All my favourites in one dish: Diana Henry; a new one tin recipe; chicken thighs; sourdough. This is one of those perfect for the Aga one tin dishes which has the added bonus of using up some of the sourdough I have been making. My sourdough is improving and everyone seems to enjoy eating it but this new pastime has brought out the perfectionist in me and I haven’t yet achieved my ideal loaf. I am beginning to understand what drives people to keep baking sourdough. Part of the enjoyment is reading books about it and watching video demonstrations. I am aspiring to make Chad Robertson’s “basic country bread” as described in his wonderful book “Tartine“. I am reading it avidly and am grateful to my youngest son for leaving it at home when he returned to university this week. The other sourdough book I’m finding invaluable is James Morton’s “Super Sourdough” which my sons gave me for Christmas.
Anyway, back to the chicken recipe. It’s from Diana Henry’s latest wonderful book “From the Oven to the Table” and I hope you find it as delicious, interesting and distinctive as we did. The great thing is it’s very easy to up the quantities, using an additional roasting tin, without much extra work. You would need to allow some extra time in the oven and swap the tins round halfway through to make sure all the chicken pieces achieved that golden brown crispiness.
175g sourdough bread, torn into pieces roughly 5cm square
450g small waxy potatoes, cut into chunks
1 large onion, peeled and cut into wedges
6 thyme sprigs
1-2 tsps (according to preference) chilli flakes
1 head of garlic, cloves separated but not peeled
150g pancetta or bacon, ideally in one piece cut into chunks, but I used rashers which I chopped up
8 skin-on bone-in chicken thighs
2 tbsps sherry vinegar
220ml amontillado sherry
5 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
150g spring onions, trimmed
100g bitter salad leaves such as radicchio or chicory
25g toasted pine nuts
Put the bread, onion, potatoes, thyme, chilli and garlic cloves in the large Aga roasting tin
Add the pancetta or bacon and the chicken thighs
Pour on the sherry vinegar, 70ml of the sherry and 4 tablespoons of the olive oil
Season and toss everything round with your hands, finishing with the chicken thighs skin side up. Make sure the bread isn’t too exposed, or lying at the edges, or it will become too dark
Slide onto the second set of runners in the roasting oven and roast for 25 minutes, tossing the ingredients round and turning the tin round once. Keep the chicken skin side up
Mix the spring onions with the last tablespoon of olive oil in a bowl and lay them on top of the tin, adding another 50ml sherry
Return to the oven for a further 15 minutes
Pour the remaining sherry into a small pan with the raisins and bring to just under the boil on the boiling plate. Leave these to sit, then add them to the roasting tin for the last 5 minutes of the cooking time
For us this was a kitchen supper so I served it from the tin and placed a salad bowl of red chicory dressed with balsamic and olive oil on the table. Alternatively, you could transfer everything to a large serving dish and mix in the leaves
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.
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.
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
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
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)
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)
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