Out of the Frying Pan And Into the Antipodes--
Recipes & reminiscences from 70-plus years of New Zealand & Australian food; with some of the loves, some of the lovers, and some of the culinary & social history.
(A few names & places have been changed to protect the guilty)

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Chicken Little

Chicken Little

Still on the poultry theme…

In 1963, gallantly flying the flag for real food and proper cookery methods in the wasteland of a largely indifferent New Zealand, Graham Kerr wrote:

    “Chickens, at the time of writing this book, are not frequently served in most Australasian homes. This is a pity, not so much from the obvious variety point of view, but because when chicken is eaten the desire to experiment is reduced by the equally powerful desire to avoid ‘making a mess of it’ and thus waste a considerable sum of money. Because of this, the most often used method of cooking chicken is that of roasting, and roasting is the most expensive of all cookery procedures. Hence the circle is complete. Chicken is—ipso facto—a luxury.”
(Graham Kerr. Entertaining with Kerr. Rev. ed., Wellington, A.H. & A.W. Reed, 1966 (first published 1963))

    It’s such a standard these days. Funny to think we only had chicken as the greatest treat when I was growing up in New Zealand in the 1950s: roasted, for Christmas dinner, and sometimes for New Year’s Day. Chooks cost, as Graham Kerr says, “a considerable sum of money.” These weren't the battery-raised birds we know today, but what we’d call free-range these days. Much tastier and much, much leaner: in fact the earlier cookbooks all tell you to lard &/or bard a chicken for roasting, or possibly, if a younger one, to slather it in butter.
    We’d been in our house in Hauraki on Auckland’s North Shore for some time by the time we got frozen chooks. We moved there when I was about 16, in 1960, I think. Chicken was still very dear, as Graham Kerr says; I remember having roast chicken for Christmas in that house, too, sitting at the long table crammed into the dinette, separated off from the cooking area by a bank of tall cupboards that Dad had misguidedly put in practically the minute we moved in, thus making the kitchen proper very dark. It was some years later that frozen chickens became readily available in New Zealand.
    Ironically, by the time I left NZ for Australia in the late Eighties, Mum and Dad were practically living off “roast chicken”: done in a so-called roasting bag in the oven, so in actual fact steamed, and then eaten with all the skin then taken off it, into the bargain. Mum’s claim was she couldn’t digest the skin (possibly one of the factors necessitating that fibre supplement), and Dad wasn’t allowed to have it because it was too greasy in the wake of that gall bladder operation (25 years earlier, no kidding). Yeah, well. It matched the plain boiled (peeled and boiled) potatoes and the frozen peas, true. Presumably by this time their tastebuds weren’t working at all—seventy-odd years of discouragement would tend to do that—because Mum had developed a mania for scrubbing out her pots and pans with Vim. The result being that the boiled potatoes and peas tasted discernibly of Vim, at least to me.
    By this time they were all frozen chooks, of course. It’s not the far-off glow from Christmas itself nor my imagination that the modern ones are practically tasteless in comparison to the ones we used to eat at Christmas. I have managed to afford a tasty free-range chicken once or twice since—not from my local Foodland supermarket in Thebarton, though, since the day I caught them crossing out the “use by” date with an indelible black felt marker pen. Free-range is what those Christmas chickens were, which is why they had some taste, and didn’t need slathering in brown dye like the takeaway ones today.

I’ve got well over two hundred recipes for chicken in my database, but only a few favourites. So I’ll spare you the historical dissertation this time round, and just give you some of the ones I like best. Plus some interesting vintage chicken illustrations!

An Oldie But A Goodie – à la française
There are loads of recipes for Coq au vin, and the cognoscenti argue about what’s proper and what isn’t, but this is the version I like. It’s quite easy; the only fiddly bit is peeling the pickling onions.

