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
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
‘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
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.
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,
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.
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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