Struggling with what to do for tea tonight? Struggle no more! Chef Gil Keay shares 3 great Chicken dishes

 Gil Keay shares 3 great Chicken dishes, and even how to get the perfect rice to go with the curry!

Chicken

When I was young a chicken was considered a luxury, a special occasion meal. Now chickens are everywhere, but at what cost? They are seen in shop windows, side by side on a spike, slowly turning in front of a heater, there are chains of take away shops, every supermarket and freezer-centre is full of chicken, any part of a chicken can be bought separately. Credit must be given to the industry for making chicken so readily available. My concern is that, in our passion for progress we have overlooked quality, allowed chemicals into our food in the form of growth hormones (antibiotics), and sacrificed flavour.

We can choose the quality of chicken we eat by using a reliable poulterer, or butcher who knows his source of supply and can vouch for the quality.

We can select to buy fresh, air-chilled chicken (not water-cooled which produces very pale looking flesh), which has a healthy pinkish colour.

Buying frozen chicken is not wrong of course, but, a trusted butcher is far better than a supermarket. The difference in price is well worth it. I believe you really do need to pay for quality.

Chicken is sold in a variety of categories of size and weight and you need to select the right one for the recipe you are using:

Poussin – baby chickens weighing up to 2 lb. (1 Kg.) which do not have a great deal of flavour but, marinated overnight make a good addition to the barbeque menu.

Roasting chickens – Birds between 4 – 5 lb. (2 – 2.25 kg.) their extra age and development means more flavour and tenderness, and can withstand the cooking time for roasting. The flavour of this sized bird also makes it ideal for casseroles and stews.

Larger roasters – Up to about 8 lb. (3.6 kg.) these probably have the best flavour of all and are perfect for the special occasion family meal.

Boiling chicken – These tough old birds are not for roasting but can be ideal for the slow-cooking of a casserole or can be used for stock making.

If you buy fresh, get it home as quickly as possible, remove any wrapping, and take the giblets from inside. Put on a plate, loosely covered and store in the bottom of the fridge: it will be ok for about 3 days.

Why not try your quality Chicken in some of these recipes….

Coq au Vin (serves 6 to 8 people)

You will need:

4 -5 lb Chicken, cut into 8 pieces. (your butcher will do this for you if you don’t fancy it).

1 oz. butter

1 Tbs. oil

8 oz. unsmoked streaky bacon (not sliced, in one piece)

15 button onions (or small shallots)

8 oz. dark-gilled mushrooms

2 cloves garlic – crushed

2 sprigs fresh thyme

2 bay leaves

1¼ pt. red wine

Paste made from a tablespoon of softened butter and 1 tablespoon of plain flour

Freshly milled salt and pepper

To put together:

(Use a large flameproof pot, wide and shallow to take the joints in one layer, but deep enough to allow ingredients to be covered in liquid).

Melt the butter and oil in a frying pan, and fry the chicken pieces, skin side down, until they are golden brown, then turn over and colour the other side. Depending on the size of your pan, do this in batches. Remove and place in the cooking pot.

De-rind the bacon and cut into small dice, brown them in the frying pan and add to the chicken, brown off the whole onions and add them also. Put the crushed garlic and thyme sprigs amongst the chicken, season to taste and add the bay leaves.

Pour in the wine, cover with a lid and simmer gently for 45 minutes or so, until the chicken is tender. During the last 15 minutes of cooking add the mushrooms and stir them in.

Remove the chicken, bacon, onions and mushrooms and place on a warmed dish and keep warm, discard the bay leaves and thyme at this stage.

Bring the remaining liquid to the boil and reduce it by about a third, reduce the heat, Add the paste to the liquid and bring back to the boil whisking as you do until the sauce has thickened, then serve chicken with the sauce poured over, garnished with some chopped parsley.

It is acceptable to half-cook this the day before, turn over the pieces of chicken, allow to cool, and store in the fridge. Give it the other half cooking time before service.

