When I started my career in the kitchens of a large five star hotel in London, one of the first sections I worked in was the butchery department. I don’t think they really exist now but in those days it was an incredibly cold, tough environment for a soft, wet behind the ears seventeen year-old straight out of catering college. It was full of sharp knives, butchers saws, cleavers and meat hooks hanging from the wall with extremely heavy, wooden chopping blocks that needed to be constantly cleaned with loads of salt and big wire brushes it was an intimidating place to work. The head butcher looked very scary to me, as strong as an ox, he was definitely not a man you would want to disappoint. He pushed everyone extremely hard to work as quickly as possible because practically every other section in the kitchen depended on us to supply them with their basic ingredients for the busy, lunchtime service. Everyday an endless supply of huge cuts of meat, game birds and countless boxes of chickens would arrive that needed to be prepared, broken down and stored swiftly and expeditiously.
My first job was always the chickens. Initially it took me five minutes to break down a single chicken, but after a couple of weeks I could do it in less than one minute easily. The breasts would be removed for the fricassée de poulet à l'ancienne, the fillets for club sandwiches or escalope; the legs had to be cut into two pieces (thigh & drumstick) for Coq au vin or completely deboned for Ballontines and the livers would be separated for the parfait de foies de volaille. The carcases and necks would then be cleaned and made ready to prepare the stocks and sauces for the saucier.
All this made me realise that a whole chicken is such a valuable and versatile ingredient, and if you get a little creative, it can easily supply fast, tasty meals for 3-4 days easily. At home, I prefer to slowly poach a whole chicken first to make a wonderful, clear stock. I can then use the cooking liquid to make a clear soup with vegetables and noodles that can be easily spiced up with a little chopped ginger, a couple of chillies and soy sauce. The next day I might make a creamy chicken, mushroom & pea fricassee with the breast meat or maybe Mexican tacos or a chicken salad. With the legs I’ll probably make some kind of curry or a delicious chicken stew lemon & artichokes, and the next day I might make a stir-fry with the leftover rice and the rest of the cooked chicken picked from the carcass. If you are going to make a stock they do need a little care and attention, but if you follow the basic rules, you’ll be rewarded with clear-looking, healthy broths with intense flavours that are true and clean. Here are my simple steps for the perfect poached chicken.
My Easy Poached chicken
- 1.8-2kg whole chicken
- 1 onion, peeled and quartered
- 2 carrots, roughly chopped
- 1 leek, cleaned and chopped
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 whole garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 sprig of fresh thyme
- A few whole black peppercorns
Place the whole chicken breast-side down in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Place over a high heat and bring to the boil. As soon as it begins to boil, reduce the heat and remove any grease or impurities that have risen to the surface. Add the rest of the ingredients and cook gently for 20 minutes. Do not boil. Continue to degrease and remove all the impurities as they rise to the surface. Remove from the heat, cover with a tight-fitting lid and allow to stand for 1 hour before carefully removing the whole chicken. Then pass the stock through a fine sieve. Remember if you make fresh stocks you can also freeze them down to use later if you have any leftover.
Fiery chicken, chickpea & harrisa soup
Once you’ve made your chicken stock…you could also make this really quick and delicious soup in no time at all.
Ingredients serves 4
- 1 x 410g can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp cumin
- 2 carrots, peeled & diced
- 1 large potato, peeled & diced
- 1 tbsp harissa paste
- 750ml chicken stock
- 200ml milk
- 2tbsp olive oil
- Juice of one lemon
- A handful of parsley leaves, chopped
Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over low heat, add the onion, potato, carrots and garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes, until softened but not coloured. Add the chickpeas, spices, harrisa paste and chicken stock, and then bring to the boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the milk, lemon juice and then blend to a smooth puree. Season to taste; pass through a fine sieve and then ladle into soup bowls. Garnish with cooked chicken, parsley leaves and serve immediately.
Lemon-herb crusted chicken schnitzels with tzatziki & salad leaves
Ingredients serves 4
- 2 chicken breasts, sliced into 4
- 35g seasoned plain flour
- 1 large free-range egg, beaten
- 2tbsp olive oil
- 50g butter
Lemon & Herb breadcrumbs
- 2 slices of stale bread
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1tsp salt
- 1tbsp parsley leaves, chopped
- 1tbsp sage leaves, chopped
- Grated zest of 1 organic lemon
- 1tspn olive oil
Place the bread into a food processor along with the salt, lemon zest, herbs and olive oil. Pulse until roughly chopped into breadcrumbs.
Meanwhile, place chicken slices on a board and cover with cling film. Using a mallet or a rolling pin, lightly bash each fillet to ½ cm thickness. Prepare egg wash, flour and breadcrumbs in 3 separate trays. Dip each schnitzel in flour and egg, then crumbs, pressing firmly. Place back in fridge before cooking.
Heat the olive oil and butter in a wide frying pan. Fry the chicken for 2-3 minutes until golden brown, then flip over and fry the other side for a further 2-3 minutes.
Serve with lemon wedges, tzatziki & salad leaves.
- 2 medium cucumbers, seeded
- 150g Greek yoghurt
- 2tbsp chopped mint
- 1tbsp chopped coriander
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
Cut the cucumbers into fine strips. Mix with the yoghurt, garlic and herbs. Season to taste.