Coq au Vin
    1 chicken;  1/2 bottle of red wine (e.g. Shiraz);
    2 rashers of bacon;  12 button mushrooms;
    12 small (pickling) onions;  1 clove garlic;
    a bouquet garni;  90-100 g butter or margarine;
    1 scant dessertspoon sugar (optional);
    salt and pepper
1. Cut up the chicken: wings, two pieces of breast, thighs and drumsticks. Cut the bacon into dice.
2. Heat a saucepan or a deep, lidded frying-pan or electric frypan over  moderate heat, and fry the bacon in the butter.
3. Add the pieces of chicken and brown them all over.
4. Remove the chicken and bacon and put in the onions (whole, peeled) and mushrooms. Cook until the onions begin to brown.
5. Return the chicken and bacon to the pan, with the garlic, chopped, the bouquet garni and salt and pepper. Add the wine and the sugar, if using.*
6. Cover and simmer on medium-low heat for 3/4 hour to an hour (the longer time if it is a large chicken).
To serve, remove the bouquet garni and serve hot.
Serves 4-6.
* At this point the original recipe adds a small glass of brandy and flambés it. Personally I don’t fancy setting myself and the kitchen on fire. The dish tastes good without it. The sugar is my addition: to me, it compensates for the omission of the brandy and just takes the edge off the wine, which otherwise I find makes the dish too tart.
(Adapted from: Robin McDouall. Robin McDouall’s Cookery Book for the Greedy. Harmondsworth, England, Penguin Books in association with Michael Joseph, 1965. (First published as: Collins Pocket Guide to Good Cooking. London, Collins, 1955))

Sour and Spicy
Try this dish if you like the occasional sour treat. The original uses the famous North African salted lemons, but I can’t take that much salt, so I just tried lemon qua lemon. It’s become one of my favourites: I often make it. It’s nice with warm burghul or couscous just lightly drizzled with olive oil, and a green vegetable or salad.

Moroccan-Style Chicken with Lemon and Green Olives
   1 chicken or about 1 kg chicken pieces (bone in);
   1 to 2 onions, sliced; 1 or 2 cloves garlic, chopped fine;
   1 teaspoon turmeric; 3/4 teaspoon cumin powder;
   1 1/2 teaspoons coriander powder;
   1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper;
   1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon chilli powder or cayenne;
   12 to 16 green or black Spanish olives;
   1 Lisbon lemon (not a Mayer);  4 tablespoons olive oil
1. Firstly, cut the lemon in half lengthwise on a plate. Remove any pips. Then slice each half crosswise into about six slices, preserving all the juice.*
2. Joint the chicken, remove any excess fat, dry well. In a deep lidded frying pan or large electric frypan on medium heat, brown the chicken pieces in the olive oil with the onion and garlic.
3. Add the black pepper and other spices, and stir well. Add the olives and the sliced lemon, plus any juice from it.
4. Put in enough water to come about halfway up the chicken. Bring to the boil.
5. Turn the heat down to medium-low, cover and simmer. Add a little more water if it dries out too much. The result should be a stew with some gravy but not too much. The chicken should be very tender and falling off the bones. Takes about 1 hour, or 1 1/2 if you use chicken drumsticks.
* If you prefer a less bitter dish, use only the lemon skin and the flesh: peel finely or remove all the yellow outer skin with a zester; retain. Halve the lemon and slice as in the recipe, and then cut all the white rind off the slices and discard it.

You can vary the amount of onion and spices to suit but the main point of this dish is that while the chicken is almost creamy in texture, the lemon and olives with the spices add a real wow factor.
    If you prefer it less salty (especially if you’re using green olives), the day before pour boiling water over the olives. Leave for at least an hour, drain and repeat the process. Then soak in the fridge overnight. Next day, drain very well before using. I read this tip in an English book and didn’t believe it, but actually the olive flavour comes through better this way.
    The recipe is directly inspired by a Moroccan one. And possibly indirectly by my North African heritage via a Spanish ancestor. When Mum had her op the doctor looked at the way the scar had healed, with the sort of cicatrice seen in African tribal markings, and asked her a trifle anxiously if she had Polynesian blood—the natural assumption if you grew up in New Zealand. He was relieved when she said “No,” because that meant there was no risk of her and us kids all being prone to some horrid thing that he’d need to check us for (I can’t recall what it was). On thinking it over she decided the fabled Spanish great-grandmother, or whatever she was, wasn’t a fable after all and that we must have Black African blood through her. I guess it isn’t impossible, and it would explain my taste for spicy food, but on the other hand Mum always loathed anything even faintly spicy! So there you are.

