Many years ago my sister-in-law gave me The Silver Palate Cookbook for my birthday. It was written by two American women who had opened a shop in New York selling various foodstuffs and gourmet take-away dishes which they prepared themselves. The shop was a huge success as was this book of its recipes, which gave the owner the sense they were cooking restaurant food in their own homes, but without too much hassle. It felt cool to own this book.
When my children were young I used the book mainly for its baking recipes. There was a period when almost weekly I made the chocolate chip cookies as an after school treat for my sons and their friends. I still make the glazed lemon cake, at his request, for my eldest son’s birthday (he’s 31!)
I don’t think I’m unusual in that I sometimes forget about the cookbooks I own. It doesn’t mean I no longer like them and nor do I ever get rid of books (I’m looking at you, Marie Kondo). I love returning to old favourites and it only takes a newspaper food column or blog post to jog my memory and renew my fondness for a book or recipe.
Which is exactly what happened a couple of weeks ago when Debora Robertson wrote a post on her website entitled “You should make Chicken Marbella, you know” and I was prompted to get my Silver Palate book out again. The recipe in the book uses four small chickens (weighing 2 1/2 lbs each), quartered, giving 16 sixteen pieces. This was too much for my purposes (a small family supper) so I scaled down. I could have jointed a chicken but decided to use eight free-range chicken thighs (skin on, bone in) instead. This is what I did:
(This dish involves marinating so start it several hours ahead or even better: the night before)
8 chicken thighs, bone in, skin on
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 tsps dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
4-5 tbsps red wine vinegar
4-5 tbsps olive oil
10-12 pitted prunes
16 pitted green olives
2 tbsps capers with a bit of juice
3 bay leaves
2 tbsps brown sugar
100ml white wine
2 tbsps (approx) chopped flatleaf parsley
In a large bowl or dish combine the chicken thighs, garlic, oregano, seasoning, vinegar, oil, prunes, olives, capers and juice and bay leaves. Cover and leave to marinate in the fridge for a few hours or overnight
To bring it up to room temperature, take the chicken out of the fridge about an hour before you want to cook it
Arrange the chicken and other ingredients in the small Aga roasting tin (or any tin measuring approx 32 x 21 cms) spooning the marinade around and over the chicken
Sprinkle over the sugar and pour in the white wine
Bake in the roasting oven for about 45 minutes. Or, if you have time, start it off in there for 15-20 minutes and then move to the simmering oven to finishing cooking slowly, allowing the chicken to become supremely tender and sticky and the flavours to develop, until you’re ready to eat
Sprinkle with the chopped parsley to serve
We ate ours with wholegrain basmati rice and green beans. Broccoli or a green salad would also go well.
I could be wrong but I get the impression fewer people are doing a roast on Sundays these days. Some of my emptynester friends say they only bother when their offspring return home or if they have guests. Even after my youngest went off to university last year I continued to cook a Sunday roast, partly because it’s the one occasion each week when we haul my frail and elderly mother-in-law upstairs from her flat below to join us and partly because, well, it’s delicious. My children tell me they’ve always enjoyed the weekly ritual and this pleases me because it means it’s worth the (not necessarily huge) effort. When I was pottering about in my kitchen, one recent Sunday morning, it struck me that one doesn’t have to spend very long preparing the roast and that simple does not have to mean dull. And of course if you are too busy during the day pursuing the leisure activity of your choice, you and your family can have this meal in the evening rather than try to fit it in at lunchtime.
So this post is about proving that it needn’t be hugely time-consuming or arduous and outlining how I made roast chicken and apple crumble in two hours flat. It is also to show you that not all Aga cooking is long and slow, which is not to say that slow roasting isn’t an excellent way of making the most of an Aga: you can put your joint of meat in the simmering oven before bed on Saturday night or bright and early on Sunday morning and have meltingly tender meat for lunch or supper on Sunday. I did this recently with a pork belly and it was one of the best roasts we’ve ever had.
On this particular Sunday I took the bird out of the fridge about an hour before I wanted to cook it, to let it come up to room temperature, and then, having popped out to buy the Sunday papers, I started on the lunch preparation. I roasted the potatoes around the chicken. They absorbed the buttery garlicky juices and the flavour and texture were superb. I love them done this way (and it saves time and washing-up) but they were not crisp. If you want crisp, you’ll have to par-boil them for 5 minutes and then roast them in very hot duck or goose fat in a tin on the floor of the roasting oven for about thirty minutes.
