Our hungry eyes

Braised chicken pasta

When I was a kid, Dad would buy a roast chicken from the chip shop around the corner most Saturdays. He'd spread two pieces of bread generously with butter, then shred the meat from the chicken carcass and pile it between the buttered slices while we stood patiently next to him in the kitchen. With a flat palm he'd press down on the sandwich, then hand it to us with the faint impression of the base of his fingers still barely visible on the warm white bread. Other days my brother, my sister and I would sit on stools behind the kitchen counter where Mum served bowls of Campbell's tomato soup. She'd then take a plate of grilled cheese on toast from the oven and our hungry eyes would follow it to the placemat in front of us. We'd takes slices to dip, always emptying the plate before we'd finish our soup.

I have a lot of memories of the food I ate growing up, but above are the only ones I have of lunchtime. Roll them together with a big bowl of pasta and you can understand why this spiralli with tomato-braised chicken is pure nostalgia. The sauce is intentionally left a little soupy so that once you've finished the pasta and chicken you can pick up the bowl and slurp the buttery leftovers or (if you're not afraid of nostalgia overload) mop them up with garlic bread.

Pasta with tomato-braised chicken

Ingredients:

  • 200g dried pasta, cooked in lightly salted water
  • 2 chicken legs
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 carrot, peeled and halved
  • 1 celery stick, halved
  • 1 shallot, halved
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup passata (pureed tomatoes)
  • 2 tsp sour cream
  • Grated parmesan
  • 3 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • Salt, to taste

1. Place the carrot, celery & shallot in a saucepan with the butter, chicken stock, passata, and a cup of water. Bring to a boil & simmer until the carrot is very tender and the liquid reduced by about a third. Salt to taste.
2. Add the chicken legs to the pan and simmer until cooked through, then remove and separate the chicken meat from the bones & skin (discard the skin & bones). Remove the whole vegetables from the sauce and add back the chicken meat.
3. Remove from the heat and stir through the sour cream and cooked pasta. Serve in bowls being sure to spoon over some of the juices, then scatter with grated parmesan and thyme leaves.

An ace up your sleeve

Roast chicken with mustard sauce

What would you serve at a special dinner party if you didn't know who was coming? If you wanted to impress but knew nothing about your guests and what they liked? Would you play it safe with something homely and reliable, or go out an a limb hoping to wow them with the unexpected?

Personally I would err on the side of caution. A lot of people are not very adventurous eaters and feel uncomfortable beyond the safe and familiar: roast chicken, meat & three veg, and pork & beans, etc. Of course these people should be challenged, but choose your moment — if your date is grossed out by their warm beef tongue entrée you might well be getting cold shoulder for dessert. The best thing about unadventurous eaters is that they'll be surprised by even the most timid deviation from the mean, so a small adjustment to a classic recipe is all it takes to make them think you're Thomas Keller (although they won't think that, because they don't know Thomas Keller is).

This chicken dish is one of those aces that I keep up my sleeve for special occasions. It has all the flavours and textures of a classic French roast chicken with a couple of adjustments to elevate it above a standard Sunday roast. The recipe below is only a rough guide, but I'm happy to answer any questions in the comments.

Roast chicken breast with mustard & brown butter sauce

Potato gnocchi

Microwave a couple of large desiree potatoes for 10-20 minutes or until completely tender. Remove the skins and pass twice through a potato ricer. Season well with salt then chop through 1 part flour for every 4 parts of potato flesh by weight. Bring this together to form a homogenous dough, then divide and roll out into 2 cm-thick ropes. Chop into 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces. Boil, drain, and toss with olive oil. Set aside on grease-proof paper and arrange so they're not touching each other (or they'll stick together).


Mustard & brown butter sauce

In a saucepan over a high heat, cook 3 tbsp of unsalted butter until browned. Whisk in 2 tbsp of brown chicken stock, 1 tbsp of dijon mustard, and 1 tbsp of crème fraîche (or sour cream). Simmer gently until reduced by one third then remove from the heat until ready to serve.


Roast chicken & shallots

Take a whole chicken and remove the legs, wingtips, wishbone, and back (you now have what's called a 'chicken crown'). Season with salt & pepper. Sear the skin of the breast on all sides in a heavy pan, then place breasts-up and roast in a very hot oven (230ºC/450ºF) for 25-30 minutes. Throw a couple of skin-on shallots into the pan to roast as well. When cooked, remove from the oven, cover in foil, and rest for 10 minutes.


Putting it all together

While the chicken is resting, remove the tough outer layers of skin from the roasted shallots. Heat a few tablespoons of butter and a few of olive oil in a non-stick pan until the butter is foaming. Add the gnocchi, the skinned shallots, some salt and fresh thyme leaves and sautée over a medium-high heat on both sides until golden brown. Drain on kitchen paper.

Meanwhile cook green beans in salted water for 5 minutes, then remove, shock in cold water, cut in half, and set aside.

Once the chicken is rested, carve the breasts and place in the centre of the plate. Around this arrange the gnocchi & shallots, then spoon over some sauce. Finally, scatter the green beans and serve.