Friendship & The Humble Chicken

I have been lost from here for some time.  However, I can assure you I have been cooking lots and have much to share about my experimentation and I will in the coming weeks.

This week I have been feeling reminiscent of good times especially the other night when I prepared this.

I remember the first time I made a version of this.  I had just spent a day at the Southbank in London with my best friend where we had an argument.  It was about something stupid, but we were both in a bad mood when we came back home which wasn’t helpful because earlier in the day we had asked some friends to come over later that evening for an  impromptu dinner.  I had planned to cook something;  there were some racks of lamb that I had marinated the night before in some spices,  a chicken and some vegetables…a roast of sorts was on the cards.

When we walked in I got straight into the kitchen so that I could just concentrate on the cooking of the meal rather than continue with our argument while my friend went to the lounge to tidy up.  It was surprising how quickly things fell into place with virtually no planning.  I am not the kind of cook that likes to rush things and I love to cook spontaneously with whatever is available to feed my love of experimentation.   My favourite time is to cook with people in the kitchen: cooking, talking, drinking at a slow pace so as to enjoy the whole process.  However, saying that,  I can certainly also be efficient when needs be and that day I was efficient beyond words!

I spotted the couscous in the cupboard and immediately started preparing a stuffing with whatever I could find- handfuls of fresh mint and parsley, dried apricots, paprika, roasted cumin, glugs of olive oil, lemon juice, sumac and of course a good pinch of chilli flakes.  I didn’t de-skin the chicken, but I made pockets under the skin and filled them with the marinade ensuring that I slathered the rest over the chicken before stuffing it to the brim with the aromatic couscous jewelled with nuggets of orange sweetness.  Simultaneously,I had put some potatoes to boil and before putting them around the chicken I generously sprinkled them with some of that deep smoky sweet roasted cumin and some glugs of olive oil.  Everything was in the oven within 15 mins with just the veggies and lamb chops to cook when our friends arrived

I was glad that I had that time to clear my mind.  Sometimes it’s necessary to remove yourself from the situation and be alone to reflect.  When my friend came back into the kitchen after tidying up, she took out a  bottle of champagne from the fridge and we had a glass.   We didn’t say much, but we both knew things would be ok.  We have both realised however similar we are, that we also have some strong differences.   Similarities such as stubbornness and the need to have our own way can cause some clashes in our friendship, but it is highly unlikely that there is anything that could ever break our friendship because of the end of it all, life would not be the same without her in

As George Washington said … “True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation.”

The meal went down a storm, much laughter and good times were had by all.

And not to forget a recipe to remember because you see, just a chicken soup is good for the soul and the body, roast chicken does wonders for friendships.

My Seductively, Smoky & Sweet Paprika Glazed Chicken Stuffed With An Aromatic Couscous Jewelled with Feta & Dried Fruit 

I have changed the original recipe slightly with the addition of Feta, some pearl barley and sultanas. I love the saltiness of Feta that contrasts beautifully with the sultanas (which I used because I was out of apricots and I think I prefer.) The pearl barley adds a delicious nuttiness and variation in texture.   

