The ‘terror’ of thyme
afdakkies and roses and hydrangeas blooming in every garden, and a calm of relief engulfed me as I realised quite how far we were from the madness.
There is no supreme ruler anywhere in sight. The only supreme I could muster in the wake of all that was supreme of chicken, a largely forgotten cut which was a standard item on old-fashioned menus, especially French ones.
Supreme, in cookery, refers to the best part of an ingredient. If you’ve ever seen segments of orange, for example, in which everything is peeled away, even the almost invisible membrane around each segment, that would be supreme of orange. A perfectly filleted piece of fish in which bones as well as skin has been carefully removed is also a supreme, whether sole or kingklip.
But in French cuisine, a supreme de vollaille is a whole chicken breast that also includes the wing bone, and the skin need not be removed, as the crisping of it is a part of what makes this a special cut once cooked. When I was growing up, supreme of chicken was often on the dinner menus of the hotels we stayed in during our annual holiday trek through the country, when we would stop overnight in characterful old hotels in Karoo towns.
Instead of the ubiquitous whole roast chicken, the other day I decided to buy a whole bird and dissect it into portions including two supremes for our supper. It is easy to do this if you focus and have a sharp boning knife or smallish kitchen knife. You could also use a chef ’s knife if you are skilled at using one, but don’t use too heavy a hand. You need to slice the breast off close to the spine, as neatly as you can, and once the breast is loose, carefully cut so that the wing bone ( but not the entire wing) remains attached to the breast. If you’re cooking for four, you could serve the supremes to two and the thigh quarters to others.
It’s quicker than roasting the bird whole. Once it’s been browned in a pan on the stove top, it needs only 30 minutes in a hot oven plus some time to rest and tenderise.
There are many ways to flavour it, but I used a combination of fresh thyme, garlic and paprika so that it had both herby and spicy character. But using a whole bird and dissecting it yourself gives you an extra advantage – you can use the carcass, wing tips and any other stray bits to make a quick, “instant” chicken stock with which to finish your sauce.
Chop the carcass up roughly and place in a deep pot. Add chopped carrot, leek and onion, cover with cold water, and put on a high heat until the liquid has reduced by about three-quarters. This can be done while you are preparing and cooking the supremes.
Preheat oven to 220 Melt butter on a gentle heat, add garlic, thyme leaves and paprika and simmer for a minute. Don’t brown the garlic.
Brown the supremes at a moderate heat in this until golden on all sides. Season with salt and pepper.
Remove to the oven on a highish shelf and roast for 30 minutes. Turn off the heat, open the oven door, wrap chicken supremes in foil and allow to rest for 15 minutes.
Move pan to the stove top on a high heat, add the strained chicken stock, adjust seasoning if necessary, and quickly reduce to a runny sauce. Serve the sauce around the chicken, not on top, so that the skin remans crisp.