Magazines, papers and blogs are currently drowning in Christmas recipes, but as it’s too late for me to tell you how to cook a succulent turkey or to perfectly flambé your pud, I thought I’d riffle through my cookbook collection and bring you a festive-free treat from one of my favourite writers. Back before he was in every newspaper and magazine each week, before he had written a stirring award-winning memoir, and long before said memoir was turned into a BBC drama, Nigel Slater wrote cookbooks, very good cookbooks. He was the first food writer I read that advocated a passionate and greedy approach to cooking rather than a formulaic and restrained attitude. Of course in the ‘Noughties’, every Nigel- (and Nigella-) wannabe on TV licks the spoon and says ‘if you want’ after every ingredient, but in the Nineties this approach was much rarer.
Although I love Nigel’s more recent offerings – The Kitchen Diaries, Tender I & II etc, his 1998 publication – Real Food – is by far my favourite of all his books. Its eight chapters each revolve around one of his most loved foodstuffs – sausages, chicken, garlic, bread, chocolate, ice-cream, potatoes and cheese. Every recipe leaps off the page and begs you to cook it: garlic-butter soaked giant mushrooms; roast duck with marsala and potato stuffing; and orecchiette with spicy sausage, basil and mustard are just a few of the most tempting. Nothing is tricksy or even particularly time-consuming, they’re all tasty, hearty recipes to satisfy hunger and greed. As it happens, Nigel’s favourite foods coincide with my own, so it was really hard to pick a standout ‘top recipe’, but I’ve chosen this Indian-spiced chicken baguette because it’s a recipe which I return to time and time again, and because it is something I have never seen duplicated by any other writer or chef. Taking a packet of chicken wings (cheap as chips, even if they’re organic, and some butchers give them for free if you ask nicely), and slowly frying them before pulling off the meat to fry again in a freshly-made spice paste before stuffing into a warm baguette may sound like a faff, but it really isn’t, and the results are so so worth it. I like a touch more pungency than Nigel, so the recipe below has been tweaked to my taste, but his whole food ethos is that recipes should inspire, rather than be followed slavishly, so I’m sure he won’t object…
(Incidentally, I know I said this was a Christmas-free zone, but this recipe would also work wonderfully with leftover turkey instead of chicken wings – particularly dark meat – just make sure you keep the pieces quite big so they don’t dry out too much)
Nigel Slater’s Indian-spiced chicken baguette
Serves 1 greedily
Take 8 large chicken wings and fry in a little vegetable oil until golden all over (or as evenly coloured as you can get something as awkwardly shaped as a chicken wing). Reduce the heat, season generously and cover the pan with foil or a lid and leave to cook gently for 25 minutes or until thoroughly cooked and delicious-smelling. Leave in the pan to cool enough so you can handle them without burning your fingers, and in the meantime make the spice paste. In a large pestle and mortar (or a mini food processor) bash together 1 heaped teaspoon chopped red chilli, 6 finely sliced thin spring onions, 4 cloves garlic, a 1/2 teaspoon turmeric, a pinch of salt, and enough oil to bring it together in a rough paste.
Remove all the meat from the chicken bones and gently heat the same frying pan again (it should have some lovely caramelized meat juices in it, which you don’t want to waste!) Add the spice paste to the pan and stir over the heat for a few mins, before adding the chicken and tossing thoroughly to coat. Cook for a few more minutes until the chicken is piping hot, squeeze over the juice of 1 lemon and 1 teaspoon of caster sugar. Pile the spicy, irresistible chicken into a freshly baked or toasted baguette, smeared with a mixture of mayonnaise and yoghurt (no butter!) Serve with plenty of napkins and more yoghurt to dollop on if the heat gets too fierce. MMmmmmmmm…