To start with a classic – but with a twist. Tradition calls for lengthy simmering in red wine. That’s because this was a way of tenderising tough old birds from the farmyard. In our modern fresh world I like plump pieces of fresh chicken tasting of chicken within a wonderful red wine sauce – two distinct tastes.
I also like to prepare well in advance. Come to think of it – preparation is everything.
Ultimately this dish is then simply a last minute assembly – no fuss, no dull overcooked meat – and I have time to be with The Blonde. So two steps – “prepare” and then “assemble” – to chicken in a red wine sauce.
- Olive oil and butter.
- 1 chicken thigh and 1 leg per person.
- Salt and black pepper.
- Half slice bacon per person, cut in strips.
- 4 mushrooms per person roughly sliced.
- 1 onion per person roughly cut into 6.
- 1 clove elephant garlic finely chopped.
- 12 sprigs thyme.
- 2 bay leaves.
- Half glass of brandy.
- Half bottle good red wine.
- Squeeze of tomato paste.
- Pint Chicken stock*
- 1 tablespoon flour and quarter stick of butter.
- Handful of freshly chopped parsley.
- Salt and pepper each chicken piece, add a blob of honey, and brown vigorously both sides in a little olive oil and butter. You want chestnut brown caramelised rich colour – this is about looking good. Cover frying pan and cook slowly for 15 minutes – check to ensure just cooked through – reserve in casserole, leaving scraps, fat etc in the pan.
- Brown the bacon pieces – reserve again leaving scraps, fat etc in the pan.
- Brown the mushrooms – reserve etc.
- Brown the onions and garlic lightly – reserve etc.
- Add half bottle red wine, half glass of brandy, pint chicken stock*, bay leaves, thyme, tomato paste to the pan and boil to reduce by one third (30 minutes) – taste for seasoning. If there are more than 4 of you double the mix of wine and stock etc. There should be enough sauce at the end to barely cover the chicken in the casserole.
- Melt quarter stick of butter in separate pot, stir in large tablespoon flour, bubble, add hot stock mix ladle by ladle to the hot roux, stirring to thicken. Boil for a few minutes, taste. The sauce should be as thick as heavy cream and tasting of wine, thyme and chicken – scrumptious.
- All the above can be done well ahead of time – so clear up, have a clean kitchen, open the windows – make it look easy.
- 15 minutes before the guests arrive, assemble in Le Creuset casserole and heat to a slow simmer. Turn off and leave covered.
- Reheat as necessary just before serving. Sprinkle a heavy hand of chopped parsley and serve simply with garlic croutons and a sharp green salad of mixed leaves with a lemony French dressing.
You can of course use chicken stock cubes. But if you want to be a passionate cook embrace the process. Making stock is at the heart of it all – wonderfully relaxing, a way of using up left over bits of vegetables and meats, and the secret of delicious. So:
- A range of vegetable left overs, stalks, green bits of leeks, hearts of cabbage, broccoli stalks, onions, garlic, end bits bacon, carcasses and bones plus handfuls of herbs (I store them in big plastic bags in the fridge till “Stock day”) all cut up roughly in a large pot of water. Add anything spare in the fridge – such as frozen peas.
- Ensure carrots, some root vegetables, celery and a squeeze of tomato paste – they add sweetness.
- Simmer for 3 or 4 hours, reduce to around 50%, filter and store in the freezer in plastic containers – fine for several months.