I spent the holiday break in Australia and although friends here warned me that it was freezing, it was a shock to step off the plane and discover just what they meant. For London is frosty beyond memory; it’s really really cold. It’s the kind of chill you’re not even sure how to handle, because doing anything other than the bare minimum involves a trip outside, which means getting dressed, and that requires a superhuman act of bravery.
Fortunately, there’s winter food to console us during the colder months, and we seek to ward off the chill with steaming bowls of something comforting. At this time of year, it’s all about cooking for warmth and ease – nothing fussy or fancy, just simple good food that invokes the memory of sunshine.
This stew combines aromatic chorizo with the gentle heat of chilli and the comforting graininess of butter beans. It’s perfect for nights like these!
Chicken and chorizo stew
6 chicken thighs
1 x 400g tin butter beans, drained and rinsed
1 x 400g tin tomatoes
2 carrots, sliced
1 capsicum, sliced
1 onion, sliced
3 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tsp chilli flakes
250ml chicken or vegetable stock
Flour, salt, pepper and mixed herbs to coat the chicken
De-skin the chorizo and pull it into pieces. Fry gently in a non-stick pan and remove to a large baking dish, keeping the oil in the pan.
Season the flour with salt, pepper and mixed herbs. Coat the chicken in the flour and brown in the chorizo oil. Add the browned chicken to the baking dish.
Prepare the rest of the ingredients and add to the baking dish. Place in a 200 degree oven for 1 hour and serve with sweet potato mash, kale or a crusty loaf of bread.
Australia has many great things, including my parents, my sister, my friends and a full-size kitchen. Before I left London, I dreamed of the big oven in my parents’ kitchen and had plotted and schemed many dishes that I wanted to cook – one for each day of the week – a captive set free at last, if you will.
Of course, I underestimated the strength of pent-up parental affection, which is taking form in a tidal wave of soups, stir-fries and special cakes that I ‘just don’t get in London’. (It’s true. There’s nothing quite like braised pork made with mushrooms and love.)
My presence has kept both my parents in the kitchen for weeks, toiling away, and I’ve been begging to have a turn at the stove if only to give them a break. Tonight, I got my chance… so I went all-out with the ultimate winter meal: a roast with all the trimmings.
If you’re not fortunate enough to have an oven in your tiny kitchen, just commandeer a friend’s. Who doesn’t love a roast bird?
1 large chicken (or 2 small chooks)
3 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon of mixed herbs
2 tablespoons of butter (or Proactiv)
Take the chicken out of the fridge and let it rest for an hour before preparing it. This helps it to stay moist.
Preheat a fan-forced oven to 180°C.
Wash the chicken and pat dry with kitchen paper. Make sure the skin is really dry because it will help it to crisp up.
Finely chop the onion and garlic, then mix with the herbs and butter. I used Proactiv Light, and it worked just fine.
Place the lemon into the cavity of the bird (or chop in half and place into the two smaller birds). Take the Proactiv mix and place a small amount into the cavity, then slide the rest under the skin of the bird.
Place the chicken breast-side-up onto a roasting tray and bake for 90 minutes. Turn it over at 60 minutes, and then again at 80 minutes. Test that the bird is done by poking a skewer or fork into the thickest part of the breast and checking that the juices run clear.
If you want to serve with the holy trinity of the roast vegetables – roast potatoes, honeyed roast carrots and peas – then the best time to add the potatoes and carrots to the oven is at the 30-minute mark. When you take the chicken out of the oven to rest (15 minutes), flick the grill on high to crisp the potatoes up.
I’m not a good sick person, either. There are people who bear their affliction with grace, fortitude and a staunch cheerfulness whilst delicately withering away, kind of like Beth in Little Women. I’m not one of them. When I have a cold, there’s wailing, whingeing, spluttering and coughing, the cursing of trans-seasonal weather, piles of tissues and a good deal of feeling sorry for myself. It’s unfortunate, but there it is.
Strange things happen to my appetite when I’m sick, and it’s probably the only time I’ll ever say ‘no thanks, I’m not hungry’. My culinary planet becomes sadly Pluto-nic, reduced to a dwarfish set of dry crackers and some hot tea. Eventually if that doesn’t help, I’m forced to pull out the big guns, the cure-all, the substance known throughout the world as Jewish penicillin – chicken soup.
Chicken soup is a lengthy two-stage process, but fortunately it’s so simple that even a sick person can probably cope with it. The stock itself involves almost no work, and if you’re beat after that then you can simplify the soup down to a handful of barley and a cup of frozen vegetables. The key is to serve up large, steaming bowls, wrap yourself in a furry blanket and let the love envelope you.
Chicken soup The stock
4 chicken Marylands (you can use 8 chicken drumsticks if you prefer)
2 sticks of celery
Half a leek
4 cloves of garlic
6 black peppercorns
2 carrots, chopped
Half a cup of barley
Half a leek, sliced
Salt and pepper
Place all the ingredients for the stock in a pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a low simmer and leave it for an hour. Skim off the scum that floats to the top.
Once the hour is up, remove the chicken and strip the bones, returning the bones to the pan and keeping the meat separate. Allow the bones to boil very gently for another 45 minutes.
Remove the bones and vegetables and discard. The best way to do this is obviously to strain it, but if you don’t have a strainer then a slotted spoon is fine. You should be left with a lovely stock.
If you’re conscious about fat, the best thing to do here is to refrigerate the soup overnight and skim off the layer of fat in the morning. The amount of fat can be quite substantial because of the chicken skin, and removing the solid form is easier. But if the thought of doing this makes you feel old and weary and defeated, crack on with the soup.
Return the chicken meat to the pot and add the barley, chopped carrot and sliced leek. Season with salt and pepper, then boil for half an hour and serve.
There are two reasons I remove and discard the original vegetables and then add new ones: firstly, because once they’ve been boiling for two hours their flavour and nutrients are already in the pot, and secondly I like to be able to control the texture of the final soup veg. Plenty of people have their own preferences as to what goes into the final chicken soup, adding potato, swede, peas, pasta or bread dumplings; I’m not going to interfere. If you’re sick, it’s time to be a little self-indulgent. Do whatever feels right for you.
A note about chicken stock: honestly, I don’t really care if my stock is cloudy, but some people prefer the clear consommé-style stocks. Really. There are entire discussions on various blogs about how why a stock goes cloudy and the best way to clarify it.
From what I understand, a stock will go cloudy if it is brought to a rolling boil, which breaks down the collagen in the bones and allows it to leach into the soup, making it thicker and sticky like tonkotsu ramen. Some people say it’s the fat, not the collagen, which emulsifies through the soup, giving it a cloudy appearance.
Whatever the reason, most cooks agree that if you want a clear soup, you need to bring the pot to just below boiling point and simmer for longer – a full cooking time of two and a half hours. As long as you don’t boil it, you’ll have a light, clear stock. And then you need to strain it through cheesecloth to get rid of the bits.