When we had our Aga installed in our new kitchen twelve years ago, we considered making space for a conventional hob and oven so that we could turn the Aga off during the summer months as many Aga owners do. We decided against it though, partly because the kitchen lay-out didn’t really allow for it and partly because I felt that if I was going to be an Aga cook it should be the whole year round. I have not regretted this decision. Until this summer that is. I have found myself occasionally cursing the Aga while melting into a puddle on the kitchen floor. It has just been so hot that the last thing I want to do is stand near the Aga, let alone open its doors and place things in it! If it weren’t for the ability to open wide the large sash windows of our Victorian house, I might have left home by now!
That was a rather long-winded way of explaining that the reason I haven’t posted any Aga recipes lately is because I haven’t been cooking many. Mind you, I don’t think it’s only Aga owners like me who’ve not felt much like cooking during this heatwave. I get the impression we’ve all been making salads and barbecuing. But at some point last week it cooled down a little and even rained. Last Sunday dawned wet and windy: normal summer had returned and I was perfectly happy pottering about in the kitchen “around the Aga” making lunch. I opted to make an old favourite from Delia Smith’s Summer Collection book which was hugely popular when it came out in 1993. All my friends seemed to be cooking from it, whether it was Piedmont Roasted Peppers, Thai Salmon Filo Parcels or Pesto Rice Salad. Some of the ingredients in the recipes (fresh coriander, lemongrass, pesto, chillies, couscous) were new to us or at least not part of our daily repertoire and not always easy to get hold of. The Chicken with Sherry Vinegar and Tarragon recipe is Delia’s Spanish take on the classic French Poulet au Vinaigre, and I’ve adapted it slightly for the Aga.
Chicken with Sherry Vinegar and Tarragon
- 8 chicken thighs or a whole chicken jointed into 8 pieces
- 150ml sherry vinegar
- 425ml medium-dry Amontillado sherry*
- 12 shallots, peeled and left whole
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
- 2 tbsps olive oil
- 2 tbsp fresh tarragon leaves
- 1 heaped tbsp crème fraîche
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- A few more sprigs of tarragon to garnish
- Season the chicken pieces and brush with a little of the oil
- Heat a large frying pan or sauté pan on the simmering plate and add the chicken, skin side down, to brown it. You can do this by leaving the pan on the simmering plate, but to stop your Aga losing heat (remember the 80/20 rule which says you should do 80% of your cooking in the ovens and no more than 20% on the hot plates), you can place the pan on the floor of the roasting oven to do this. Once golden brown, turn the chicken pieces over to do the same on the other side
- Remove the chicken to a plate, return the pan to the simmering plate and add the remaining oil followed by the shallots to brown them a little
- Add the garlic cloves to colour them slightly
- Return the chicken pieces to the pan, scatter the tarragon leaves over, then pour in the vinegar and sherry
- Bring it up to simmering point and transfer it to the simmering oven to braise slowly. You know the drill: it will not come to any harm in there. Probably needs about an hour so here so if you want it to cook more quickly I suggest you put it in a hotter oven (baking oven if you have one) for 30 minutes or so. Halfway through the cooking time turn the chicken pieces over
- When you’re nearly ready to eat remove the chicken pieces, shallots and garlic from the pan while you whisk in the crème fraîche. The sauce should be thick by now but you might want to bring it to the boil on the simmering plate to reduce it a little further
- Check the seasoning and then either return the chicken and shallots to the pan (if it’s nice enough to serve it in) or pour the sauce over the chicken in a suitable serving dish
- Garnish with the tarragon sprigs
* As you know, with Aga cooking there is less evaporation meaning that less liquid is required. I have given Delia’s quantities here but in all honestly there was a lot of sauce and I think I could have used about 100ml less sherry.
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
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
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