Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Alright my lover (Somerset chicken casserole with steamed curly kale and warm potato salad)

There's more to cider than 14 year olds sitting in a park.

Cider, even the good stuff, is cheaper than wine, and it's nice to cook with. I've already extolled the virtues of pork and cider, but it also goes well with poultry, making this dish a nice alternative to coq au vin. Braising chicken in it also helps to keep the breasts moist. The curly kale has a really fresh, peppery flavour that cuts through the rich sauce, and the Jersey Royal potatoes are a nice light alternative to mash. My mate Adam Rulewski joined me for this one and he gave me the tip of adding the star anise, which enhances the meaty flavour. This recipe should serve four people.

Ingredients (casserole):
  • 1 whole chicken, 1.5kg, jointed - you can ask your butcher to do this for you but make sure the breast meat is still on the bone.
  • 2-3 red onions (depending on the size)
  • 2 rashers of bacon
  • 1 star anise (optional)
  • 2 440ml cans of Magner's Irish Cider (any decent cider will do, don't use Strongbow etc)
  • About 300ml chicken stock (preferably homemade)
  • 4 streaky bacon rashers
  • 4 thyme sprigs (I didn't use 4 but I would if I had them available :P)
  • 5 sage leaves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 5 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled but left whole
  • Splash of Worcestershire sauce
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Small bowlful of flour
  • 2 tbsps olive oil
And for the accompaniments:
  • 4 generous handfuls each of curly kale and Jersey Royal potatoes
  • Salt and pepper
  • A handful of chives
  • 4 knobs of butter
  1. Pre-heat a large casserole on a high heat and put the potatoes in a saucepan with some salted cold water.
  2. Season the flour well and coat the chicken pieces in it. When the pan has heated up, add some olive oil. You want it to have started smoking. Add the chicken pieces in batches as you don't want to stew them; they should sizzle vigorously on contact. If they don't, remove them immediately and let the pan get hotter before reintroducing them. Brown them for 2-3 minutes on all sides so that they go a nice golden brown colour, then remove them to a plate.
  3. Meanwhile, chop the bacon into lardons and slice the onions into half-moons. When the chicken has all been browned, lower the heat to medium (if you're using an electric hob it might be easier to take it off the heat for a bit to help the temperature reduce quickly), add the bacon lardons to the pan, then add the onions, garlic and herbs and salt and pepper.
  4. Fry it all in the pan for about 15 minutes until the onions have softened, then put the chicken back in and add the cider. Boil it until it's reduced by about one third, then add enough chicken stock to almost cover the chicken. Bring it to the boil again, then reduce it to a simmer, add the star anise, cover the pan and let it heat through for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Once this is going on you might want to think about starting the boiling process for your potatoes if you're using an electric hob. You want to boil them for about 15 minutes until they're tender. To steam the curly kale, put a metal colander on top of the potato saucepan, add the kale and then cover it with kitchen foil; you only want to steam the kale for about 5 minutes so that it retains its texture and flavour.
  6. When the potatoes are cooked, turn the heat off/down to very low (for electric/gas hobs respectively) and let the water evaporate for about a minute, jiggling the pan around a bit to stop them from sticking, then add some butter and crush them lightly with a fork - don't mash them. Season the potatoes with salt and pepper, add some finely chopped chives and mix it all up.
  7. When you dish up, serve generous portions, and scoop up the bacon and onions from the bottom of the casserole when adding the gravy. I recommend a nice cold glass of cider with the casserole.

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