Saturday, January 30, 2010

Lemon & Lime Roast Chicken

I know some of my friends think it a little odd that I like to cook so much, but I generally find the whole process quite relaxing so don't mind spending what might to them seems like hours preparing food, just for 10 minutes eating it. I don't really think it's that simple (you are after all what you eat, and I kind of like to know what it is I'm eating!) but there is another really good reason to cook a Sunday roast at least - you get great food and save money at the same time.

You save money in two important ways. First off you usually get more meat for your money in the first place, as buying a whole piece (like a chicken) means you're not paying for someone to prepare different cuts, or for that matter extra packaging. Secondly, you've always got lots of leftovers which can make what seems like an expensive initial purchase go an awful long way. I reckon I spend on average about £1 on meat per portion of food that I produce, and I'm using pretty good ingredients.

Anyhow, why on earth and I going on about thrift and not about chicken? Well the other thing about leftovers and Sunday roasts is that they can work the other way around - often I'm inspired by what's lying around in the fridge needing eating, rather than having something special in mind. I'll usually buy a good piece of meat according to what I can find (and what I haven't had in a while), but what I'll do with it is usually a mystery until the day before - or even the morning before! And that's how I ended up with this recipe - Lemon & Lime Roast Chicken.

The Ingredients

The ingredients

So this is pretty much what I had left over that Sunday - cabbage, lime, lemon, red onion. Citrus flavours and chicken aren't exactly rocket science, but it can be tricky to get it right. Lime has a nasty habit of turning sour and lemons can be far too sharp and acidic in any quantity. Seeing as I had two limes, a bit of a lemon and some red onion I reckoned I needed something to sweeten the whole deal, and luckily there was also half a small pot of double cream left over.

I'd planned on making a creamy sauce with the leftover cream, the juices from the bird and the stuffing, so prepared all the ingredients ahead of time with that in mind. The limes were quartered lengthways, so as to maximise their surface area, the lemon chopped up roughly in to centimeter pieces, and the onions quartered and then sliced.

Chopping up the 'stuffing'

I love to stuff things inside chickens to get more flavour into the dish, but experience has shown you need to be careful with juices flowing out and burning. To make sure that the inside of the bird would steam in lemon and lime juice and the outside would crisp up I would need to close the bird up tight. Once everything was stuffed inside the seasoned cavity (well not everything, I couldn't get all the limes in!) I used largish skewers to close off the end.

Securing the end of the bird with skewers

That then went into a hot oven (180ºC) for 15 minutes per pound, this time on a trivet to hold the meat off the bottom, as I was expecting some dripping and didn't want the bottom of the bird to poach. I always leave the neck in the roasting tray - helps to intensify the flavour of the gravy.

The bird just out of oven, ready to rest for 20 minutes or so.

Once the bird had come out it was gravy time. First off I tipped all the juices and all the stuffing out of the bird back into the roasting pan, making sure I got everything out. Then into that went some white wine and some stock (pheasant this time, all I had left in the freezer) and let it cook down for a while.

The gravy being made with the stuffing from inside the bird.

Finally I picked out all the lemon and lime from the sauce (decided they would be far too acid to serve) but left in the onion and then added the half a small pot of leftover cream. And voila, one delicious sauce, and a perfect compliment to the slightly lemony/limey chicken.

The finished dish

Served this with the cabbage, which was lightly steamed, and three different types of rice cooked together - wild, red and brown. This was a revelation in itself - slightly pricey stuff, but totally delicious, and a great foil for the richness of the other flavours. All in all a great experiment, very tasty - and of course with lots of left overs! In fact we've been eating chicken practically all week, just finished off the last of the meat last night, this time reborn as a Chicken Korma with basmati and homemade naan bread - but that's another blog post ...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Traditional Roast Lamb with Roast Potatoes & Leeks in White Sauce

Lamb is not exactly a stranger to my table, but more often than not it'll be a shoulder that ends up gracing it rather than other cuts. There's something about a shoulder's combination of flavour, price and overall ease of cooking that hits the spot for me. But the other day at the butchers the legs of lamb looked too good to overlook, so I had to give one of them a try.

I usually like my lamb well done, and that's great for shoulder, but it's not really a great way to cook leg in my opinion. Leg doesn't have the fat content of the shoulder, so it's all too easy to create something dry and not so palatable when roasting a leg for a long time - generally speaking you're better off aiming for something pinker. That was my plan this Sunday, so after consulting the usual battery of cookbooks I decided on half an hour hot (220ºC) and then 15 mins per pound cool (160ºC)  for my 5 lb leg of (very well hung) Lamb. Nothing too special about this one - just coated in a very light layer of olive oil, well seasoned with salt & pepper and resting on 3 good sprigs of rosemary and a few cloves of garlic.

The meat out of the wrapping

The meat ready for the oven

As I was aiming for something very traditional this time around I decided to serve this with really crunchy roast potatoes and leeks in white sauce, and old favourite that I've grown up with. This time around I even got to use some of my Dad's leeks from Essex, as I managed to bring some back from there after Christmas. I braise the leeks just in butter for a good hour or so on a very low heat to get them really tender. Then I sprinkle in some flour and let that cook a little, before adding milk, salt & black pepper, and cooking until it thickens up - probably another 15 mins or so. This time around a little left over double cream went in as well, just to give that extra special something.

