CHICKEN can form the centrepiece of many a great meal – it’s truly versatile and has many plus points.
It can be cooked with ease and makes a perfect quick supper, whether you’re cooking a whole roast, or serving it with pasta or a seasonal sauce. The key, though, is in sourcing quality poultry. The higher the standard of welfare and care that has been taken with the poultry, the better it will taste, so make sure you’re buying your produce from a trusted source.
Many chickens are reared as quickly as possible because it’s faster, easier and cheaper. My local supplier, St Bride’s Free Range Poultry Farm, however, is unique in the way they rear their chickens.
Based in Strathaven in South Lanarkshire, Robert Morris and his family run a farm where the free range chickens live much happier lives, enjoying lush, rich grass surroundings and fresh air.
As suppliers of poultry they are quite exceptional in the UK, which is why I take such great joy in working with them. They are very selective about the chickens they breed, and they are all slow-growing chickens, which means the birds are farmed for longer and, as a result, are much larger and more flavoursome.
This method of farming is pretty popular in France, but less so here. On St Bride’s Farm they feed their birds less protein, which means the chickens also seek out their own food from nature itself, giving them a much more natural, delicious flavour.
What you get is a lovely, traditional chicken taste, with firm flesh and a wonderful meaty texture – all the qualities you need for an excellent dish. The care and attention that goes into farming these birds makes a massive difference.
Chicken can be cooked in so many ways, but if you’re oven cooking it, I would recommend that you take the bird out of the fridge and allow it to get to room temperature before you put it in the oven.
To make sure the chicken is cooked properly, you can pierce it with a sharp knife – if the juices run clear, you know it’s done.
For me, chicken can make an ideal family meal, and if you buy a whole bird you can make it last for a couple of dinners or lunches by using every single part of the lovely meat. Even the bones can be used to make a delicious stock.
In our house, we all love this really simple, comforting but still elegant dish of chicken served with macaroni. It’s a hit with kids and adults alike.
CHICKEN CONFIT, ENDIVE AND BLUE CHEESE SALAD
2 chicken legs
2 large handfuls rock salt
1 sprig of thyme
2 cloves of garlic
400ml duck fat
1 sprig flat parsley
For the blue cheese dressing
50g blue cheese
50g crème fraîche
The day before, take the chicken legs and place in a plastic container with the rock salt, thyme and garlic. Cover the container with cling film and leave in fridge for 24 hours. The next day, remove the chicken from the container and wash off the salt with cold water before drying with a paper towel.
Heat a heavy-bottomed pan with the duck fat, and once warm, add the chicken legs. Cook on a low temperature for 1 to 2 hours until the meat flakes from the bone. Remove the chicken legs from the duck fat and carefully remove any excess fat from the legs. Take out all the bones and discard, keeping aside the confit chicken.
For the blue cheese
In a bowl, break up the blue cheese with a fork. Add the mayonnaise and crème fraîche and mix until smoothly combined.
Separate the endive leaves and build a layered salad with the endive, confit chicken and blue cheese dressing. Garnish with walnuts and flat leaf parsley.
CHICKEN BREAST SERVED WITH MACARONI
For the macaroni
500g giant macaroni
salt to taste
For the béchamel sauce
60g plain flour
1 litre of milk
4 gratings of nutmeg
50g grain mustard
salt and pepper
50g Parmesan cheese, grated
For the chicken
2 chicken breasts (free range)
½ carrot – diced
1 tbsp peas
100ml chicken jus
1 tsp wholegrain mustard
1 sprig tarragon
For the chicken jus
1 chicken carcass – chopped into small dice
2 shallots – sliced
5 crushed peppercorns
2 cloves garlic
splash of brandy
To make the béchamel sauce
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter and add the flour. Whisk over a low heat for 2-3 minutes until there are no lumps. Bring the milk to the boil with a little grated nutmeg and pour over the cooked roux. Bring to the boil and cook for 10 minutes, stirring gently. Season, pass
through a sieve and stir in the grain mustard.
To cook the pasta
Pour 500ml of water into a shallow roasting tray. Add the butter and salt and bring to the boil. Add the macaroni to the water making sure they do not stick or break. Cook for 8-10 minutes until al dente. Once cooked, gently remove the pasta, place on greaseproof paper and, while it is still warm, join the tubes together and cut to desired size. The macaroni will stick together naturally while warm.
Preheat the grill. Place the pasta on a tray and spoon over the béchamel sauce. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan and place under the grill until golden. Remove, cut into portions and plate up.
For the chicken
Heat oven to 180C/Gas 4. Heat a heavy-bottomed pan and add a splash of olive oil. Place the chicken breasts skin side down and cook for 3-4 minutes until crispy. Turn and put into the oven for a further 6-8 minutes or until cooked. Remove from the pan, keeping any cooking juices to add to the jus.
To prepare the chicken jus
Heat a heavy-bottomed pan and add a splash of olive oil. Add the chopped chicken carcass and cook on a high heat for 6-8 minutes, stirring occasionally and allowing the carcass to caramelise. Add the shallots, garlic and crushed peppercorns and sweat for a further 1-2 minutes. Deglaze with the brandy and cover with the water before bringing to the boil and skimming the fat. Allow to cook for 25-30 minutes, adding a little more water if needed as you go. Once cooked, remove from the heat and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Pass through a fine sieve then return to the pan and reduce by half.
Set the chicken aside to rest and add the diced carrot and peas, mustard and chopped tarragon to the chicken jus and serve with chicken breast and gratinated macaroni.