I have been experiencing the cook’s equavilent of writer’s block. I have been cooking, but more out of necessity than desire, and while most of the stuff I've made has been OK, nothing really excited me. Most evenings in the past week I made mish-mash sort of curries using whatever vegetables were in the fridge and a jar of Madras paste and taking the leftovers to work for lunch, or made things using from bits of a chicken.
Last weekend I bought a whole small chicken to joint and use throughout the week. This was something I’d been meaning to do for ages since I knew it was far cheaper than buying pre-jointed pieces. Even though I don’t actually buy chicken very often I thought it would make a nice change, and when my housemate came back from Asda announcing that a whole chicken was only about 3p more expensive than a pair of breasts, I decided to give it a go. (Incidently a very small free-range, corn-fed bird was only about £4.)
I jointed the chicken, which I had tried a few times in the pat and made a mess of, but it was easier than I expected. The key is pulling the leg as far away from the body as possible, until it ‘pops’ slightly and then putting the knife through the joint. Wriggle around until you feel a slight dent - you should not be putting through very much bone, and shouldn’t need to press very hard.
On Saturday, the drumsticks and thighs went into a casserole with onions, bacon, white wine, cream, and lots of parsley added at then end. I was hoping the green freshness would somehow ‘cancel out’ all the cream and alcohol.
The leftover bones, and the carcass with the breasts still attached went into a pot with a broken up celery stick, a halved, unpeeled onion (the skin adds colour to the stock - in the Second World War women used onion skins to make a dye for their legs because they didn’t have stockings). I was surprised how long the breasts took to cook when they were attached to the bone, about 40 minutes. These were cut off and put away to be used at a later date: the carcass went back in to the pot for another hour or two.
The stock and some leftover rice made a vaguely south-east Asian soup which was probably the highlight of the week. I threw a small piece of star anise, a dried chilli and a big lump of ginger into the simmering stock to infuse while I chopped up some of the leftover breast meat, finely sliced a leek and chopped a handful of (admittedly quite old and droopy) cabbage. This all went into the stock with some cooked rice and just before I ate it I added more very finely chopped ginger, parsley and fish sauce. It was soothing but sprightly.
The last of the breast meat went into leeks and white sauce made with white wine and water instead of milk, some grain mustard and the tiniest drop of Worcester sauce. Nestled under some pastry it made a rather sweet looking pie for one. Interestingly I made the pastry (just normal shortcrust) quickly without paying much attention, and used margarine rather than butter, and it was the best I'd made in ages. Is margarine the answer, or maybe the need to make it quickly meant I didn't over handle it? The pie went down well with buttery steamed spinach and a not-too-bad white wine.
Looking back on this I think I have simply been suffering from chicken fatigue. I plan to rectify this with mackerel, possibly grilled with smoked paprika; fennel, whose medicinal scent seems just right after the excesses of December; and if I can get my hands on any I really fancy some salsify.