The Couscous Stuffing

Ingredients

  • 120g barley couscous
  • 50g pearl barley (optional-I like the slight bite this has to contrast with the couscous)
  • 150g feta chopped into small cubed or crumbled in to small pieces
  • handful of chopped mint roughly chopped
  • handful of chopped flatleaf parsley roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp roasted ground cumin (pan roasting the seeds before grinding yourself transforms this aromatic spice into a deep seductively smoky sweeter version than if you don’t- totally worth the extra step. It also adds to the richness of the colour.
  • 2-3 tsp sumac (more or less to your taste and depending on the strength. If you can’t find this add a few more squeezes of lemon and 1/2 tsp more paprika)  The reasons I use this instead of just lemon are twofold: It adds the sourness that lemon provides, but also an earthiness. Secondly, the speckles of sumac stain wherever they lie with a ting of rich burgundy that looks beautiful.
  • 50g sultanas or chopped apricots or chopped dates
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • juice of half a lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste
Method
  1.  Boil the peal barley in some salted  water until done.  If you omit this, you will still have sufficient stuffing without or for a large chicken soak a little extra couscous (25g).
  2. Place the barley couscous in a bowl, pour over 150 mls of boiling water and cover with a plate for 4-5 mins (or per the instructions on the pack).  If you cannot find barley couscous, the regular wheat kind is absolutely fine. You could also experiment and try out Israeli jumbo couscous too.
  3. Fork through the couscous add the olive oil and cooked pearl barley and mix well.
  4. Now add all the spices- the chili flakes, paprika, ground roasted cumin, sumac and some salt and pepper.  When adding the salt, bear in mind the saltiness of the feta you are using.
  5. Next add the parsley, mint, sultanas, and feta; stir to combine.
  6. Finally, sprinkle with the juice of half a lemon and taste- check the salt and balance of sour from the sumac and or lemon.  Adjust according to your taste.
  7. Set aside while you prepare the chicken.
De-skinning Of The Chicken
When I do a traditional roast chicken, I will remove some excess fat, but I will leave the skin in tact because an English roast would not be the same without!  However, in the Indian culture the skin is never left on on when cooking chicken. The reason for this is more on the lines of better flavour penetration than for care of health!  The skin, although tasty when crisp and useful to prevent drying out when being fried or roasted, it doesn’t allow for the aromatics to really get into the flesh.
 There is rarely a time that I will not add garlic to a roast chicken; even when preparing a traditional roast.  On these occasions when I want the skin in tact, I will lift the skin on the breasts with the back end of a spoon in order not to pierce the skin and then leave my fingers to gently loosen the skin from the flesh to provide a pocket to put my marinade of choice inside to ensure the flavours get into the flesh.  The skin on the rest of the bird is left as it is because I will stab cuts in the joints to allow for flavour penetration.
Another reason why the skin is discarded is that Indians don’t see the flavour of chicken coming from it’s fat or skin as is the case in a lot of other cuisines.  For them, the flavour comes from the bone hence why the majority of South Asian meat and poultry dishes are cooked on the bone.  Although some of the time Indian meat and poultry dishes can be rich due to the addition of cream and or butter, the removal of the chicken fat and skin and excess animal fat on meat gives Indian dishes a much “cleaner” flavour and allows for the aromatics to shine through.  A couple of exceptions to this rule are when I cook duck or goose.  Almost never without the skin or fat.  That would be sacrilege!
Unless I want the skin for a purpose I de-skin chicken- the whole and pieces.  It’s very easy to do.  All you need is some strong kitchen paper to grip onto the skin, a knife, scissors and a little strength!
The breasts and legs are pretty easy..the wings and the underside can be a little tough sometimes and so if that the case, get a knife and or scissors to help you with the underpart and leave the bits of the wings you can’t get.  Of course if you are buying your bird from a butcher, they will do this for you and if you happen to go to an Indian or Pakistani butcher the chicken will be skinless anyway!
All my Indian, Middle Eastern and Far Eastern dishes with chicken are done this way for the flavours to really get into the flesh; not to mention it’s healthier.  As long as you cook the bird at the right temperature (I recommend between 160-170C depending on your oven) and baste once or twice you will not suffer from a dry bird.
The Marinade For The Chicken
Ingredients
  • 2-3 tbs of olive oil
  • 1tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tsp roasted ground cumin
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic crushed to a paste
  • the juice of half a lemon
Method
  1. Preheat a fan oven to 160-170C
  2. Place the de-skinned  chicken onto a baking tray covered with foil (I purely put the foil down for ease of cleaning).
  3. Take a knife and make some stab cuts into the thick part of the thigh area and also around the underside of the wing area.  Avoid the breast meat.
  4. Now take some pepper and about 1 1/2 tsp (or to your taste) of your salt of choice- try a good flaky sea salt like Maldon and rub all over the chicken massaging it into the crevices.
  5. Next take the marinade for the chicken and slather that all over the chicken getting into all the nooks and crannys including the opening of the cavity.
  6. With your hands hold the chicken with a firm grip (it may help to hold it upright with the cavity pointing upwards) and pack the stuffing  tightly into the cavity a spoon at a time.  Don’t forget you can get some in from the neck end too.. you’ll be surprise and grateful about how much you can pack in because the stuffing is a sponge for all the deliciously savoury chicken juices while its cooking!  Depending on the size of your chicken- you may have some left over.  I managed to get all the stuffing into a medium/large 2.5kg chicken. If you have any stuffing left over (provided you haven’t contaminated it with raw chicken-y hands or utensils you can keep it to serve with the chicken when it’s done- If I have a smaller chicken, I keep about a cup of stuffing on the side and add it if needed- that way there is no risk of contamination!
  7. Finally put the chicken in the oven for about 1-1/1/2 hrs depending on the size of your chicken and your oven.  This 2.5 kg bird took about 1 hr 15 mins.
  8. Baste it once or twice during cooking by tilting the tray slightly and spoon over the juices.
  9. It’s done when you poke a knife into the thickest part of the thigh and the thick part underneath where the wing joint is and the juices run clear.
In the spring and summer enjoy this with a mixed green leaf and herb salad lightly dressed with a simple seasoned olive oil, lemon and sumac (if you have it) dressing.
In the autumn and winter this dish is perfect with a selection of roasted root vegetables drizzled in some olive oil, seasoned with a light sprinkling of ground roasted cumin, chilli flakes and flaked sea salt to taste.  When they come out of the oven bring them to life with a few squeezes of fresh lemon juice.
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The one where cake-work hampered any culinary experimentation this weekend.

Damn those chocolate roses taking forever to make!  I have made them hundreds of times before, and out of various ingredients.  This time I made my own Belgian chocolate plastique, the method being pretty easy, but the quantity not so much!  I have a lot of roses to make though!  I’m guessing I will be done by Wednesday.

