I am not particularly gifted when it comes to meat cooking. In fact, I would say it’s my weakest area. Some of the blame for that has to be attributed to the sub-standard meat available to the consumer. You just need to take one bite of Michy’s Churrasco, and you instantly remember that “oh yeah” – this is what meat should taste like! But the majority of it is all me.
I have a deft hand with poultry though and no doubt it helps that I have less performance anxiety.
I steer clear of animal during the week, having labeled myself with the moniker “a weekday vegetarian”. Primarily to reduce my impact on the environment (thereby feeling virtuous) and because I love vegetables and pulses so it’s easy.
A it’s the weekend, I made this great chicken recipe out of Jason Atherton‘s book Maze: the cookbook. I like this book as it has some truly original recipes including one for chicken poached in 1 kg of butter! (Love that! Don’t you? And then we wonder how, some, restaurants make everything taste so good?!) Here, Atherton has us making up a stock syrup, throwing in 5 lemons and a head of garlic poaching the chicken briefly then pan frying it. The result is the chicken is sweet and spicy with crunchy skin and a fragrant red oil that goes particularly well with some simple green beans. (Although, my all time favourite chicken lemon recipe comes from Maggie Beer and I wrote about it here).
He recommends you buy a whole chicken and joint it yourself. Which is something I agree with for two reasons; it improves your knife skills and leaves you with a carcass you can make chicken stock from later. Plus it kind of creeps me out to have 4 pieces of chicken from what are probably 4 chickens, and I hate the habit of leaving the backbone attached to the leg (common place in Berlin). Just remember to get rid of the wishbone first, it will make the whole process much simpler (then cut off the legs including the oyster, then the wings, then finally the breast meat).
Last thing and then I will give you the recipe. Take the time to buy a nice free range chicken from a good butcher. I didn’t yesterday, rushing off to Rewe and hoping to find something, and bought the best chicken they had (which isn’t saying much), and I was very disappointed with it. But I have yet to find a butcher that is close to me, Reinhardstrasse in Mitte. Anyone know of one?
Lemon Syrup Poached Chicken with Harissa paste and Ras el Hanout spice adapted from Jason Atherthon’s Maze:the cookbook
1 chicken, about 1.8 kg
t tbsp harissa paste (or more if you like spicy, I like spicy!)
1 tsp ras el hanout (Moroccan spice mix)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 cinnamon sticks (don’t agonize if you don’t have these)
1 thyme spring
Lemon Stock Syrup:
5 lemons, quartered plus…
juice of 2 large lemons
1kg caster sugar
sea salt and black pepper
2 litres water
few thyme sprigs
frew rosemary sprigs
1 bay leaf
1 head of garlic, halved horizontally
1. Joint the chicken into 8 pieces (or six including wings if the chicken is small).
2. Put all the ingredients for the lemon stock syrup into a large saucepan and bring to the boil, then lower the heat to a gentle simmer.
3. Add the chicken pieces, except the breasts, making sure that they are covered by the stock. Poach for 5 minutes, then add the breast meat and poach for another 5 min. (JA recommends 10 for legs then a further 12-15 for breasts but as you are letting the meat cool in the stock, I think that dries it out too much).
4. Preheat the oven to 200C. Remove the cooled chicken pieces from the lemon stock and pat them dry with kitchen paper. (The strained stock can be used once more but it does become quite bitter with time). Spread the harissa paste evenly over the chicken pieces then sprinkle over the ras el hanout and a lot of salt and pepper (remember your chicken is sweet from the syrup).
5. Heat the olive oil and butter in a large ovenproof pan over a medium heat. Add the cinnamon sticks, thyme and 3-4 lemon halves from the stock syrup. Fry for a few minutes until the lemons are slightly caramelised around the edges and the cinnamon and thyme have infused the butter with a lovely aroma.
6. Add the chicken pieces and fry for 4-5 minutes until golden brown. transfer the pan to the oven and roast for 5 minutes until the chicken pieces are just firm and cooked through. Leave to rest for a few minutes before serving with new potatoes and green beans (or a cous cous to soak up those juices).