FOR those who follow this column, you will have hopefully found last week’s guide to filleting fish inspiring. A chef or a cook who doesn’t understand the produce they are working with will never achieve the same results as they would if they really took the time to work with, understand and appreciate that ingredients nature has given us.
My mentor Pierre Koffmann told me time and again, “You must master the basics of cooking before taking it to the next level.” Very wise words from a very wise man and talented chef. As a young chef at the time, I was trying to over-complicate things and I think it’s something that is common among many chefs and home cooks.
TV programmes, beautifully illustrated cookbooks and TV chefs paint pictures of dishes in our heads. Actually, what will inspire you most is first of all discovering the basics and learning about your own palate. From there, the more innovative dishes will come all the more naturally because you will understand and appreciate the produce you work with.
Learning the basics, like mastering this boned, rolled and stuffed chicken, can often involve quite a few stages so make sure you set some time aside to enjoy trying the recipe and learning about the produce rather than rushing it. Don’t let the time put you off because recipes like this are worth all the effort you put in.
The beauty of learning skills like boning and rolling chicken is it teaches how to use every part of the produce. Absolutely nothing has to go to waste when you cook like this, and it will save you time and money in the long run because you will be able to use the chicken for so many different dishes.
In the same way I suggested using the bones of the fish last week, you can do the same with the chicken – taking the bones to make a wonderful stock that will add depth of flavour to other dishes you create. When you’re cooking, you can also keep all of the lovely juices left in the foil after the chicken has rested and use them as a sauce.
Chicken is, in fact, a great meat to work with and often it’s missed out because if it’s not done right, it can become dry and flavourless. Its pale flesh and mild flavour means it’s a good match for a host of other ingredients.
As much as chicken is very widely available in supermarkets, I thoroughly recommend you visit your butcher or farmers’ market so that you know where the bird has come from and how it has been reared – all important factors in achieving a good end result. The higher standards by which the chicken is reared, the better the flavour will be – which means that you will have to do very little to the dish for it to taste outstanding.
If you are buying whole chicken, look for one that has clear, soft skin without any bruising, blemishes or tears. A brownish-red ‘hock burn’ on the skin on the bird’s legs can often mean it hasn’t been reared in the best conditions, so make sure you steer away from buying any with this kind of marking.
Once you have chosen your chicken, remember to take it out of the fridge about an hour before you are going to cook it, but you should still keep it covered in a cool place.
When you’re ready to start cooking, just try to enjoy it.
Boned and rolled chicken stuffed with spinach and carrots
1 free-range chicken
4 young carrots, cut in half
1 tsp vegetable oil
50g unsalted butter
1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
For the sauce
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 chicken carcass, chopped small
3 shallots, peeled and chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 sprig tarragon
skin of 1 lemon (use a peeler)
3 garlic cloves, peeled
50ml Noilly Prat
Turn the chicken breast-side down and cut down the centre of the bird. Using a sharp knife, remove the breast meat and legs from the carcass, being careful not to pierce the skin. Place your index finger and thumb around the wishbone and hold the skin down with your other hand. Pull the carcass and it will come away from the skin. Remove the legs, breast and wing bones until you are left with only the skin, which can now be cut in half.
Add the carrots to boiling water and cook for eight to ten minutes, until softened but still crunchy. Drain and set aside.
Wash and dry the spinach. Wilt the leaves in a hot pan with a teaspoon of vegetable oil and a pinch of salt for about two minutes, until very soft. Drain in a sieve, pressing with a spoon to squeeze out any excess water, then set aside to cool for three or four minutes.
Melt the butter in a large pan over a medium heat. Add the chopped shallot and cook for two or three minutes. Then add the spinach on top with the carrots.
Separate the chicken leg from the thigh and remove the bone from the leg, taking care to remove all the sinew. Place on top of the carrots.
Pull the chicken skin over the truss from one end to the other with butcher‘s string and a trussing needle. Make a second parcel in the same way.
To makes the chicken jus
Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan until smoking. Add the chopped chicken carcass and cook for six to eight minutes, turning frequently until it turns golden brown.
Add the shallots, tomatoes, tarragon, lemon rind and garlic. Cook for a further three or four minutes. Next pour in the brandy and Noilly Prat and reduce until almost dry. Pour over just enough water to cover the carcass and cook for 20 minutes.
Strain through a fine sieve and reduce by half, then set aside
To finish the dish
Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Season the stuffed chicken, then heat a teaspoon of oil in a large non-stick pan and gently brown the chicken until golden. This should take about six minutes.
Place the chicken in the oven and roast for another six minutes, then turn and roast for six more minutes. Remove from the oven, wrap in foil and leave to rest for ten minutes.
Once properly rested, cut each end off the chicken and carefully pull the trussing string out. It should come out in one piece.
Tom Kitchin is one of three chefs taking part in the culinary competition The Chef’s Protege, weekdays, BBC2, 6.30pm