Spring chicken

The Guardian - Feast - - Front Page - Rachel Roddy

Chicken and spring greens The best cook­books are like the best of friends: you might not see them for weeks, months, years even, but, when you do get to­gether, it is a com­bi­na­tion of fa­mil­iar­ity and joy as you pick up just where you left off.

It had been only a few months, but I had one such re­u­nion with Alas­tair Lit­tle’s Keep It Sim­ple re­cently, a book so good that I want to in­gest it in much the same way as all the recipes in­side. Not that it was al­ways this way. When first given a used first edi­tion with a makeshift Chi­nese print wrap­ping pa­per cover, I was ob­vi­ously pleased and ex­cited about cook­ing what were cer­tain to be good recipes. But it didn’t seem a book to be read and rel­ished, more the prac­ti­cal sort that would be­come a use­ful ac­quain­tance. Then I did read, stand­ing at the counter but soon find­ing a chair and a pen­cil, un­der­lin­ing bits so as to re­mem­ber them bet­ter, my pen­cil do­ing a sort of yes, yes, YES. It is a prac­ti­cal book – good ones gen­er­ally are – and also full of wit and wis­dom from a chef who is self-taught and so pos­sesses the spirit and mind of a home cook: a real kitchen com­pan­ion.

Like all the best cook­books, it is not just the recipes that be­come reg­u­lars – Orvi­eto chicken, risotto with as­para­gus, cod with tzatziki – it is the meth­ods and bits of ad­vice that etch them­selves on to cook­ing con­scious­ness: that may­on­naise is best made with a whisk; that onion to have with liver should be a com­pote, not caramelised; that

mise en place is key.

It is the ad­vice from Keep It Sim­ple that plays like an ad­vert jin­gle when I pan-fry chicken: get it out of the fridge well in ad­vance, sea­son with abun­dant salt and pep­per, rub­bing well into the skin, ar­range the pieces skin down in a large saute pan with a lit­tle olive oil, then fry with­out touch­ing for 25 min­utes un­til the skin is crisp and golden, be­fore turn­ing and cook­ing for an­other 10 min­utes.

Best books are also like best friends in that they know they won’t be usurped. Alas­tair’s chicken tips meet­ing a Jes­sica Seaton recipe was an es­sen­tial col­lab­o­ra­tion; Jes­sica’s recipe needs an oven and we don’t have one at the mo­ment. Hav­ing pan-fried the chicken pieces – a small (1.6kg) joined chicken or four thighs/legs – you re­move them from the pan, pour away most of the chicken fat, re­place it with a big knob of but­ter and chopped shal­lot, and let that bub­ble and foam be­fore adding half a litre or so of light chicken stock. Once the stock is sim­mer­ing, you use it to poach spring/sum­mer veg­eta­bles chopped into man­age­able pieces and added in a (roughly) es­ti­mated or­der of cook­ing time – a big hand­ful of sprout­ing broc­coli first, then green beans, broad beans, then lastly peas and leaves that only need mo­ments. Once the veg­eta­bles are cooked – ten­der but still vi­brant (it is nice to have the vivid green) – re­turn the chicken pieces to the pan and sim­mer a few min­utes more.

The chicken should be ten­der and with deep-golden skin, which con­trasts with the brothy spring veg­eta­bles and beau­ti­fully flavoured broth it­self. Serve with boiled pota­toes, or sim­ply with bread

– con pane, the root of the word “com­pan­ion­ship”.

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