For a Special Treat—Forget the Cholesterol, For Once

This tarragon chicken recipe is another one of Robin McDouall’s. His original uses a stock made from the carcass of the chicken. However, I’ve done this with water instead and the result is fine.

Poulet sauté à l’estragon
    1 chicken;  a bunch of tarragon;
    1 onion;  1 dessertspoonful of flour;
    1 glass of white wine;  1/2 cup of stock or water;
    1/2 cup of cream;  3 oz [80 g] butter;  salt & pepper
Cut the chicken into eight pieces: two wings, two thighs, two breasts. Sauter them in butter till they begin to colour, turning them over so that they cook all round. As they brown, take them out and keep them hot.
Chop the onion and add it to the butter and cook until it gets soft. Stir in the flour. Add the white wine, the stock or water, and most of the leaves of the tarragon, chopped finely. Season and reduce slightly on a high heat.
Return the chicken to the pan (preferably a lidded frying-pan or an electric frypan). Cover and cook on medium heat for twenty minutes.
Take out chicken and keep warm on a serving dish in a low oven.
If the sauce seems very liquid, bring it to the boil and then cook on a high heat until it reduces.
Turn down the heat to low. Add the cream and stir gently until heated through and slightly thickened. Do not allow to boil.
Add the remaining leaves of tarragon, roughly chopped. Pour over the pieces of chicken.
Serves 4.
(Adapted from: Robin McDouall. Robin McDouall’s Cookery Book for the Greedy. Harmondsworth, England, Penguin Books in association with Michael Joseph, 1965. (First published as: Collins Pocket Guide to Good Cooking. London, Collins, 1955))

A lovely, delicate dish for a special dinner. Make sure the white wine you use is not over-oaked, like many of the Australian whites, or it will ruin the dish.

A Tribute to D.L.S.: For Lovers of the Detective Novel & The Chicken Casserole
This is my own recipe, inspired by D.L Sayers’s description of the fatal meal served to the victim in Strong Poison. (It wasn’t in the casserole!)

    The turnip is essential to this very English and strangely delicate dish:

Chicken Dorothy
May be casseroled in the oven, or stewed in a heavy saucepan, electric frypan or slow cooker. I prefer it casseroled.
  1 chicken;  1 onion;  1 large carrot;
  1 piece of Swede turnip, about the same bulk as the carrot;
  few sprigs fresh thyme;  1 bay leaf;  1 to 2 cups water;
  1 tablespoon flour or cornflour;  2 tablespoons butter or oil;
  1/2 teaspoon black pepper;  1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Joint chicken and remove as much fat as possible. Peel and slice onion. Peel carrot and Swede and cut them into pieces about 4 cm long and 2 wide. If intending to use the oven, put it on at a low-to-medium heat.
2. Heat the butter or oil in a heavy saucepan, an electric frypan or a frying pan on moderate heat.
3. Fry the chicken pieces a few at a time until just lightly browned. Remove. If using a slow cooker or casserole dish, put them in it.
4. Fry the onions until just golden but not browned. Remove.
5. Add 1 cup water and stir well, scraping up any pieces that have stuck to the bottom.
6. Put all ingredients except flour/cornflour and the 2nd cup water in the pot in which you intend to finish the cooking, distributing the vegetables evenly round the chicken.
7. For a slow cooker, add 1/2 cup water; for other methods, add 1 cup.
8. Cover with lid and cook on low-to-medium heat for 3/4 hour (stove top, electric frypan or oven) or on low for 6 hours (slow cooker).
9. To thicken the sauce: mix the flour or cornflour with a tablespoon of water and then add a tablespoon of the chicken liquid to it, stirring well. Add this to the stew and mix in well. Close the lid and cook for a further 20 to 30 minutes, or another 1 to 2 hours in the slow cooker, until tender.
Serve hot, removing the herbs before serving. Serves 4-6.

Back to the Future? Kitschy but Yummy!

