Orange-baked chicken thighs with perfumed rice and nutty broccoli

Not your everyday chicken and rice, once you tasted both cooked in freshly-squeezed orange juice you’ll wonder why you never tried it like that before (at least, that’s what my friends said when I did this dish for them!). When I was growing up mum regularly used to roast me chicken breasts with fresh orange, an idea she got from a recipe in a battered old Marguerite Patten book called ‘Five hundred recipes for chicken dishes’, and this is a great way to jazz up a very simple midweek supper.

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Orange-baked chicken thighs with perfumed rice and nutty broccoli
Serves 2

2 large chicken thighs, bone-in and skin-on
40g butter
3 large oranges
½ a chicken stock cube (a good one please – Kallo Organic for preference)
5 cardamom pods
125g basmati rice
1 small head of broccoli
20g flaked almonds

1. Preheat the oven to 220°C. Pat the chicken dry with kitchen towel and place skin-side up in a small roasting dish.

2. Squeeze the juice from 1 orange and pour over the chicken into the roasting tin. Season the chicken generously with salt and pepper (particularly with pepper) and dot with half the butter. Bake for 30-40mins or until golden brown and cooked through.

3. Meanwhile, juice the remaining oranges and make up to 250ml with water. Bruise the cardamom pods with the flat of a knife. Place the rice in a medium saucepan, add the diluted juice, crumbled stock cube and cardamom pods and cover with a tight fitting lid. Separate the broccoli into florets and set both rice and broccoli to one side.

4. 20 mins before the chicken is done bring the rice to a boil on a medium heat, stir once with a fork, then re-cover and simmer on a low heat for 10-12 minutes until cooked through.

5. Bring a saucepan of salted water to the boil and cook the broccoli for 3-5 mins until tender. Drain the broccoli and return the empty pan to the heat. Add the flaked almonds and cook on a medium heat, shaking regularly, for 1-2 mins until golden. Add the butter, allow to melt, then add the broccoli and mix together.

6. Serve the baked chicken with the cooked rice (don’t eat the cardamom pods), the broccoli, and the juices from the roasting dish spooned all over.

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Chicken Cordon Kiev

Chicken Cordon Kiev

Many years ago when I worked as a development chef for the supermarkets, every season some smart-alec sales guy would say “let’s redo the chicken Kiev. Let’s make the best, tastiest, most indulgent chicken Kiev anyone’s ever had – it’ll fly off the shelves!” and no matter how much we grumbled & begged, one of us chefs would be sent into the kitchen to come up with the ‘new Kiev’. Bechamel, bacon, butter, cream, the finest farmhouse Cheddar – we played with variations on them all, in the attempt to make this classic-turned-trash into something smart & fancy the average posher-than-Tesco-but-not-Selfridges-food-hall customer would be thrilled to pop into their overpriced basket. But every time, sure as eggs are eggs, we’d finally get a product the buyers were happy with & then they’d say “Now, about the nutritionals on this…” and that’s where the whole concept would crumble, as we’d always known it would.

Y’see – you can’t make a Chicken Kiev without butter. Or salt. In generous quantities. And a luxury one? Well then you’ll be wanting cream too, and good cheese (whose sodium quotient is almost as alarming as the fat content) and don’t even get me started on the nutritional values on bacon. And so we’d be sent back to make a Kiev that didn’t have a big fat red warning light on all its RDAs, and it’d be, well, okay, but really, it was nothing special anymore. And so the idea would get shelved for another 4 months until someone new joined the sales team….

Keep on reading, yumminess to follow…

Mexican fajitas with pico de gallo

Mexican fajitas with pico de galloOnce upon a time fajitas made their way onto my dinner table every week and always went down a storm whenever I served them to guests. My secret? A shameful addiction to a store-bought sauce called Knorr’s ‘Stir it up’ Mexican Fajita Paste. When the paste was discontinued I was devastated and almost gave up on fajitas altogether, as no recipe I found could match the depth & spicing of this magic jar of sauce. I had always sworn that one day I’d work out how to make it for myself, and was thrilled to discover someone had in fact done it, and blow me, but it tasted almost exactly like the fajitas of my past, and it was made from 100% storecupboard ingredients! I’ve tweaked the recipe a bit from the original to better suit my tastebuds, try it and I know you wont be disappointed.  The recipe below makes more than you need but it’s tricky to scale down and keeps for months in the fridge if you sterilise the jar first.

Mexican fajitas with pico de gallo
Mexican fajitas with pico de gallo
Serves 2

Traditionally in Mexico fajitas would be made with beef, but with the price of steak as it is I actually usually make these with chicken breasts (and could happily substitute even more economical turkey breasts), and keep the steak for special occasions.

