This summer our second son is getting married. The excitement is building in the family – it’s the first wedding – and we are all busy in our different ways with preparations. Busiest of all are our daughter-in-law to be and her parents but now that his Part III architecture exams and coursework are out of the way, our son has also got stuck in. He’s been painting signs and designing and printing menus and orders of service. His super-efficient future wife has drawn up lists and rotas so that we all know what we’re doing in the build up to the day. The wedding will be in a church near her family home in Cornwall and the reception in a marquee in the garden. We have rented a cottage nearby so that we can be on hand to help and also have a holiday afterwards. Our son has chosen his brothers as the best men and all being well, they have sorted out a speech and who will deliver it (maybe it will be all three of them, I don’t yet know) and who will be responsible for the ring. Our youngest son is going to read a poem at the service and one of the bride’s sisters will be giving a reading.
My husband has chosen the wines (a tough job but someone’s got to do it, he says) with the help of willing tasters like me: a light and fruity Pinot Noir (Villa Maria Cellar Selection) from Majestic Wine Merchants; a Sauvignon Blanc (Cloudy Bay) from Avery’s, Bristol; and champagne from Waitrose. The caterers are booked, so we’re nearly set.
Every single one of us will be in the marquee on the day before the wedding, laying tables and decorating it with flowers. The logistics of getting everyone to Cornwall have been complicated but we seem to have cracked that now: youngest son will be arriving there on the eve of the wedding from a week’s walking and camping on the Isle of Arran and my sisters-in-law are going to ensure that my somewhat frail 92 year old mother-in-law gets there too.
We haven’t had a “whole family” holiday for three years so I’m looking forward to this one, even though it will not involve much lazing around. It’s a very happy occasion and a great excuse for us all to be together. I’m sure we will eat out (seafood please!) but I will also cook some meals in our rented kitchen. I want to keep these as simple as possible (nothing new there!). I will miss my Aga of course and hope I haven’t forgotten how to cook on a conventional cooker.
I’ve made this delicious chicken dish by Annie Bell a couple of times recently. It is one I can imagine making in Cornwall, provided the kitchen is equipped with big enough roasting tins.
Serves 6 (I made it first for 4 and then for 3, using two pieces of chicken per person and scaling down the other ingredients)
For the chicken
- 2 lemons
- 150ml extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 red onion, finely chopped
- 2 heaped tsps za’atar
- 2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
- 1.8-2kg free-range chicken thighs and drumsticks
- 50g pine nuts
For the aubergine yoghurt
- 2 aubergines
- 1 small or ½ garlic clove, crushed
- 150g natural Greek yoghurt
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus an extra couple of tbsp to serve
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley or coriander, plus extra to serve
- Slice one of the lemons, discarding the ends, and juice the other. Combine the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, onion, za’atar, cinnamon and sliced lemon in a large dish. Add the chicken pieces and coat thoroughly with the marinade. Cover and chill for several hours or overnight.
- For the aubergine yoghurt, preheat a conventional oven to 220ºC. Prick the aubergines all over with a skewer to stop them bursting, and roast for 45-60 minutes (in the Aga roasting oven) until wrinkled, blackened and soft, then leave to cool.
- Cut off the ends, peel off the skin, halve lengthways and coarsely chop
- Place the flesh in a sieve and press out the excess liquid using the back of a large spoon
- Briefly whizz to a coarse purée with the garlic and some salt in a food processor
- Transfer to a bowl and stir in the yoghurt, olive oil, lemon juice and parsley or coriander. Drizzle over the extra oil and scatter over some more herbs. Set aside
- If you’ve turned it off, switch your oven back on to 220ºC
- Season the chicken pieces and arrange, skin side up in a single layer in two roasting tins (the large Aga ones)
- Option: if you have space you could add halved new potatoes to the tins. I did this
- Drizzle the marinade over everything and tuck the lemon slices in between
- Roast (in the Aga roasting oven) for about 45 minutes, swapping the tins round halfway through and sprinkling over the pine nuts after 15 minutes (I forgot to do this the second time I made this dish; it was still delicious but I recommend you try to remember them)
- Serve with the yoghurt sauce and a green salad
The chicken in its marinade
Yoghurt and aubergine sauce
A simple green salad in vinaigrette
The title for this recipe is very long, isn’t it? It’s another Diana Henry one but I’m making no apologies. I wanted to try freekeh (a cereal food made from unripened wheat which has been roasted and crushed into small pieces) because I’d never used it before so I pored over my various cookbooks and this was the recipe which appealed the most on the day. It’s perfect for the summer weather we’re having now. Instead of cooking the chicken in a griddle pan, you could barbecue it outside.