Okay, it’s kitschy, and it probably dates from the mid-Sixties, or even the Fifties, when we didn’t know from cuisine. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it! On a hot day, this cold chicken dish is a winner for a special lunch.

Cold Curry of Chicken
1 frying chicken, about 3 lbs [1 1/2 kilos] cut up, plus 1 extra whole breast or 2 thighs;
2 onions, thinly sliced;  1 cup finely chopped celery (optional);
1 teaspoon lemon zest;  about 1 tablespoon curry powder**
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger;  1 1/2 cups chicken stock;
1 envelope gelatine;  1 cup cream;  lemon juice;
2 tablespoons butter or light oil;  salt & pepper
Pat chicken dry with paper towels. Brown lightly in 2 teaspoons butter or a light cooking oil in heavy pan. Remove to a bowl and season with salt and pepper.
Heat remaining butter, add onions, cook on medium-low till soft, and remove. They should be only lightly browned at most.
Stir curry powder, ginger and grated lemon zest into drippings and cook for a few moments.
Add the cooked onions, the chicken and any chicken juices. Pour in 3/4 cup chicken stock, cover tightly and simmer 45 mins to 1 hour, or till tender.
Cool slightly and strip chicken in large pieces from bones. Remove fat and skin. Lay breast slices in bottom of a glass loaf pan or oval mould. Alternate rest of chicken with finely sliced celery, if desired.
Skim the remaining onion mixture of excess fat. Then stir well, making sure you get any drippings from the bottom of the pan, and puree in blender a few seconds or till smooth. Return to the pan and warm on a low heat.
Sprinkle gelatine on the mixture and stir over low heat till dissolved.
Take off the heat, and add cream and a little lemon juice. Pour over chicken in mould and refrigerate overnight.
Turn out on serving platter.
Serves 8.
(Possibly from Woman’s Day (U.S.), late 1960s.)
** If you can’t find a mild and pleasant curry powder, try using 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder and making up the rest of the tablespoon with the mixture below. The cumin seed helps gives it that “curry powder” taste, but it avoids the fenugreek which dominates many commercial curry powders.
Garam Masala
Grind together 4 parts black peppercorns, 4 parts coriander seed, 3 parts cumin seed or fennel seed, 1 part cloves, 1 part cardamom seed, 1 part cinnamon.
(Jack Santa Maria. Indian Vegetarian Cookery. London, Rider, 1973)

The dish isn’t curry, no, it’s completely ersatz, but boy, it’s yummy!

Rice with Your Chicken?
I haven’t included my favourite Indian rice and chicken dish here. It’s “Pullao with Chicken”: you’ll find it in the earlier blog entry, “The Silver-Leaf Pullao.”

A Quick and Easy Touch of the Ol’ Southwest
Five minutes and you’ve got a spicy, yummy plateful with my Tex-Mex-inspired favourite for cold chicken leftovers. If you’ve bought some fresh coriander for another dish and can’t think what to do to use it up, add it to finish.

Easy-Peasy Chicken Tortillas
    Per person:
    leftover cold chicken, e.g. 1/2  breast;
    1 corn or wheat tortilla;  1/4 cup shredded lettuce;
    2 tablespoons grated cheese or Ricotta;
    3/4 teaspoon smoked paprika;  1/2 teaspoon cumin powder;
    3/4 teaspoon dried marjoram or oregano;
    pinch chilli powder or cayenne;  2 tablespoons olive oil
Fry the tortilla in 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. When crisp and browning round the edges with bubbles forming in the centre, turn over (it should be dotted with brown spots) and fry on the other side till crisp. Remove from pan, and drain on kitchen paper.
Add 2nd spoonful of oil to pan with spices and herbs (I prefer marjoram, which is sweeter) and stir gently for a few seconds. Put in chicken, stir gently to coat with spice mixture and fry on one side till warmed through. Turn over and quickly do the other side. Take care not to get the pan too hot or the spices will burn.
To plate up: put the cheese on top of the warm tortilla, add shredded lettuce and chicken, plus a drizzle of the spicy oil from the pan, and serve at once.
The effect is quite different according to whether you choose Ricotta or grated cheddar, but both are yummy.

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