2 small skinless & boneless chicken breasts or sirloin steaks
1 bell pepper (any colour)
1 small red onion
3-4 tbsp fajita spice paste*

Pico de gallo:
Handful of cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 large shallots, finely diced
1 jalapeno, deseeded and finely diced
Juice of ½ a lime
Handful of coriander leaves

Accompaniments:
Flour or corn tortillas
Sour cream
Guacamole
Grated cheese

Fajita spice paste:
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp coriander seeds
1½ tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp oregano
1-2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion granules
5 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp smoked paprika (hot or sweet)
1 x 390g carton chopped tomatoes
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp tomato puree


To make the spice paste: Using a spice grinder or pestle and mortar crush the coriander, cumin and mustard seeds along with the oregano to a fine powder. Put the oil into a medium saucepan and add all the spices, then place over a medium heat and cook for several minutes, stirring almost constantly until it smells aromatic and has turned a shade darker. Watch it like a hawk, as the spices can go from delicious to scorched very suddenly. As soon as the spice paste is as intense as it can be without getting burnt, tip in the tomatoes – watch out, it may spit a bit! Stir in the remaining paste ingredients, stir well then leave to simmer for 20-25 minutes until it has formed a thick smooth-ish sauce, use a splatter guard if you have one as it can splutter furiously. Decant into a sterilised 400ml jar and once cool store in the fridge until needed.

When you come to make your fajitas, get your accompaniments ready first, as once you start the fajitas are as quick to make as any other stir-fry. Assemble the pico de gallo by simply stirring everything together and seasoning to taste, and get your cheese grated and your tortillas warmed. When you are ready to start cooking, slice the chicken or steak and the pepper into slim strips, and finely slice the onion. In a large frying pan or wok gently heat the fajita spice paste with a teaspoon of vegetable oil, just until it starts to smell aromatic, then add the sliced meat and toss to coat. As soon as the meat starts to lose its raw appearance turn the heat up high and throw in the peppers and onion. Cook, stirring regularly, until the meat is cooked through and the vegetables have softened just slightly (you want them to retain their crunch). Serve immediately with the tortillas, pico de gallo and any other accompaniments that take your fancy.

Sweet Heat Chilli Challenge

Vietnamese banana flower salad (Nộm hoa chuối)

Vietnamese banana flower salad (Nộm hoa chuối)In my worklife my recipe writing revolves around straightforward meals anyone can make, using ingredients that are easily available to everyone, no matter where they live.  So it is such joy to come home and write about something that – hah! – if you want to make it you’re going to have to do some searching.  Banana flowers do not grow at your local co-op (unless you actually live in Vietnam or Thailand) and you can’t get them in Sainsbury’s, not now, not ever.  But I beseech you to seek them out anyway, and make this salad, as it is utterly sublime and so worth it, and if it means making a special trip to a town somewhere a bit far away that has a Vietnamese supermarket* then you can have a little adventure on the way.  Who said food always has to be about churning out dinner as quickly as possible from the contents of your cupboards? Let’s live a little!

Vietnamese banana flower
Banana flowers growing in situ in a Vietnamese garden

Tackling something as unfamiliar as a banana flower can be a little daunting if you don’t have an expert on hand to talk you through it, but there’s an excellent photographic guide here over on the blog ‘Cannundrums’ which explains it far better than I could!

Vietnamese banana flower salad (Nộm hoa chuối)
Serves 2 as a main course

1 banana flower
2 small chicken breasts
4 small sour green star fruit (again from the Vietnamese store) or 2 large yellow ones
1 tbsp caster sugar
Handful toasted peanuts, roughly chopped
1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
juice of 4 limes
2-3 red chillies, finely sliced
2-3 tbsp fish sauce
A few shakes of sesame oil
Couple of pinches ground white pepper
a small bunch each of Vietnamese mint and coriander

Place the chicken breasts in a small pan and cover with water (or chicken stock), bring to the boil then turn down the heat and simmer very gently for 10 minutes. Pop a lid on, turn off the heat and leave the chicken to cook in the residual heat for a further 10-15 minutes. Allow to cool before shredding roughly.

Remove any loose or soft outer leaves from the banana flower, then cut into half lengthways and shred into fine strips with a large sharp knife. About 1/3 – 1/2 of the flower closest to the root will be made up of fluffy coiled buds – discard this section and use only the tightly coiled petals. Leave to soak in a bowl of water with half the lime juice whilst you get on with the rest of the salad.

Slice the star fruit and cover with the sugar and a little water to soak for 5 minutes to take the edge off the sourness (you wont need to do this if you’re using ripe yellow fruits – in fact you might want to add a little extra lime juice to get a good level of acidity in the final dish).

