The ‘ter­ror’ of thyme

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODEATING -

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.

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