Make your chook rock

Matt Pre­ston’s new ways to el­e­vate the hum­ble chicken

The Western Star - - TASTE LIFE - DAN STOCK Yummy Easy Quick by Matt Pre­ston, pub­lished by Plum (through Pan Macmil­lan) $39.99.

IT’S the culi­nary equiv­a­lent of be­ing put in “the friend zone”.

Lack­ing the name-checked fire­power of beef, lamb’s ro­man­tic no­tion of sea­son­al­ity, or the op­u­lent, swoon-wor­thy deca­dence of pork, chicken is the fail-safe go-to that can be re­lied on to de­liver com­fort but hardly sets the heart rac­ing.

“If you go to a fancy restau­rant, you’re not go­ing to or­der chicken,” Matt Pre­ston says.

So why has the MasterChef judge and au­thor ded­i­cated two chap­ters to the hum­ble chook in his new book, Yummy Easy Quick?

“The great thing about chicken is that there’s lots go­ing on with it,” he says. “Think about a skin-on chicken thigh — you have the crispi­ness of skin, suc­cu­lence of meat, a layer of fat under the skin. We def­i­nitely un­der­rate chicken.

“Fa­mil­iar­ity has bred con­tempt, but with a whole chicken you have the oys­ter, thigh, wing, leg, breast, all slightly dif­fer­ent. It’s kinda ex­cit­ing like that.”

Matt’s new book — 127 din­ners that take 30 min­utes or less to pre­pare — is all about mak­ing the most of what’s in the fridge and freezer and giv­ing it a big burst of flavour.

And let’s face it, chicken is the pro­tein al­most ev­ery house­hold al­ways has to hand.

“Chicken is the most pop­u­lar pro­tein, it’s the most searched pro­tein on taste.com.au, by a mile,” Matt says.

“I’ve had peo­ple say to me, ‘I’ll buy this book just for the chicken thigh and chicken breast chap­ters’.

“Ev­ery­one wants to find quick ways to de­liver big, vi­brant bursts of flavour.”

Here are seven of Matt’s new ways to trans­form the hum­ble chook into din­ners that will have ev­ery­one around the table fall­ing head over heels.

1 “The prob­lem with chicken breasts is that the lean­ness of the meat means it dries out,” Matt says. “So I’ve been smash grilling them.”

Rub the chicken with your flavour­ing of choice, then whack them on the hot bar­be­cue to sear.

Move them off the flame, us­ing in­di­rect heat to let them cook through, then, at the end “smash” them with heat to leave the skin crispy.

“It’s like a tango — hot, cold, hot,” Matt says. “This way you get re­ally crispy chicken, but it’s re­ally suc­cu­lent.”

2 Chicken mince is un­der­rated, Matt says, nom­i­nat­ing chicken ris­soles — “bring back the ris­sole!” — and meat­balls as per­fect for sub­sti­tut­ing chicken in­stead of beef.

The key with us­ing chicken mince is to mix some­thing else through to keep it juicy and light.

For Thai meat­balls, mix 500g chicken mince with 4cm gin­ger (peeled, finely grated) and a bunch of co­rian­der stalks, finely diced.

Wet your hands with soy sauce and roll ta­ble­spoons of the mix­ture into balls, which can be pan fried or poached in aro­matic stock/soup.

3 Chicken goes bril­liantly with potato salad.

“There’s some­thing about that combo that is just so per­fect,” Matt says.

4 “There’s a rea­son chow mein is a clas­sic — that’s be­cause it’s de­li­cious,” Matt says. “I’ve al­ways looked at rein­vent­ing retro dishes that have a warm and fuzzy feel­ing and a mod­ern chicken chow mein is great.”

Try the Chi­nese tech­nique of “vel­veting” the chicken for a silky tex­ture.

Whisk 1 egg white, 1 tbsp corn­flour and 1 tbsp rice wine vine­gar in a bowl.

Add thinly sliced chicken thigh pieces, toss to coat and leave for 30 mins (or longer). Wok toss with egg noo­dles and veg­eta­bles.

5 Talk­ing of retro foods, Matt’s con­vinced we’ll see a re­turn of the vol-au-vent. Get ahead of the trend by serv­ing vol-au-vents with chicken and leek, or chicken, mush­room and ba­con, fill­ing at your next drinks party.

6 Roast chicken on a raft of cel­ery. Destring 6 cel­ery stalks and add to the pan with chicken stock. Roast chicken atop. “You’re left with re­ally lovely, creamy cel­ery,” Matt says.

7 Baked — not fried — chicken nuggets are a win­ner for the whole fam­ily. For best re­sults, Matt likes to place chicken pieces — flat­tened thigh cut into small squares — in melted but­ter and then toss in panko bread­crumbs be­fore bak­ing at 220/200C for 15– 20mins, turn­ing half­way, or un­til golden.

PHOTO: RE­BECCA MICHAEL

CHICKEN CHAM­PION: Matt Pre­ston has ded­i­cated two chap­ters to chicken in his new book Yummy Easy Quick.

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