Chicken with Sherry Vinegar and Tarragon

Chicken with Sherry Vinegar and Tarragon

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 delia-smiths-summer-collection-140-12847l1 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

(Serves 4)

Ingredients

  • 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

Method

  • 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.

Aga Christmas Cake

Aga Christmas Cake

 

It’s that time of year again. I always resist the commercial pressure to start Christmas shopping in September. It infuriates me that Christmas cards and decorations start appearing in the shops in August, throwing everyone into panic, and the more I’m urged to prepare, the less inclined I am to do so. Oh, and no mince pies are allowed in my house until December. But there are some things which it has always been necessary to do a few weeks or months ahead of the event and one of those is baking the Christmas cake. The same goes for the pudding but I must be honest and say I do not always make my own pudding. I’ve found there are excellent ones you can buy. For the last two years I’ve bought a pudding from Bertinet’s in Bath and they’ve gone down well with my family. I haven’t yet decided what I’m going to do about pudding this year; I might try Richard Bertinet’s recipe which is to be found online here. But the Christmas cake has to be homemade and I am always happy to set aside the time to make it.

Since owning my Aga I’ve used the Mary Berry Christmas cake recipe in The Aga Book. It’s delicious and I see no reason to change. She gives quantities for many different cake sizes, square and round. My usual size is the 10″/25cm round cake and that is what I have made this year. As with all fruit cakes, it is best when baked slowly in the simmering oven. I made mine in the afternoon and it was happy to wait in the tin and be placed in the oven at bedtime. This year it took nine hours and last year ten. Am not sure why the timings were different but it’s nothing to worry about.

Here’s the recipe for those of you who haven’t got The Aga Book.

Mary Berry’s Aga Christmas Cake (with a few modifications by me)

You will need a 10″/25cm loose bottomed or springform sturdy cake tin, greased and the base and sides lined (I used bake-o-glide)

Ingredients

  • 675g currants
  • 450g sultanas
  • 225g raisins
  • 450g glacé cherries
  • Grated zest of 2 oranges
  • 300ml sherry (I used Harvey’s Bristol Cream)
  • 350g butter, softened
  • 350g dark brown sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 100g self-raising flour
  • 225 plain flour
  • 100g blanched, chopped almonds
  • 2 tbsp black treacle
  • 2 tsp ground mixed spice

Method

  • Rinse, dry and quarter the cherries
  • Put all the fruit and orange zest in a container, pour over the sherry and give it a stir
  • Cover with a lid or a couple of layers of tightly sealed clingfilm and leave to soak for 3 days, stirring daily
  • Measure the butter, sugar, eggs, treacle and chopped almonds into a mixing bowl (I used my KitchenAid) and beat well
  • Add the flours and spice and mix thoroughly until blended
  • Stir in the soaked fruit and sherry
  • Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and level out evenly
  • Bake in the simmering oven for about 9 hours, but keep an eye on it at the 8 hour point. It is done when a warm skewer comes out clean
  • Leave to cool in the tin then turn it out, feed it (see below) and wrap it. I like using parchment lined foil for this (from Lakeland)

Feeding

On a weekly basis from now on you are going to need to feed your cake: take a darning needle and pierce the cake all over, top and bottom; drizzle over a couple of teaspoons of sherry, let it sink in and then turn the cake over and do the same on the other side. Then wrap the cake and place it inside a (large!) airtight container.

Icing

About a week before Christmas I ice my cake with marzipan. I usually buy it but have been known to make my own: homemade is definitely better but sometimes I go for the quicker option.  Once the almond icing has dried out, after a few days, I place the final layer of icing on my cake; invariably on Christmas Eve. For this I use ready-to-roll fondant icing. I do not make my own.

My husband took photos and I added captions to some to indicate the different stages.

And finally the finished cake, which we first sliced into on 28 December: