Sometimes I feel we look for the new at the expense of the old. Nothing brings this into sharper focus than the Melbourne Cup carnival. A week-long extravaganza of the latest fashion, the newest hats, the most beautifully tailored suits, and a variety of shoes that even Imelda could only dream of. Sequestered away in the fancy marquees, the chosen few are being enticed with the latest fashion in food. They have Melbourne’s top chefs cooking a dizzying array of the finest dishes for them. While I am sure it is all delicious, I lament the move away from what I might politely call the classics. And the most classic of them all for the racing carnival – the humble chicken sandwich.
Sandwiches aren’t terribly current in my life. If I think hard about them, they were something that never came up too well in my lunch box. Every so often I am forced to remember them because of a special occasion that deems them appropriate. It is then I remember, if made and stored nicely, how bloody delicious a good sanga can be.
So why should we eat chicken sandwiches on Melbourne Cup Day? Because they are delicious, they are reasonably healthy, easy to transport and, let’s face it, they tend to soak up alcohol. For me, the perfect chicken sandwich starts with a gently poached chicken. The flesh is removed, carefully shredded and put to the side. Then, it’s time to make a tasty mayonnaise. Choose your greens – I prefer the sharp peppery nature of watercress – and, for me, a lovely loaf of white sliced bread. Not the chainstore variety, but the sort you can still find from small independent suburban or country bakeries. Some good butter and off you go.
But then there is the wonderful byproduct – the stock that the chicken was poached in. You may wonder why this is such a special treat. Well, no matter how many chicken sandwiches you ate on Melbourne Cup Day, they may not have soaked up all the alcohol you consumed. So imagine, if you will, you’ve come home on the train, fallen precariously onto your bed and had the sleep of the wretched. Somehow you don’t make it to work the next day but fall back into bed and then, when you wake again midafternoon, you remember.
That lovely pot of homemade chicken noodle soup you forced yourself to make with the chicken poaching stock. Cradling the soup in a bowl in your hands, as you slump on the couch with the telly on, it nurtures you back to something human. After all, there are few things as restorative as chicken soup.
ANNIE SMITHERS is the owner and chef of du Fermier in Trentham, Victoria.