality mayonnaise
- 100g (approx. ½ cup) plain yoghurt
- 50g almond flakes, toasted *without any oil* in a small pan
- a little salt and pepper, to taste
- fresh coriander, to serve
- In a shallow pan heat the oil and add the onion, garlic, ginger and curry powders and finally the chicken pieces. Toss together until well combined and make sure the chicken pieces are cooked through. Place these in a large bowl and set aside to cool.
- In the same pan add another tablespoon of oil and toss in the onion, both gingers and curry. Cook these together until the onion turns soft and transparent. Scrape this mixture into the bowl containing the chicken.
- To the chicken mixture add the mango chutney, yoghurt, mayonnaise, a little salt and pepper. It would be good to taste at this stage. Place in a serving dish and top with the toasted almonds and coriander.
Serve with plenty of rice and some salad. It’s a dish for all seasons.
P.S. I tried this with around 50ml mayonnaise and added more yoghurt to the recipe. It worked out great. The only thing is that the mixture was more of a liquidy consistency but other than that it was fine.
Note (11. 12. 2013) : The National Trust are now in the process of updating most of their cookery books. I bought a few lately and they look as good as all those recipe books being published as of late.
So you open the fridge and you find some cooked basmati, a couple of boiled baby potatoes, which I chopped, and some left-over chicken. Mix them together with some salt and pepper and you are all set. I found those things one evening when J had a work dinner and I was eating alone. As much as I hate eating alone, it has it’s benefits sometimes…mm…for example eating while watching a movie. All I did was throw them together in a bowl, with some frozen peas (cooked in some boiling water) and seasoning. This is grown up nursery food, which I absolutely love when I seek comfort. It’s like a big hug – well not quite, but you know what I mean.
Chicken by itself can be quite tasteless, but if cooked well and packed with other ingredients it is always a hit. I prefer to buy chicken pieces on the bone, or a whole chicken, because these have more flavour and don’t get dry easily, or rather the risk is lessened. However for this chicken and tarragon dish I found on Nigella Kitchen (which I am rediscovering) she uses whole chicken breasts. So I followed her advice, with some variations, and the result was good. If you like delicate recipes or if you want to feel like you’re in a French bistro, and it’s a special occasion you will love this. But for those who like their food to be punchy, then this might not be for you. J is a case in point as he didn’t like it that much. He didn’t say so directly mind you; he just said it needs something more, whatever that was! He could be right btw! Now if you want to try this with less cream you can do so by using half the cream with 3oml of white vermouth. I would leave it as is and serve it with green beans and rice. Serves 4.
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or crushed
- 3 spring onions, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon dried tarragon
- 4 chicken breasts
- 160ml white wine
- 1 teaspoon course salt, crushed
- 120ml double cream
- pepper, to taste
- 3 teaspoons dried tarragon (to complete the sauce)
In a shallow pan heat the oil well and add the spring onions, garlic and tarragon. Stir well and let them cook for a bit keeping an eye, or two eyes on them to avoid burning.
Place the chicken breasts (curve side down) into the pan and cook them for around 5 minutes. The onions could start to turn brown on you, so if this happens scrape them with your wooden spoon and put them on the chicken. Once you tackled this, turn the chicken on the other side and add the wine.
Add the salt, cover the pan, turn the heat down and let everything simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. To check this you can cut the thickest part with a knife, but if the juices run clear then they are done. If need be leave them to cook for another 5 minutes. Don’t cook them for too long or they will turn stringy.
Take the chicken pieces out of the pan onto a warm serving dish. Boil the liquid in the pan, add the cream, stir, add the remaining tarragon and some pepper and stir once more. Pour this over the chicken, and serve with green beans and some rice, as this is more delicate in flavour than potatoes.