I’m enjoying the weather. We’ve barbecued twice this weekend, which has been lovely. My husband was supposed to be taking it easy after a small operation on Friday, but was up to standing at the grill while I got on with preparing vegetables and salads.
For the Chicken
- 4 skinless boneless chicken thighs or breasts
- 4 garlic cloves, grated or crushed
- salt and pepper
- juice of 1 lemon
- 6 tbsp olive oil
For the Salad
- 100g dried sour cherries
- 2 preserved lemons
- 200g freekeh
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tsp honey (or maple syrup)
- 3 tsp white balsamic vinegar
- juice of ½ lemon
- good pinch of ground cinnamon
- laves from 10 sprigs of mint, torn
- 10g chopped flat-leaf parsley
- If you are using breasts and they’re particularly thick, cut them in half horizontally. Marinate the chicken if you have time, even if it’s only for an hour or two. Mix the garlic, seasoning, lemon juice and olive oil in a dish and lay the chicken it it, turning it to coat. Cover with clingfilm and put in the fridge. Bring to room temperature before cooking
- Place your griddle pan on the floor of the Aga roasting oven to get it really hot
- Put the cherries in a small saucepan and add enough water to just cover. Bring to the boil on the boiling plate, then remove from the heat and leave to plump up for 30 minutes
- Remove the flesh from the preserved lemons and discard. Cut the rind into slivers
- Put the freekeh into a saucepan and cover with water, adding the regular olive oil and seasoning well. Bring to the boil on the boiling plate, then cover and transfer to the simmering oven for about half an hour, or until just tender. Drain
- In a serving bowl mix the virgin oil, honey or maple syrup, white balsamic, lemon juice, cinnamon and plenty of salt and pepper. Add the drained freekeh and stir
- Drain the cherries and fork them into the grains with the preserved lemon and most of the herbs
- Place the heated griddle pan on the boiling plate and put the chicken on it (leaving the marinade behind)
- Let it sizzle and splatter for two minutes, then turn it over. At this point you can place the griddle pan back on the floor of the roasting oven and leave the chicken to cook there for about 8 minutes until it’s cooked through. You can keep the griddle plan on the boiling plate and then move it to the simmering plate if you prefer but placing it in the oven minimises the amount of fat splattering everywhere
- Taste the freekeh. You might want to add more lemon juice. The mixture should be moist and well-seasoned
- Divide between four plates and serve the chicken on top or alongside, scattering the remaining herbs over. I served ours with some tzatziki
Our weekend in the garden:
Another of my Easter weekend dishes was this simple chicken traybake, which is also a Diana Henry recipe. It appeared in the Telegraph’s Stella magazine a few weeks ago. I tried it then and knew my family would like it. It’s perfectly suited to Aga cooking.
For 4-6 people, depending on hunger levels and the size of the chicken thighs
- 8 chicken thighs
- 700g sweet potatoes, washed and cut into wedges
- 2½ tbsp white miso
- 1 ½ tbsp honey or maple syrup
- 2 tbsp rice wine
- 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 2.5cm chunk ginger root, peeled and grated or finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 red chilli, halved and finely chopped (use the seeds for extra heat)
- 12-18 spring onions
- 3 tsp black or toasted white sesame seeds (or a mixture of the two)
For the final basting
- 1 tbsp white miso
- 1 tbsp honey or maple syrup
- ½ tbsp dark soy sauce
- ½ tbsp rice wine
Pre-heat conventional oven to 190ºC/gas mark 5
- Place the thighs in a large roasting tin with the sweet potato wedges (they should be able to lie in a single layer)
- Mix together everything else except the spring onions and sesame seeds. Pour this over the chicken and sweet potatoes, turning everything over so the ingredients are well coated, finishing with the chicken skin-side up
- Roast for 45 minutes at the top of the roasting oven, basting every so often, and turning the wedges over
- Mix the final basting ingredients together and about 15 minutes before the end of cooking time, take the tin out of the oven and pour them over, adding the spring onions at the same time. They should become soft and slightly charred
- When cooked, sprinkle with the sesame seeds and serve
- I served ours with pak choi stir-fried in a little groundnut oil with black pepper and soy sauce
A friend came to supper the other day who said he had exactly the same Aga as mine. He confessed he didn’t think he and his wife made the best use of theirs and proceeded to ask me some questions. I was surprised to find they didn’t even know what the ovens were for: they only used the roasting and baking ovens (although they didn’t know this is what they’re called) and the simmering oven for warming plates. They didn’t use the warming oven at all! I told him they needed to buy an Aga book and that I’d read my Mary Berry one, which came free with my Aga, from cover to cover. He said they had the book but hadn’t bothered to read it. In their defence, they “inherited” their Aga when moving into their house whereas I made a deliberate choice to become an Aga owner and cook and saw it as a kind of project. It made me realise there are people out there who didn’t choose to have an Aga but have got one by default and that they might find blogs like mine useful.
