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 crushed
- 1 green chilli, 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.