Make your chook rock
Matt Preston’s new ways to elevate the humble chicken
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.
CHICKEN CHAMPION: Matt Preston has dedicated two chapters to chicken in his new book Yummy Easy Quick.