I was sorry therefore that the supper I cooked for our friend and his parents, old friends of my husband’s family, was not one of my best. I wanted to use up the pheasant breasts I still had in my freezer and found this recipe. It looked and smelled delicious and tasted good, but the meat was a little rubbery and dry. I find this happens with chicken breasts too and I don’t know what the answer is. What is more, I chose the recipe because it was a slow braise, which in my opinion ought to have ensured tender, succulent meat. On reflection, I think breasts, whether of the pheasant or chicken variety, should not be cooked for very long, so my suggestion for adapting this recipe for the Aga would be only to cook it (in the simmering oven of course) for the initial 45 minutes.
Legs and thighs, on the other hand, lend themselves to slower cooking. The dish in the photo above is braised chicken pappardelle. I got the recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Guardian column, and you will see he provides two further slow-cooked chicken recipes. I pounced on the article when I saw it, as I always do when I see the words “slow-cooked”; I immediately think “Aga simmering oven”. I have now made all three recipes and they’re all superb, but today I’m going to tell you how I made the one above in the Aga.
Braised Chicken Pappardelle
- 4 chicken legs (thighs and drumsticks)
- 2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra to finish
- Salt and black pepper
- 3 carrots, cut into 1.5cm chunks
- 1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- 2 bay leaves
- 5g thyme sprigs
- 500g vegetable stock
- 50g anchovies in oil, drained and finely chopped
- 400g pappardelle (I used a good quality dried one)
- 40g rocket leaves
- Put the chicken in a bowl and toss with the oil, a quarter teaspoon of salt and a generous grind of black pepper
- Put a large, heavy-based casserole for which you have a lid on the simmering plate. Sear the legs for ten minutes, turning them once, until the skin is dark golden brown, then remove from the pan.
- Add the carrots, onion, bay leaves and thyme to the pan and cook until softened. You could do this in the simmering oven of course. Stir in the garlic and cook for a further minute
- Return the chicken to the pan and add the stock, anchovies and a good grind of black pepper. Cover and cook in the simmering oven for at least an hour but two would be better
- Lift out the chicken from the pot and bring everything to the boil on either the simmering or boiling plate and cook until the liquid is reduced to about 300ml
- Meanwhile pull all the meat off the chicken bones in chunks or, as I prefer, shreds, and discard the bones and the thyme
- Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions until al dente and drain
- Add the chicken and pasta to the reduced sauce and vegetables and mix well
- Divide between four plates or pasta bowls, layering with rocket leaves as you go
- Drizzle with olive oil and serve
Pomegranates have been featuring regularly in our meals at home recently and this week I read this about their possible anti-ageing properties, which was interesting and encouraging. And the great Ottolenghi gives us these useful tips about them. I love his books, Plenty and Plenty More, which my sons gave me for Christmas the year before last, but it is true that the recipes are often quite complicated with long lists of ingredients. This is fine if you have time and the inclination but there are days when you have neither but still want to eat well. This is where two other favourite Middle Eastern recipe books of mine come in: Persiana and my newest book, Honey & Co. I have cooked quite a few things from the latter in the last few weeks and every single one has been a gem and just right for summer (such as it is) eating.
