All about the bird

When cooked to per­fec­tion, the chicken will al­ways come be­fore the egg. Si­mon Hop­kin­son presents two salad dishes that are ideal for a light lunch

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Si­mon Hop­kin­son

Si­mon Hop­kin­son re­veals the fool­proof way to moist chicken ev­ery time

ABOOK that ev­ery se­ri­ous cook should pos­sess—this must surely be a one-sen­tence re­view to which all cook­ery writ­ers will as­pire. How­ever, when that sen­tence ap­pears on the cover of your book and has been of­fered by El­iz­a­beth David, one’s work is clearly of worth. Rose­mary Bris­senden’s South

East Asian Food (Grub Street, 2003) was first pub­lished in 1969 (Pen­guin). One might think that the ti­tle of a book cov­er­ing such a sub­ject could well have been pub­lished just yes­ter­day. How­ever, it could not, as it’s so very well re­searched and so in­tel­li­gently writ­ten that it makes some wok-woopsy word­smiths—i could use an­other ep­i­thet, but the Edi­tor might pos­si­bly sack me on the spot—seem as Enid Bly­ton adorned with star-anise ear­rings.

Mrs Bris­senden’s range is huge and it’s a big book, but I just adore her un­clut­tered de­scrip­tions and con­cise recipes that, quite sim­ply, tell you all you need to know. I do won­der, in the late 1960s, just where one would have found such in­gre­di­ents as lemon­grass, shrimp paste and even fresh ginger, but no mat­ter—one can now.

If there is one sin­gle in­struc­tion in this en­tire mas­ter­work, it’s the way of qui­etly poach­ing a whole chicken. It has long been a com­mon method in Asian cook­ery, which cooks the fowl very slowly and also keeps it as moist and flavoursome as any that has ever been pre­pared. I beg you to give this tech­nique a try as it will be a rev­e­la­tion.

What fol­lows is how the au­thor de­scribes the ini­tial process, which she names ‘Steeped Chicken’. Words in brackets are mine, to add the listed in­gre­di­ents to the text as well as al­ter­ing ‘boil’ to ‘sim­mer’, sim­ply be­cause the for­mer in­struc­tion can of­ten be ex­ag­ger­ated by the im­pa­tient cook.

‘The chicken [young and ten­der] you use for this dish must be very fresh—prefer­ably re­cently killed and plucked. Never at­tempt it with a de­frosted bird. Have ready a pot of boil­ing [sim­mer­ing] wa­ter suf­fi­cient to cover the chicken. Add salt [1tspn], pep­per [1tspn], dry sherry [1tb­spn] and ginger [3 slices]. Put in the chicken, boil [sim­mer] for 2–3 min­utes. Skim the stock, and re­move the saucepan from the heat and cover it, al­low­ing the chicken to steep for about 30 min­utes.

‘Boil [sim­mer] again and re­peat the steep­ing process for an­other 30 min­utes, by which time the chicken should be lightly cooked though still faintly pink near the bone. This is the way devo­tees pre­fer this dish [method], but if the thought does not ap­peal you can leave the chicken sim­mer­ing in the pot for the first 15 min­utes.’

When­ever I use this won­der­ful way with a chicken, I like to leave the bird to cool to room tem­per­a­ture in its broth once the sec­ond sim­mer­ing is com­plete; apart from any­thing else, it al­lows the ‘still faintly pink’ to be­come not too pink at all.

Fur­ther­more, as I pre­fer to use the cooked meat cool for the fol­low­ing recipes any­way, this is a win-win all round. You will rarely have a chicken so ten­der and juicy, be­lieve me. This method also works very well with a small duck.

Cold-chicken salad with tar­ragon-cream dress­ing and pea shoots

Serves 4 as a light lun­cheon dish served with warm new pota­toes

For the dress­ing 2 eggs 2tb­spn caster sugar 4tb­spn tar­ragon vine­gar (or white-wine vine­gar, but up the quan­tity of tar­ragon leaves a lit­tle) 200ml dou­ble cream A scant ta­ble­spoon of freshly

chopped tar­ragon

‘I beg you to give this tech­nique a try as it will be a rev­e­la­tion’

The breasts from the chicken,

thinly sliced Fresh pea shoots (I sug­gest

2 bags, avail­able in Waitrose) A touch of olive oil, lemon juice

and sea­son­ing to dress

Method

Beat the eggs, caster sugar and vine­gar to­gether with a pinch of salt in the top of a dou­ble boiler (or in a stain­less-steel or china bowl sus­pended over barely sim­mer­ing wa­ter) un­til thick—the whisk should leave thick trails through the mix­ture (use an elec­tric hand whisk for the speed­i­est and best re­sults).

Re­move from the heat and con­tinue beat­ing un­til luke­warm, then leave un­til cold. Loosely whip the cream and fold into the sauce, to­gether with the chopped tar­ragon.

Ei­ther ar­range the sliced breasts on one large and hand­some dish or di­vide be­tween four plates as in­di­vid­ual serv­ings. Ei­ther way, lav­ish the meat with the tar­ragon-cream dress­ing, dress the pea shoots and serve forth­with.

If serv­ing with new pota­toes, present them sep­a­rately in a bowl, turned through a mod­icum of best but­ter, to please all.

Crisp-and-hot chicken salad with sesame Serves 4

There is a dark sesame paste one can find in Asian gro­cers that is par­tic­u­larly good, here. Other­wise, use tahini paste.

In­gre­di­ents

The two legs of the chicken, jointed and bones re­moved For the dress­ing 2tspn sugar 1 clove gar­lic, peeled and crushed to a paste with a pinch of salt 1tb­spn fish sauce 1tb­spn light soy sauce 2tb­spn dark sesame paste

(or tahini) 2–3tb­spn hot tap wa­ter

For the salad

1 cu­cum­ber, peeled, de-seeded

and cut into strips 1 large bunch spring onions, trimmed, washed and shred­ded 1tb­spn toasted sesame seeds A lit­tle sesame oil and chilli oil,

to fin­ish

Method

Take the boned joints of chicken and lay them, skin side down, in a lightly oiled, solid-based fry­ing pan. Very qui­etly fry them for about 15 min­utes or un­til the skin has be­come beau­ti­fully crisp—al­most as sand­pa­per. Turn them over and al­low their un­der­sides to cook through and brown just a lit­tle. Put to one side, but keep warm.

Place all the dress­ing in­gre­di­ents in a small food pro­ces­sor and purée un­til very smooth; the con­sis­tency of the dress­ing should re­sem­ble salad cream.

Toss to­gether the cu­cum­ber and spring onion, ar­range onto four pretty plates and top with slices of the crisp chicken. Lightly coat with the dress­ing, sprinkle with the sesame seeds and trickle over just a lit­tle of both sesame and chilli oils to fin­ish.

Fol­low @Si­mon­hop­kin­son on Twit­ter

A creamy tar­ragon dress­ing is the per­fect ac­com­pa­ni­ment to this chicken and pea-shoot salad

Some like it hot: suc­cu­lent leg meat with a crisp skin sings with Asian flavours such as sesame, chilli and soy

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