You might not realise this but, in publishing terms, it is already Christmas. If your big books aren’t already out or near as dammit, well, you may struggle to get the required numbers to knock the usual suspects off the bestseller list. Which is why it is so depressing that Mr Oliver’s new book, Save with Jamie, is already comfortably outselling most others, not just cookbooks and is most likely, yet again, to be the Christmas number one. I’m sure for some people buying his books every Christmas as a ‘failsafe’ present is as ingrained and automatic as my refusal to drink Starbucks, but I really despair of a buying public with so little imagination, especially when JO’s book has to be, sorry Michael Joseph, one of the ugliest I have ever seen. I’m also sure, because my friends tell me it is so, that his recipes work but, my, it’s still ugly.
So, in the spirit of widening your options, and exploring the paper mountain that is stacked up in my flat, I’m going to write some posts about other less well-publicised cookery books and books about food, ones that are, to paraphrase William Morris, both useful and beautiful. There are so many every year, so many that are better, more interesting, more inspiring than the headline names that I feel duty-bound to share the brilliance that barely sees the light of day, and never the side of a bus, in column inches.
The first of these joys is Rory O’Connell‘s Master It, which I had the pleasure to proofread several months ago. O’Connell is Darina Allen‘s brother and, amongst other things, one of the main teachers at Ballymaloe Cookery School in Cork. A list of his past students read like a Who’s Who of the current generation of chefs (Thomasina Miers, Stevie Parle, Rachel Allen) and their success suggests that he’s more than capable of writing a book that offers advice on technique as well as a list of recipes.
So far I want to make the chocolate and caramel mousse, the kale, lemon zest and Parmesan broth, the mackerel baked with courgette and harissa, the leeks with olive oil, Parmesan, toasted pine nuts and pangrattata and, erm, that’s just on my first Post-It run…
Last night, despite really getting in far too late to make it for the friends who were coming over, I made this chicken casserole-roasted with watercress. And my, I think I may casserole-roast every chicken I ever buy from now on: it is so so simple and delicious and, since it is casserole-roasted, my next batch of cake won’t have to wait until all the chicken fat has burnt off my rubbish little oven before I shove it in. Honestly, step out of your comfort zone and into this one; it’s much much prettier.
Oh and it’s nice to be back!
For 3-4 people (I cut this down from a recipe for 6)
Cupboard (or things you may already have)
butter, 10g or so, softened if you can be bothered (I couldn’t)
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
garlic cloves, 2
good chicken, about 1.2-1.3kg or thereabouts
fresh watercress, about 75g, one of the usual supermarket packet sizes will do,
double cream, about 120ml
You will also need a heavy lidded ovenproof casserole big enough to hold the chicken.
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C/gas 4.
2. Dry the breast of the chicken with some kitchen paper.
3. Put a casserole dish onto a gentle heat and whilst it is heating up rub the butter over the chicken breasts (okay, this is where you may regret not softening the butter…).
4. As soon as the casserole is hot enough to make the butter sizzle (drop a small bit in to check) put the chicken in it, buttered breast-side down, and let the skin cook until golden.
5. Whilst the chicken is browning rinse the watercress and cut the leaves off the stalks and peel the garlic.
6. Once the chicken breasts are browned turn it breast-side up in the casserole, season it with salt and pepper and shove the garlic cloves and watercress stalks inside it.
7. Now put the lid on the casserole and cook for about 70-90 minutes until the juices run clear when you stab the thighs. The time will vary depending on the size of your chicken/effectiveness of your oven; if you start checking at about 70 minutes and then every 5-10 minutes afterwards, you should be fine.
8. Once the chicken is cooked, remove it from the oven and the casserole, place it in another dish and wrap it in foil to keep warm (Rory returns his to a very low oven in another dish; I didn’t have the patience for that).
9. Now, make the sauce. Drain the cooking juices from the casserole into another bowl (and keep them) and return the casserole to the hob over a medium heat.
10. Add the watercress leaves and the previously roasted garlic cloves (which are hiding in the chicken somewhere), add a pinch of salt, squish the garlic cloves into the watercress and cook together until the watercress begins to wilt (a few minutes, no more).
11. Whilst that is happening, do two things: spoon off most of the fat from the cooking juices and cut the chicken up into four fat quarters.
12. Add the cooking juices to the pan, bring to a simmer then finally, tip in the cream, let the sauce thicken and pour over the chicken pieces. Serve with something relatively plain (you know, like mash made with heaps of cream and butter…).