Mix the cooled and shredded chicken together the remaining lime juice, fish sauce, white pepper, chopped chilli and a little sesame oil.  Drain the banana flower and star fruit and toss together with the chicken and dressing.  Taste and adjust the seasoning with fish sauce, lime or sesame.  Roughly shred the herbs and toss through the salad, then top with the chopped peanuts and sesame seeds. Serving on a spare banana flower petal is totally optional.

Vietnamese banana flower salad (Nộm hoa chuối)——————————————————————————————————-

*For me the best place to find these is Mare Street in North London which has several great South-East Asian stores or one of the Bangledeshi stores (of all places) in the Southern part of Brick Lane, but a quick Google search should sort you out if you’re further afield.

My ultimate hot ‘Buffalo’ wings and blue cheese dip

Ultimate hot Buffalo wings and blue cheese dipLook good don’t they?  Juicy, saucy, yet crispy….I love hot wings but so often find that you can either have them crispy, or saucy, not both; and unless you’re deep-frying them saucy usually means the skin is all soft and flabby which frankly, doesn’t appeal.  This recipe uses that top American trick with poultry – brining – to impart flavour into the meat and also, crucially, to keep the meat juicy when baked at the high temperatures needed to create a lovely crisp, dry skin which is normally impossible without deep-frying them.  To further encourage a crisp exterior I toss the wings in gram flour, which crisps beautifully when the wings are introduced to the hot fat in the baking dish, and also tastes much nicer than regular wheat flour.

‘Buffalo’ hot wings with creamy blue cheese dip
Serves 2 greedily

900g-1kg chicken wings
1/2 x 148ml bottle Frank’s red hot sauce
25g gram flour
1 tsp cayenne
15g butter

For the brine:
1 litre water
3 tbsp sea salt
3 tbsp chilli flakes

For the creamy blue cheese dip:
100g soft blue cheese (e.g. creamy gorgonzola)
100g sour cream
1 small garlic clove, crushed
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 rounded tbsp mayonnaise
pinch salt

First make the brine by dissolving the salt in the water (this is easiest if you dissolve the salt first in a splash of boiling water, then top up with cold water), then stir in the chilli flakes.  Immerse your chicken wings in the brine, ensuring they are completely covered – weigh them down with a small plate if necessary – and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.

Meanwhile, make your blue cheese dip: simply place all the ingredients in a mini food  processor or in a tall jug with a stick blender, and process until smooth.  Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas 6 and place a large roasting dish in the oven to heat at the same time – the dish must be large enough to take the wings in a single layer.

When the oven is hot and the wings are brined,  add a large spoonful of fat – schmaltz, lard or ghee are best, to maximise flavour, but vegetable oil will do – to the hot roasting dish, and return to the oven to get piping hot. Drain, rinse & pat dry your brined wings. In a large bowl toss them in 2 tbsp of the hot sauce then in the flour and cayenne. Carefully place the wings in the hot fat, skin-side down and bake for 50mins-1hour until tender and crisp, turning once (carefully – the skin is fragile!).

In a small saucepan or in a microwave very briefly heat the butter with the remaining  hot sauce until the butter is just melted, then pour over the crispy baked wings and toss well to coat.  Serve with the blue cheese dip and lots of napkins. Go Nicks!

This is my entry for round 5 of the Sweet Heat Chilli Challenge – Game food.

Sweet heat chilli challenge

Chicken, ham, leek and cheese pancake bake

Chicken, ham, leek and cheese pancake bakeI racked my brains trying to think of a way to photograph this in a manner which conveys its utter deliciousness, but somehow soft, slippery, filled pancakes with copious amounts of creamy gooey sauce just don’t photograph all that well (and tend to fall apart a bit when you take them out of the dish), so I hope you’ll take my word for it when I assure you that this tastes sooo much better than it looks!

This is a simple yet indulgent dish perfect for either lunch or supper, and despite the fact that it uses rather more pans than I normally want to utilise for a weeknight dinner, it is extremely quick to prepare.  To save on washing up I confess I often use shop-bought pancakes (not something I’d dream of using for a dessert, but somehow perfectly okay in a savoury bake); but if time is not against you, you could of course make your own – I suggest a half quantity of Delia Smith’s foolproof recipe.  A punchy, sharp cheddar and proper smoky ham are essential here to stop the dish being simply soft creamy goo.

Chicken, ham, leek and cheese pancake bake
Serves 4

8 pancakes (shop-bought or homemade)
8 thin slices smoked ham
a large knob of butter
5 thin leeks, trimmed, sliced & rinsed
1/2 tsp mace
125g cream cheese
1 heaped tsp Dijon mustard
125g mature cheddar cheese, grated
2 cooked chicken breasts, roughly chopped
250g creme fraiche
Handful of parmesan, grated

Preheat your oven to 200˚C/Gas 6. Melt the butter in a large frying pan, add the leeks and sweat gently until they are tender. Stir in the mace, cream cheese, mustard and two-thirds of the grated cheddar, plus salt and pepper to taste. Take off the heat, stir in the cooked diced chicken and set aside.