I commend one to you in particular which is so good I made it twice in a week. It’s:
Pomegranate Molasses Chicken with Bulgar Wheat Salad
- 8 skinless, boneless chicken thigh fillets
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
- 1 green chilli, deseeded and sliced
- 3 tbsp pomegranate molasses
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
For the salad
- 200g bulgar wheat
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 200ml boiling water
- 50g shelled pistachios, roasted and coarsely chopped (half reserved to sprinkle on top)
- 75g currants
- 1 tbsp pomegranate molasses
- 50g fresh pomegranate seeds (1 tbsp reserved to sprinkle over the top)
- 1 small bunch mint, roughly chopped
- 1 small bunch flatleaf parsley, roughly chopped
- Mix the marinade ingredients together and use to coat the chicken all over. Cover and keep in the fridge for a minimum of 2 hours to marinate. You can do this overnight.
- Preheat conventional oven to 200ºc/180ºc fan
- Place the bulgar wheat in a large serving bowl/dish with the salt and oil, pour over the boiling water and cover with cling film for 5 minutes
- Uncover and fluff up the bulgar using a fork
- Add all the remaining ingredients except those you have reserved to use as garnish, and stir well
- Place the chicken thighs on a large roasting tray lined with bake-o-glide and season with salt and pepper (non Aga users: fry on the hob for a few minutes each side and finish off in the oven)
- Roast near the top of the roasting oven for about 30 minutes, turning them over halfway through
- Serve the chicken on top of the salad and sprinkle with the reserved pistachios and pomegranate seeds
This morning I tweeted a line I’d read in the Sunday Times about the Sunday roast being on its way out but that this wasn’t the case in my house. Wonderfully, the replies I received confirmed that my family is not the exception. It doesn’t have to be eaten at lunchtime (everyone’s Sundays are busy) but I believe it’s a ritual and tradition worth preserving.
When I was a student and sharing a flat with three friends, where cooking was concerned we had the typical student repertoire of the era, comprising 1001 things to do with mince. But believe it or not, one of our staples was also chicken fricassée. I’m afraid I can’t remember the recipe in detail but it wasn’t like the dish I made for Sunday lunch today. Our student recipe involved sautéeing pieces of chicken and mushrooms and then adding a little flour, stock and milk (and possibly some cream) to make a white sauce. We used to serve it with rice.
The origin of the term “fricassée” is French, possibly from “frire” (to fry) and “casser” (to break in pieces), which might explain why all the fricassée recipes I found in a quick Google search this afternoon used chicken pieces rather than a whole bird. The one I made for lunch today, based on this recipe by Michel Roux which I read in the Times during the week, is the only one I’ve seen which involves roasting a whole chicken. (Apologies if you’re not a Times subscriber and the article is behind the paywall.)
Anyway, we really enjoyed it; the tarragon sauce is delicious. Sometimes it’s good to return to a simple classic. We don’t need always to be finding the next fashionable thing to cook.
I made changes to the Roux recipe; very brave of me, I thought, considering his chef’s credentials and renown, but I honestly didn’t think we needed quite that much cream and also, when you have a roasting oven as hot as the Aga’s, why would you need to brown the chicken before putting it in the oven?
- 1 whole chicken (mine weighed 2kg)
- 3 shallots
- Tarragon vinegar (I didn’t have any so used good quality white wine vinegar)
- About 100ml white wine
- About 100ml chicken stock
- About 150ml double cream
- Handful of tarragon leaves (adjust amount according to your preference)
- Place the chicken in a roasting tin, spread butter all over it and season.
- Roast in the roasting oven for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, basting a couple of times during cooking. I placed mine on the rack on the third set of rungs for the first 20 minutes, then moved the rack to the bottom of the oven with the tin on the fourth set of rungs. The cooking time will obviously depend on the weight of your chicken.
- Remove the chicken, place on a dish and leave to rest (perhaps on the warming plate of your Aga)
- Pour off most of the fat, add a knob of butter and sweat the shallots gently for about 5 minutes. Add 1tbsp vinegar and the white wine and let it bubble up for a few minutes. At this stage I poured everything into a small saucepan: easier than continuing in the roasting tin.
- Add the chicken stock and boil until reduced a little. Add the cream and repeat. Check for seasoning. Add the tarragon leaves at the last minute. Pour into a jug for serving. We ate our fricassée with new potatoes, broccoli and carrots.