It just goes to show that the following of received wisdoms too rigidly isn’t always the right way to go – like Brenda’s choices in designer wear. It’s not just her jumble of “bright” (i.e. gaudy) colours and horizontal stripes which she wrongly thinks take off the 10lbs the camera is said to add to everyone’s apparent weight. According to her, life is about balance and so, to make sure she doesn’t appear to completely waste away while co-presenting our famous “Fanny and Brenda” You Tube series on how to make gorgeous food, thinks it’s appropriate to consume a packet of chocolate biscuits and several Eccles cakes prior to the shoot. She’s probably got confused regarding that other received wisdom about not eating carbs after 8pm, perhaps thinking that you can eat as many of them as you like, before 8pm. Oh dear.
Now I’m certainly not suggesting that we, the World’s Most Fabulous Divine Hostesses, have produced anything which could be termed “heavy” or “dense”, but a review of our more recent output did seem to reveal a bias towards what we might call the “hearty”. In one sense, this is completely understandable given the cooler temperatures this country “enjoys” at this time of year. However, whilst Brenda was happy enough to suggest dumplings be included in all our Winter recipes, I said I did not feel that dollops of animal suet and herbs would be suitable in, for example, a coffee and walnut pavlova and therefore, after some negotiation (i.e. me saying no), this idea was shelved.
There are occasions where something truly rib-sticking like beef with beer and root veg totally fits the bill, but frankly, we don’t always feel like ladlefuls of thick, dark stews so, having surveyed the fridge’s contents on Tuesday this week, I was rewarded with a combination that effectively enabled me to adapt a delightful spring like Chicken with Spring Veg and Herbs recipe into this still light, but more December-y Chicken with Winter Veg and lemon and thyme. By the way, speaking of adapting, we often do this to other people’s recipes to make them better – and detail them in full here for your wonderment – so I would repeat the advice that most recipes should be treated as guides only and tweaked by your good selves, dear acolytes, to suit your own preferences and ingredient availability. Due to our (my) exceptional pallet and careful product- testing, with the possible lone other exception of the rather fantastic Simon Hopkinson, this advice should be treated with caution when preparing any F& B recipe…… see what I mean about received wisdoms??
6 chicken pieces (we used thighs with the bone in and skin on)
about 200g baby leeks, split lengthways and carefully washed
about 200g carrots, split lengthways once for halves and twice for quarters depending on size – also we had “heritage” varieties available which did add a cheery colour variation
about a third of a bottle of dry white wine
about 200ml of chicken stock (although this could be substituted with more wine or, especially as this time the meat was bone-in, water)
2 or 3 cloves of garlic – not chopped or even peeled, just bashed
Small bunch parsley – medium chopped
Juice of a lemon
Few sprigs of fresh thyme – leaves picked
Pinch (or half a tsp) of red chilli flakes
Sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper
2 tsp flour (optional – use only if making a roux for gentle thickening)
knob of butter
1) If time, pop your chicken pieces into a good glug of olive oil/juice of a lemon/thyme leaves/pinch of chilli flakes, salt and pepper to marinate. I did mine for a couple of hours, but even 20 mins is worth it
2) When ready to cook, switch on the hob to high heat and get a good size casserole dish up to temperature – you may need 3-5 mins to bring it to the point where it’s nearly smoking. If you haven’t marinaded first, add a good glug of olive oil direct to the casserole at this stage to fry the meat off
3) Pop the chicken pieces straight into the casserole dish in a single layer so they brown quickly and evenly. Reserve any leftover marinade. Leave the meat well alone for up to 5 mins to allow a really beautiful golden brown “crust” to develop – also not moving the chicken pieces constantly around at the beginning makes them less likely to stick which in turn makes turning them to brown the other side(s) much easier. Don’t bother to pat them dry first as, even though some lemon juice inevitably goes in, a well pre-heated cast iron vessel will have enough in reserve to quickly boil it off so you won’t have issues with the chicken itself stewing instead of browning . Add your bashed garlic cloves at around the half-way point which should avoid the garlic burning by the time the chicken pieces are browned.
4) Once well-browned, turn the heat down to low and add the veggies and wine (plus lemon juice, thyme, chilli, salt and pepper if you haven’t pre-marinated – and by the way any remaining marinade can be added now if you did pre-marinate). If you’re happy with a thin “soup base” consistency, just add the stock as is. If you want a thicker, but still very light base, heat a knob of butter in a small saucepan and when melted, whisk in the flour and cook for a couple of mins (i.e. make a roux), followed by about half the stock and, once incorporated, the rest. The contents of the saucepan can then be added to the main dish.
5) Simmer gently for about 20 mins until the chicken and veggies are tender. If you just used stock, and not a thickened stock base, add the knob of butter straight into the casserole dish, to give the sauce a nice glossy finish – and of course an even more delicious taste!
6) You can serve up with just a really good sprinkle of chopped parsley and enjoy a light, but hearty winter stew exactly as it is – or, as i did, with some fried potatoes, to which I added some minced garlic and the zest of the same lemon, the juice from which works so successfully in the main dish!