For the potatoes I reckon the secret it to get them really dry before they go in the hot oil/fat. I always parboil when I'm doing 'proper' roast potatoes, and do this well ahead of when they need to go in so that they can steam and dry out. A good shake in the colander is enough to give you a rough texture to pick up the fat - I normally use beef dripping, but didn't have any today, so used some of the fat from the lamb pan which was lightly flavoured with the rosemary and garlic from there. Ten minutes in the hot oven first gets the oil good and hot, then in go the potatoes (carefully!), a few turns to cover and then in for about an hour, depending how well browned you like them.

Parboiling potatoes

Finally there's the gravy to make. I rested this leg for half an hour in the end, to ensure it would be nice and juicy, and whilst it was sitting resting deglazed the pan with some wine and stock and cooked down the juices with a little flour to thicken.

Making gravy

Preparing the plates

All in all pretty happy with how this turned out. The potatoes & lamb were probably a little over done for my tastes, but lovely all the same. That's the price you have to pay, though, for nipping down the pub for a swift pint whilst your Sunday roast cooks :-)

Finished dish

P.S. These videos were all shot with my new Nexus One phone from Google - not bad I think, better quality than my previous phone that's for sure.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

'Pot Roast' Brisket with Dumplings

Just looking back on a few old web albums, and thinking it's a real shame I haven't blogged about some of the dishes I've been creating as they're so interesting! Things like the Chicken with Celeriac, Parsnip, Blue Cheese & Hazlenut Bake and a Fennel Sauce for example, the Braised Lamb & Ravioli, and the wonderful (if fattening) Chinese Style 'Pot Stickers', Fried & Steamed - where I made two different types of dumplings from Sunday Roast leftovers just to try out a new cook book. But blogging takes time, and that seems to be in short supply. Anyhow, I will try and write a few words about 'pot roast' brisket, seeing as it's so classically British.

I love a pot roast, and the cheaper cuts like Brisket in particular, as long slow cooking gives them a wonderful tenderness together with a rich beefy flavour that you can't find in tenderer cuts. I'm also a big dumpling fan, and at this time of year they go down a treat. This particular piece of meat was actually an offcut from the piece I bought for the Fricando recipe, as I had too much, and it was lying about in the freezer. One cold evening after Christmas I decided it would be just the ticket.

How to Make the 'Pot Roast'

A pot roast is one of the absolute simplest things you can do with meat, though to honest this is a slight variation on the theme - hence the quotes. You wouldn't usually use quite as much liquid as I've done, where I've completely immersed the meat in it. A traditional pot roast would normally just have the liquid coming up the side a little. This is something a bit more akin to a boiled beef recipe really.

Anyhow, here's how to make this one. First place your meat in the center of a  deep casserole. Then cut up some root veg into largish pieces  - I've used carrot, onion and celeriac leaves (didn't have any celery, but this works just as well) and scatter around the meat together with herbs. Here I've gone for 2 bay leaves and a generous handful of thyme. Just throw them in as they are. You'll also notice I've left some of the onion skin on for colour. Add some salt & pepper - not too much though, you'll need to adjust later - and then finally pour on boiling water to cover.

Everything in the pot

And now with the water added

Finally add the lid and cook on a very low simmer for 2-3 hours, depending on the size of the meat, the heat, pot type, etc. - you don't need to be too precise here, just pierce with a sharp knife/skewer and feel the resistance if you're concerned - the knife should penetrate the meat nice and easily.


That's the beef, now for the dumplings. I use animal suet, half suet to one portion (self-raising) flour, a little salt, and enough water to make the mixture form into a ball. Add too much liquid and you will get soggy dumplings - but maybe you like them that way! For a lighter touch and some breadcrumbs as well. I cooked these for 20 minutes in the stew, though to be honest they could have probably done with a little longer. Do check your seasoning before these go in the pot, as once they're in you should really leave the pot closed so that they can steam properly.

The pot after dinner had been taken out

And the finished dish

Lovely stuff, cheap, tasty, warming and with plenty of leftovers. Who could want more.

Gnocchi: An Expert (Italian) Video Guide

Gnocchi, like most forms of dumpling, are a common sight in my house - I love all forms of dumpling, in fact I have a whole book dedicated to the things (A World of Dumplings: Filled Dumplings, Pockets & Little Pies from Around the Globe)! Gnocchi can be tricky to perfect though, so I thought I'd shoot some video of the Italians mum creating a batch over in Italia this Christmas. Like most couples we have to alternate between parents at this time of year, and this time around it was our turn to be in Italy with B's mum and dad, Anna & Elio.

These weren't actually for Christmas day, just another lunchtime - but B's mum pretty much always sticks to the the traditional primo/secondo style of Italian dining. The primo is generally something like pasta with sauce or risotto - or indeed gnocchi - and then the secondo some form of meat with vegetables. And if you think my portion of gnocchi below looks large for a 'starter' then you should have seen it before I got her to take some off ...

Preparing the dough. The potatoes have been baked till tender, left to just cool a little, then passed through a potato ricer.

Making the dumplings.

Some of the finished article, ready for the pot.

Poaching some test dumplings - and a little bit of dog (!) Gnocchi are cooked when they rise to the surface of the boiling water.

The finished dish, together with a meat ragu (venison).

The secondo being prepared.

All in all very delicious -  and somehow I managed to return from Christmas no heavier than I left. Wonders will never cease.

P.S. Just in case you speak Italian, and are wondering why you can't understand anything that's said, they are speaking a dialect that's local to the area and although has some similarity to Italian is different enough to make most of it pretty unintelligible.


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