An early spring clean and an old favourite…chicken

Spring cleaning comes early in my home. By the time February is on us, I have usually been through my clothes and books and am itching to find something else to chuck out and/or re-organise. This year, it was the cookery books in the kitchen.

I had become a little tired of my old favourites, the ones that had been staring at me above the cooker for the last year or two. Nigel, Nigella, Bill and Delia were looking pretty tired too and, so, after I’d packaged up an amp and DVD player that were occupying valuable cookery book space in the living room, I took everything off the kitchen shelves and started again. Within an hour I’d cleared all three and rearranged them. Smug? I was the queen of smug, full of new ideas about what I’d be cooking once I’d finished cleaning.

Oh smug, how I regretted you later. What was the next task on my spring-cleaning list? Giving the kitchen sink a blast of caustic soda, as recommended to me by my usually brilliant DIY shop round the corner, to remove whatever was making it run slow. (The plumber, you see, had been unavoidably held up by an armed robbery…) Down it went, down went heaps of boiling water, up came a sinkful of truly disgusting brown water. Which then proceeded to sit very, very still.

In fact it sat so still as I cleaned the rest of the house and myself that, by the time it came to the end of the evening, several hours later, the washing up was still heaped up on the sides and I was completely unable to cook anything. My beloved neighbour Mark, who spends most of his weekends somewhere more interesting than N7, said I could use his empty kitchen to wash up so I heaped dirty dishes and pans into a couple of large bags, traipsed down four flights of stairs and the outdoor steps with them, then up his outdoor steps, opened his building’s front door, and tripped. Cue Frank Spencer impression: loud shattering noise, smashed china, cut wrists.

If it hadn’t been late at night, if I hadn’t been starving and if I wasn’t thinking about how the hell I was going to clear up the mess and wash up and eat before Christmas, I might have laughed. Instead, I swore, picked everything up again (dirty, remember, it’s all dirty…), took it all upstairs (another four flights) and discovered that Mark’s hot water wasn’t on so I needed to boil lots of pans of water before I could even start on the mess.

Which is a very long way of saying that Saturday night was a lot less smug than Saturday morning. By the time I got home, and looked at my sad, defrosted chicken legs, I couldn’t be assed to hunt for a new blog-inspiring recipe. Enough experiments and experiences for one day; I needed soothing, safe reliability. Appetite was dug up from behind the armchair and I made something I really should have written about a long time ago, since I make it often: stove-top chicken legs with herbs and cream, which takes five minutes of prep, 30-odd minutes of cooking in between (plus whatever time you need for a side) plus five minutes or so to finish it off. It will make you proud on a day when you’re feeling anything but.

Chicken, garlic and herbs (adapted from Appetite)
For one or two, depending on how greedy/in need of cheering up you are (put it this way: I ate two chicken legs on my own with a couple of handfuls of rocket and lemon salad). Please note: Appetite is the ‘loosest’ of cookbooks, and therefore the ingredients are not very precise, but it is a very forgiving recipe.

Cupboard (or things you may already have)
olive oil
butter, a big lump
garlic cloves, 3
wine, a glass of white
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Shopping list
chicken leg or 2 (for each person)
fresh herbs, a handful (I used sorrel and thyme, which is all I had)
double cream, good splash

How to
1. Rub the chicken all over with a bit of oil and season with black pepper.
2. Put a splash more oil in a lidded saucepan or frying pan (still with a lid) over a medium heat, add a lump of butter and then, once it begins frothing, add the chicken pieces and cook them all over until golden, turning every so often.
3. Whilst the chicken is cooking, flatten the whole, unpeeled (a great bonus when your hands are cut to ribbons from broken china…) garlic cloves with the blade of a knife and add to the pan.
4. Lower the heat, throw in a pinch of sea salt, cover and leave to cook until done (two legs took about 30 minutes). Turn them every so often to make sure they colour all over.
5. Whilst the chicken is cooking, wash the herbs if necessary and chop roughly.
6. When the chicken is done, remove it and the garlic cloves from the pan and put to one side.
7. Spoon off most of the fat from the pan (keep it for roasting potatoes), leaving behind the chicken juices then turn up the heat and add the wine and herbs. Stir to scrape any sticky bits of chicken into the sauce and let it cook for a minute or two.
8. Finally, stir in a good splash of double cream, let it bubble and thicken, season to taste then pour over the chicken and garlic. A simple salad, plain rice or plain-ish potatoes are perfect foils to this rather delicious, yet dead easy and one-pot, dish.

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