(A variation could be to use dry cider instead of wine).

Chicken pie (serves 4 people)

You will need:

4½ lb. chicken

2 onions – peeled & halved

1 carrot – sliced

20 button mushrooms

3 cloves garlic – peeled

1 tsp. black peppercorns

1 tsp. salt

½ lemon

1 bunch spring onions – trimmed & finely chopped

3 oz. butter

3 oz. plain flour

100 ml. double cream

For the pastry:

3¼ oz. butter – chilled

3¼ oz. lard – chilled

½ tsp. salt

1 egg – beaten

To put together:

Put the chicken in a large saucepan with the onion, garlic, black peppercorns, salt carrot and half lemon. Cover with water, bring to the boil, then simmer for 45 minutes. Take off the heat and leave to cool enough to handle. Take the meat from the bone, discarding these and the skin. Roughly break the meat into small pieces, keeping the liquid in the pot for later.

In a roasting-pot large enough for all the ingredients (about 3 pints), mix the chicken with the spring onions and button mushrooms.

Boil the stock rapidly to reduce to about 1½ pints and strain into a jug and set aside.

In a pan, melt the butter over a low heat and stir in the flour, cook for a few seconds then slowly add the stock and simmer for 5 minutes then stir in the cream, season to taste then pour over the chicken to nearly fill the dish. You need a pie funnel now to push in the centre of the filling to let out steam and support the pastry crust during oven time.

Leave this to go cold.

Preheat oven to 180°C.

In a large mixing bowl, rub together the butter and lard, sift in the flour and salt, then slowly stir in 3 or 4 Tbs. cold water to make a soft dough. Knead a little, then roll out enough to cover the dish. Press down the sides all around the dish to seal and decorate the top with some shapes from the leftover pastry mix. Glaze with milk and bake for about 45 minutes until golden brown and bubbling hot.

Creamy chicken curry (serves 4 people)

You will need:

1 lb. cooked chicken – about 1 inch pieces

2 Tbs. oil

1 onion – large

2 celery stalks – roughly chopped

1 green pepper – de-seeded and chopped

1 small red pepper – for garnish

1 heaped Tbs. plain flour

1 or 2 tsp. curry powder (I like Madras, but find your favourite, and find your “hotness” level)

1 level tsp. ground ginger

1 level tsp. turmeric

1 clove garlic – crushed

1 pt. chicken stock

2 Tsp. double cream

Milled salt and pepper to taste.

To put together:

In a large flameproof casserole heat up the oil and soften the onion for about 5 minutes, add chopped celery and green pepper and stir around for another 5 minutes. Add the chicken and toss around for a couple of minutes with the other ingredients.

Now, stir in the flour, curry powder, spices and crushed garlic, stirring all the time. Gradually add the stock, a little at a time. (I like to put sliced mushrooms in at this stage, but only because I like mushrooms). Season to taste, cover with a lid and simmer for about 20 – 25 minutes until all the vegetables are tender.

Remove from the heat, stir in the cream and serve with pilau rice and a pot of mango chutney, garnish with sliced red peppers and coriander leaves and sliced lemon.

Pilau Rice

You will need:

Basmati rice filled to the 10fl. oz. line of a glass measuring jug.

20 fl. oz. boiling water

1 Tbs. oil

1 small onion

1 inch cinnamon stick

¾ tsp. cumin seeds – crushed

2 cardamom pods – crushed

1 bay leaf

Salt

To put together:

Soften the onion in a thick based saucepan for a few minutes, then stir in the spices, bay leaf and salt and toss around gently to allow the fragrances to come out. Stir in the rice and ensure it is well coated with the oil and spices, pour on the boiling water, stir once, cover with tight fitting lid, and simmer for about 15 minutes or until rice is tender.

Strain and put into a serving dish, cover with a tea-towel for 5 minutes then fluff up with a fork and remove cinnamon and cardamom pods before serving.