Mix the creme fraiche and remaining grated cheddar in a small saucepan, and heat gently, stirring regularly until the creme fraiche has thinned and the cheese is almost all melted, then season with salt & pepper

Take your pancakes and lay a slice of ham on each. Spread an eighth of the leek mixture in a line down the centre of the pancake, then roll the pancake in a cigar shape around the filling. Place each rolled pancake into an ovenproof dish in which they will fit quite snugly, then pour over the creme fraiche mixture. Grind over some black pepper and scatter with parmesan. Bake for 30 minutes until golden on top and bubbling underneath. Serve with crusty bread (the ‘crusty’ is important as this dish is all soft and tender – you need some crunch!) and a green salad to cut the richness.

Spicy and sticky orange BBQ wings

Spicy stick orange BBQ wings With the weather increasingly autumnal in temperament it seems the British summertime is on its last legs, but with the sun making one last determined attempt to shine this weekend I had to share this recipe for delicious BBQ wings which is everything I love most about summer eating: big flavours, messy, sociable eating just perfect for sharing with friends.  Chicken wings are a deliciously inexpensive way to feed a crowd –  I keep them in bags in the freezer from jointing whole quality birds for breast and legs so they’re essentially free, but most butchers will sell you free-range for a pittance, and even the divine organic ones sold online by Sheepdrove Organic Farm will only set you back about 40p a wing.

Such gloriously charred and sticky wings demand you use your hands, get smeared in sauce, gnaw bones and lick your fingers afterwards. As such this is not food for dates or strangers: share it with your loved ones in the sunshine with a drink and you’re guaranteed a good time – no one can be down or serious with food this gloriously messy.

The marinade is super-simple to make, and can be tweaked to taste and made a day in advance. You start the wings in the oven, freeing up barbecue space for other things, and this technique also ensures they’re cooked through (no one likes a pink wing!) They’re then finished off on the barbie, giving them a lovely smokey note to their charred edges – but if the sun fails to shine you could always flash them under the grill instead.

Read on for the recipe….

A right royal feast – Coronation Chicken 3 ways

Coronation Chicken 3 ways As an ardent Republican I must confess myself a little tired of all the Royal Wedding chitchat which is currently enveloping not just the country, but apparently the whole world. Nonetheless, as a newlywed myself I can’t be totally curmudgeonly about it all, and have come up with this twist on a British classic in honour of the special day.

Coronation Chicken was first invented as a dish to commemorate the ascendency of Queen Elizabeth II to the throne in 1953, and although bad versions have put off whole generations from eating it, I think this recipe can convert anyone. It’s super-simple and much healthier than the original – using yoghurt as the base of the sauce rather than the traditional mayonnaise – and because it uses baked chicken thighs it’s much moister and tastier than versions made with breast.

This dish is fantastic as a main course for two people, if you serve the chicken in the piece and accompany it with a rice salad (the classic accompaniment) and some green leaves. Alternatively, shred or dice the meat and use to top bruschetta or fill mini croustades* – no street party should be without it!

Coronation Chicken

4 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
2½-3 tbsp korma curry paste (I like Patak’s)
half a lemon
100g natural yoghurt
1 tbsp mayonnaise
2 tsp mango chutney
Tabasco, a few drops

To serve:
Croustade cases
OR
Small thick slices of quality toast (e.g. Sourdough)
OR
Rice salad and mixed leaves

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 8/230˚C.

Mix 1 heaped tablespoon of the korma paste with a generous squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Spread the mixture all over the chicken and place skin-side up in a snug-fitting roasting dish.  Sprinkle with a little extra salt and a generous grinding of black pepper, then bake for 25-30 minutes until the skin is lightly charred and the meat is cooked through.

Meanwhile, make the sauce by mixing together the yoghurt, mayonnaise, mango chutney and remaining korma paste. Add a squeeze of lemon, pinch of salt and shake of Tabasco (to taste).

To serve, either serve the chicken in the piece with some rice salad and fresh green leaves; or shred and pile on top of the toasts with a generous drizzle of sauce; or cut into chunks, toss with the sauce to coat and pile into croustade cases. Whichever you choose, serve extra sauce on the side and mango chutney for those who wish it.

*You can buy gorgeous little croustades like the ones I used from major supermarkets, ‘Rahms’ is the brand to look for!

Coronation Chicken

Real Food by Nigel Slater (and an Indian-spiced chicken baguette)

Nigel Slater's Real FoodMagazines, 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)

Indian-spiced chicken baguette

Read on for the recipe……