Of course, this completely impeded the plans I had made to finally attempt my own version of Kouign Amann.  This was one pastry that, although I had read about, did not taste until my most recent trip to Paris.  An exquisite pastry that originally hails from Brittany in France, it’s perfectly flaky, unctuously chewy, glistening with caramelised sweetness and filled with salted buttery goodness.

I have no choice but to attempt to recreate it and share it’s magic with my friends and family.

Alas, it will have to wait until next week at least as I know it will be a labour of love, but rest assured I will be back with my Kouign Amann adventures soon!

Pick your own Kouignettes @ Georges Larnicol in Paris

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In the meantime, as I am on a roses break because my palms need a rest,  I thought I’d use my fingers instead and tell you a little more about another of my passions.

I am pretty much inseparable from the  kitchen.  I feel comfort when there is one in the vicinity. It’s my place of serenity, creativity, joy, pleasure, gathering; a symbol of togetherness and love….. It’s the Holy evoke-r of fond memories and creations (the good and the ones that need some tender love and attention to be made better!)  Oh and the place I almost always take over. (I’m sure my family and friends will vouch for that!)

Just as much as I am inseparable from the kitchen, in recent years I have gained a new appendage.  It’s pretty big…and totally sexy to me.

My mind is not even close to being as dirty as yours.

Now is a good time to be removing your mind from the gutter.   I am talking about my camera, of course.

Although, throughout my life,  I have always been involved in something artistic in one way or the other- from ceramics, painting, screen printing to sugar art, I didn’t consider venturing into photography until my early 20’s.  I now know how awful this is to say, but I never really acknowledged or understood it to be a form of expression with much value.  For me, doing something practical such a picking up a pencil to sketch to create a picture, constructing a sculpture from clay, structuring a dish that activates your senses are all things that I deem to be artistic/creative/exciting and ways to express how I feel.

I’d never been exposed to photography at school, but at university, there was a friend I lived with on a photography course and she would talk about her work and always have her camera with her-  ready to capture a moment.  I remember thinking, sure it’s great; you learn the technical skills you need to use a camera manually, and use a dark room and of course you must have a good eye to be able to take well composed photos, but I never understood the way you could make something yours.   The image that you’re taking of that woman, what does it say about you?  I could understand how a painter made a portrait their own with their emotions being revealed through their brush strokes, but how did a photographer do with with the photograph portrait of a person? This was at a time when the girl I was living with would only use film as digital, although it had been around for quite a while, it was not favoured by students (if I remember correctly).  I had a digital camera, in fact I still have that one in a drawer somewhere.  It’s travelled with me to too many places for me to give it up.  I’m sentimental like that.

My love for photography was born the first summer I spent in Madrid.  I had decided to take a year out of university and go and learn Spanish.  With the summer semester ending, I made this decision on the spur of the moment and within a couple of weeks I was in Madrid.    During my first week there I met some wonderful people in my school from all over the world- teachers and students.  It was a blast.  Not very many people were there for as long as I was, so there was always an influx of new people coming into the school which was great.  I made a number of close friends, but there was one in particular.  A girl from New Jersey.  We clicked quickly and ended up spending most of our free time together.

Christine had a film SLR with her, a Nikon I think, and a keen interest in photography.  I found her camera to be cumbersome and big, and didn’t understand why she wanted to take that around with her over taking a compact one like mine as we wandered the streets.   Over the weeks she showed me why and that’s when I started to understand and this is when my love affair with photography began.

We were planning to visit galleries and museums because we both had an interest in art.  She told me about this event that was happening over the whole city- PhotoEspana and said that we should go.  We looked it up and found that there were exhibitions all over the city in galleries, museums, hotels, metro stations- you name it.  Every district had some photography exhibition relating to that year’s PhotoEspana theme.  The theme that year was Femininos.  You guessed it- it was all about women. :)

But in every context.  It was amazing and insightful.  I learnt more about photography, photographers, women, men, pain, suffering, love, beauty, emotion and so much more I cannot describe , in the 6 week run of the exhibition that I could have ever imagined I would learn in such a short space of time.  It was beautifully done.  I have been back a couple of years after that in the summer to go to attend it as it happens every year, but that year has remained my favourite.

From then, it pretty much became a part of my life.  I started to explore…I dug out my father’s old SLR and became trigger happy as I experimented with different styles.  My favourite has ended up being candid street photography. I love the story you can tell with a single image. * The picture at the top is one I caught during the Royal wedding in London last year.  The aftermath @ Buckingham Palace where a woman who had enjoyed all the celebrations decided to face all the television studios in hope that they would give some coverage of her missing dog.  She was brilliant!*

At present I use my photography skills for work sometimes, but in the way the kitchen brings me a sense of peace and serenity, my camera makes me feel the same way.  When I travel or have spare time, I love wandering streets as invisibly as possible, and finding, capturing and getting lost in moments of other people’s stories.