Swarthy chicken is a family classic, but over the years it has evolved. For a while, I was queen of this dish. These days, my husband, Henry Jeffreys, is king.
Though I have always loved cooking, my abilities drastically improved when Henry entered my life. In many ways, he taught me how to cook. He taught me that it was not only wasteful to discard the carcass of a roast chicken, but also a shame as it makes such delicious stock. Most of the pasta sauces I make are versions of his. Same with my savoury pies. I’ll admit I never even made gravy until he showed me how.
The first time I visited him in London, he made a rolled shoulder of lamb stuffed with anchovies, garlic, capers, parsley, and lemon. He served it with a bottle of Rioja Reserva. Immediately I fell in love and then into a food coma. But I digress. . .
Below is his recipe for swarthy chicken which is reminiscent of barbecue due to all that smoky paprika. If you enjoy it, do check out his World of Booze and also his book, Empire of Booze, which comes out this November.
My wife and I have been making this recipe now for about six years. At one point it was a sort of Moroccan thing with preserved lemons, olives and cinnamon but gradually it has morphed into the recipe below. It’s extremely easy to make. The magic of the dish is in the mix of crispy and gooey. The chicken skins must be crisp and the vegetables need to be slightly charred in places. It’s best to use smoked paprika as it gives the dish a BBQ flavour. Oh and a word about the wine at the end. You want something dry but with lots of flavour. Fino sherry won’t cut the mustard. Waitrose own label Palo Cortado works well, Noilly Prat vermouth also good. The best is a Marsala Vergine such as Terre Arse if you can find it. It doesn’t seem to make any difference whether you marinade the chicken for an hour or overnight. This is a recipe that never fails to lift my spirits.
Chicken pieces – I used 4 thighs and 2 legs from a specially bred mutant chicken.
2 heaped teaspoons of smoked paprika
Juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 small onions sliced
2 red peppers sliced
6 cloves of garlic in skin
Small glass of dry sherry
Lots of salt and pepper
If I have fresh thyme in the house, I’ll add some leaves to the marinade.
Ditto with a little chopped parsley at the end.
Method: Put the chicken, paprika, lemon juice, sherry vinegar, olive oil, lots salt and pepper in a plastic bowl and mix thoroughly until chicken completely coated in the mixture. Leave for at least an hour.
Pre-heat oven to gas mark 7.
Take the chicken pieces out and place in large glass dish. Put the onions, garlic cloves and peppers in the plastic bowl and mix them around to get the last of the spicy sauce out. Strew the vegetables around the chicken pieces. You want edges of the onions and peppers to get a little charred. Add a bit more salt and pepper to the vegetables.
Heat in the oven for 20 – 30 minutes or until skin begins to crisp. Give the vegetables a good mix in the juices, turn oven down to gas mark 3 and leave for an hour. Take out and have a look at the dish. The chicken should be crispy, the vegetables gooey and charred in places (if they’re not, turn the oven up a little.) Add a glass of sherry and put back in the oven for 10 minutes.
Take out and serve with boiled rice. Don’t forget to smash the now gooey garlic out of its skin and into the rich sauce.