CHICKEN SE­CRETS

Matt Pre­ston has hatched new ways to make the most of ev­ery­one’s @mattscra­vat @Mattscra­vat

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - On Sunday - Head to de­li­cious.com.au for more chicken in­spi­ra­tion.

CHICKEN is to the kitchen what can­vas is to the painter. It’s just a mat­ter of you de­cid­ing what flavours you want to paint with. The warm spices of In­dia? The mellow rich­ness of France? Or the tech­ni­colour vi­brancy of Mex­ico? You see, this won­der­ful bird is as equally at home thrum­ming the tabla, singing a torch song or shak­ing the mara­cas.

Just re­mem­ber the three ba­sic rules of chicken. Don’t over­cook it. Don’t un­der­cook it. And buy the best chicken you can. (Shake­speare would ad­vise you to pick short-legged hens – he claimed they tasted bet­ter, but I’m not sure how rel­e­vant this is to­day.) Here are five new ways I’ve added to my pal­ette.

WINGS

At my place, wings of­ten end up in a sticky mari­nade or slow-cooked in my ridicu­lously ru­inous Coca- Cola bath that has more su­gar in it than Bund­aberg. Lately, I’ve been brown­ing them in the oven in a sparse dry rub of cin­na­mon, cumin and a lit­tle Sichuan pep­per, then stir-fry­ing them with loads of shi­itake, chest­nut and oys­ter mush­rooms, halved baby corn, peanuts and roasted dry red chill­ies. To fin­ish, I toss the mix with Chi­nese wine, a lit­tle su­gar, corn­flour and vine­gar (black if you’ve got it), gar­nish it with spring onions, toasted peanuts, and a spritz of sesame oil and serve it with steamed rice and a bowl for the bones.

BREAST

I was amazed that the sim­ple act of brin­ing a flat­tened chicken breast in a five per cent salt-wa­ter so­lu­tion was enough to make Gina Ot­t­away’s chicken schnitzel one of my favourite dishes on Masterchef this year. Leave the breasts in the brine for at least 20 min­utes to drive in the ex­tra mois­ture and sea­son­ing. Then pat them dry and crumb them as usual. Fry them in hot oil un­til just cooked through and rest them for a few min­utes. Play with your crumb­ing mix­ture and flavour­ings – though I have to ad­mit I usu­ally just go for parme­san, thyme and a lit­tle lemon zest.

THIGHS

Usu­ally I mar­i­nate and bar­be­cue thighs or toss them in a tray bake. More in­ter­est­ing, how­ever, is to use them in your favourite but­ter chicken recipe and then use that as the fill­ing for a flaky-pas­try pie. To make the but­ter chicken more au­then­tic, smoke the meat be­fore brown­ing it – in a cov­ered bar­bie with some damp hick­ory chips, say, or add a few drops of liq­uid smoke to the fin­ished curry. If you don’t have a favourite but­ter chicken recipe you’ll find one at de­li­cious.com.au.

MINCE

Chicken mince is a sta­ple at my place – in a nifty Bolog­nese, a meat­loaf, or for meat­balls to toss with sa­tay sauce. More ad­ven­tur­ous and just as easy is the po­et­i­cally named Sichuan dish ma yi shang shu, or ants climb­ing a tree, where nuggets of mince dot­ting cel­lo­phane noo­dles mimic ants scur­ry­ing on twigs. It’s usu­ally made with pork mince, but chicken mince works just as well. Once I’ve cooked the savoury mince I toss it with blistered green beans or snake beans rather than the usual noo­dles or ver­mi­celli. I blis­ter the blanched beans in a very hot wok, then toss in a so­lu­tion of palm su­gar and fish sauce. Mean­while, I fry 500 grams of chicken

MATT PRE­STON

mince with four crushed gar­lic cloves, a long finger of turmeric (grated), thumb of ginger (also grated), and four diced shal­lots. At the end I throw in coins of spring onion, diced red chilli, bean shoots, and dill. This all gets tossed over the beans, topped with fresh co­rian­der and dressed with a green nam prik, a Thai chilli and lime sauce.

WHOLE

There’s some­thing so mag­nif­i­cent about a whole roast chicken that I find it hard to treat it any other way. I sup­pose I might split or spatch­cock the bird and per­haps then roast it on a raft of cel­ery or in a bed of but­tery spiced rice, but more ex­cit­ing is to find some­thing su­per-tasty to pimp up the gravy.

I feel guilty about throw­ing away all that ren­dered chicken fat to get to the prized juices for the sauce. How much bet­ter, then, to turn it into a salty caramel to driz­zle over the golden bird. Yes, it’s a wee bit rad­i­cal but de­li­cious, es­pe­cially if you serve the chicken with maple-roasted corn, crushed pecans, mashed pota­toes and peas. Mak­ing the caramel is sim­ple: melt down su­gar un­til it’s just am­ber, then hit it (war­ily) with a driz­zle of the chicken fat and pan juices. Beat it well. You can flavour it with sliced seeded red chill­ies and fish sauce, or ground white pep­per and a lit­tle salt. It’s a lit­tle wack but fun.

If you’re brin­ing a whole bird for roast­ing, step up the so­lu­tion by adding more salt, an equal amount of su­gar and flavour­ings like pep­per­corns, crushed bay leaves, crushed co­rian­der seeds or herbs like thyme, tar­ragon or smashed gar­lic cloves. For this fancier brine you’ll need to gen­tly heat the wa­ter to in­fuse the flavours and dis­solve the su­gar. Be­cause it needs to be cooled, just heat half the re­quired quan­tity of wa­ter for the in­fu­sion, then add the rest as ice cubes to cool every­thing down.

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