Brown meat or white? I sit on the fence liking both equally, though in different ways. In a chicken sandwich, with lemon mayonnaise, chirpy watercress and soft peppery basil leaves, I prefer thin slices from the breast (which I also spread with a fine wave of yuzu kosho). But it is the brown meat – the thighs, drumsticks and juicy little oysters hiding in the undercarriage – that I use for pies, sautés and the endless baked chicken-thigh dinners that come from this kitchen on an almost weekly basis.
Sometimes the recipe itself decrees the cut that is most suitable. A slowly simmered stew will turn chicken breasts to rags, but reduce even the toughest of hard-worked thigh meat to silk. A gentle sauce made with white wine, cream and tarragon is impossible to beat with the pale flesh from the breast, especially when left in the hands of a French cook.
If I open the fridge on a Monday evening to the glorious sight of a leftover roast chicken on its platter, it is the drumsticks I head for, twisting them from the carcass and stuffing them into any sauce to hand (preferably garlic mayonnaise, but I wouldn’t say no to almost anything).
The leftovers are, of course, as much a treat as the rest of the bird, but for this week’s recipes I would go for broke with fat thighs and plump breasts from the best-bred bird to which our budgets will stretch.
The lemons, sliced thinly, soften deliciously as the chicken, olives and potatoes cook. You eat them, skin and all. There is a richness to this recipe, despite the humble ingredient list. Serves 4
chicken breasts 1 kg
olive oil 2 tbsp
onions 2, large
saffron a pinch (optional)
small potatoes 350g, small
green olives a large handful
For the paste:
garlic 3 large cloves
smoked paprika ½ tsp
ground turmeric 2 tsp
cumin seeds 1 tsp
olive oil 2-3 tbsp
Make the spice paste first. Peel the garlic and place in a mortar or food processor. Add a pinch of salt and pound to a paste. Stir in the paprika, turmeric and cumin seeds and grind, introducing enough olive oil (about 3 tbsp) to make a loose paste.
Put the chicken breasts in a bowl, add the spice paste and toss to coat. Cover with a plate and leave to marinate in a cool place for a good hour.
Peel and chop the onions. Heat a little olive oil in a wide pan, add the onions and let them soften and colour lightly. Remove from the pan and set aside. Introduce the chicken breasts to the pan, letting them colour lightly on both sides.
Thinly slice the lemon and add to the pan with the saffron and enough stock to come halfway up the chicken pieces. Thinly slice the potatoes into coins and add to the pan, return the onions and cover with a lid and leave to cook for 15-20 minutes until the chicken and potatoes are cooked.
Add the olives and check the seasoning. Remove the chicken and keep it warm, then turn up the heat and let the liquid reduce a little until slightly soupy. I serve this with a knife, fork and spoon.
There is something vaguely Hungarian about this – though I must admit it is a while since I crossed that particular bridge. What you get is a hearty stew of brown meat. I use thighs, but you could include the whole leg if you wish. Serves 4
groundnut or vegetable oil 2 tbsp
chicken thighs 850g, on the bone
red onions 350g
onions 2, medium
garlic 3 cloves
mushrooms 225g, small and brown
ground cumin 3 tsp
ground coriander 3 tsp
garam masala 2 tbsp
vegetable or chicken stock 500ml
plain flour 1 heaped tbsp
grain mustard 2 tsp
Dijon mustard 2 tsp
soured cream 150ml
coriander a small handful (optional)
In a heavy, shallow casserole, warm the oil over a moderate heat, season the chicken with black pepper and a little salt, then brown lightly on both sides. Remove the chicken and set aside.
Meanwhile, peel, halve and thinly slice the onions, both red and white. Peel and thinly slice the garlic. While the chicken is set aside, add the onions and garlic to the pan, leaving them to cook until soft and honey coloured – about 12-15 minutes, with the occasional stir.
Slice the mushrooms, roughly the thickness of a pound coin, then stir them into the onions and let them cook for 4 or 5 minutes until they are taking on a little colour. (If the base of the pan is getting sticky with caramelised cooking juices, then all to the good.) Add a little more oil if the mixture looks at all dry.
Stir in the cumin, coriander and garam masala, continue cooking for a couple of minutes, then add the flour. Cook for a minute or two, then pour in the stock and bring to the boil. Immediately return the chicken to the pan, adjust the heat to a simmer, season and stir in the mustards, then leave for 25 minutes or so until the chicken is cooked. Transfer to a serving dish or shallow bowls and spoon over a ribbon of soured cream. I like to add a little chopped coriander at this point – it works perfectly with the spices – but it is up to you.
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This article was amended on 10 October 2022 to remove a mistaken mention of paprika in the introduction to the second recipe.