1 whole free-range chicken weighing about 1.5kg
Several (quantity up to you but a minimum of 8) garlic cloves, unpeeled
Potatoes: one or two per person, peeled and chopped into large chunks. I used these red potatoes on this occasion but any variety will do. In the summer I use new potatoes: just halve the larger ones and there’s no need to peel them
Place your chicken in a roasting tin with enough room around it for the potatoes
Spread butter generously all over the bird and sprinkle with the herb sea salt or if you don’t have any, just salt and pepper
Place one garlic clove and one bay leaf in the cavity
Slide the tin onto the second rung of the roasting oven and leave it there for 20 minutes before removing it, basting it with the buttery juices and placing the potatoes and remaining garlic cloves and bay leaves around it, turning them to coat them in the butter too
Return the tin to the roasting oven, this time on the fourth rung, for about an hour. Half way through, turn the potatoes and give the chicken another baste
The chicken is done when a thigh is pierced with a sharp knife and the juices run clear
Remove the bird to a large plate or board, keeping it near the Aga and maybe covering it with a clean tea-towel. Discard the garlic and bay leaves and place the potatoes in a serving dish in the simmering oven to keep warm while you make some gravy
All I do for this is deglaze the roasting tin with some white wine on the simmering plate and then pour all of this through a sieve into a small pan to bubble away for a few minutes, adding more wine or some stock and whatever else you fancy: for example, you could whisk in a little crème fraîche. Decant this into a small jug and keep it warm on the back of the Aga while you get everyone to the table and find someone to carve your bird
I will leave the choice of accompanying vegetables to you but the other day I served ours with steamed Savoy cabbage tossed with a little butter and lots of black pepper added
You can be making this while the chicken is roasting. This is the basic recipe; feel free to add cinnamon and/or some raisins to the apples; or reduce the amount of apple by 25 per cent and replace with blackberries when in season.
4-5 cooking apples
110g/4oz unsalted butter
110g/4oz plain flour
110g/4oz ground almonds
110g/4oz golden caster sugar plus an extra heaped tablespoon
A heaped dessert spoon of demerara
First make the crumble by placing the butter, flour, almonds and sugar in a large bowl and using your fingertips to rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. You can of course do this in a food processor
Peel and slice the apples, putting the slices straight into the dish you want to bake the crumble in. Add some lemon juice to stop the apples from turning brown
Sprinkle the crumble mixture on top, smooth it over and then press it down with the back of a spoon
To finish, run a fork lightly over the surface and sprinkle over the demerara
Bake in the baking oven, with the rack on the fourth rung, for about half an hour until golden brown on top and the apples feel soft when a knife is inserted into them
Following on from my boeuf bourgignon post, here’s another classic recipe. Coq au Vin is in fact just boeuf bourgignon but with chicken. Discuss. Seriously, sometimes I wonder why we keep looking for new ideas when the classic, tried and tested recipes are so good; I mean, there’s a reason they’ve been around for so long. It has not escaped my notice, by the way, that the two I mention here are French.
If you Google “Coq au Vin” you will find many different ways of making it but the ingredients don’t vary much. I based mine on Delia’s recipe. Good old Delia: she provides clear instructions and retains all the essential elements without sacrificing flavour. And because we are Aga cooks, we can be relaxed about the cooking time and leave our dish bubbling gently in the simmering oven for longer than the 40 minutes – 1 hour most recipes recommend. Chatting about this in my “I love my Aga” Facebook group, there was discussion about how to thicken the sauce. You could dust the chicken pieces with flour first, but I rather like the method I give here which is to whisk in a butter and flour paste at the end.
I don’t know if anyone uses the cock bird to make this dish anymore. In fact, I don’t know if it would be possible to get hold of one. A chicken, jointed into 8 pieces has become traditional here and I confess that when I made this recently, I just used good quality chicken thighs I bought from Waitrose.
Coq au Vin
A 2kg chicken jointed into 8 pieces or 8 good quality, large chicken thighs, bone in and skin on
Salt and pepper
Butter and olive oil
225g unsmoked streaky bacon, chopped
Button onions or shallots, 2-3 per person, peeled and left whole
2 cloves garlic, crushed
A couple of sprigs of fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
Approx. 500ml red wine
225g mushrooms, sliced thickly
A butter and flour paste (beurre manié) made by mashing 1tbsp soft butter with 1tbsp plain flour
A handful of chopped, fresh parsley
Season the chicken pieces
Melt the butter with the oil in a frying pan on the simmering plate and add the chicken pieces, skin side down. Transfer to the floor of the roasting oven for 5-10 minutes to brown
Take it out, turn the chicken pieces over and return to the roasting oven floor for a further 5 minutes or so
Remove the chicken and put it in a casserole that has a lid
Add the onions and bacon to the frying pan making sure they’re coated in the fat and fry until coloured (on the roasting oven floor again)
Tip the onions and bacon into the casserole and add the garlic, thyme, bay and red wine, which should not cover the chicken completely
Bring this to simmering point on the boiling plate and then put the lid on the casserole and place it in the simmering oven for two to three hours, turning the chicken pieces over halfway through. If you want it to cook more quickly, I reckon you could put it in the baking oven or maybe even the roasting oven, but I did not try this so I can’t vouch for it
About 30 minutes before you want to eat, add the mushrooms
Remove the chicken, bacon, onions and mushrooms and keep them warm
Place the casserole on the simmering plate and when the wine is bubbling, whisk in the beurre manié and let it simmer until the sauce is thick and glossy. Taste for seasoning
Return everything to the sauce, sprinkle over the parsley and serve