Swarthy Chicken in 2016

 

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.

 

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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.

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Ingredients:

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

 

Options:

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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You Can Win Friends with Salad

Last week, the dreariness of January really got to me.  I was desperate for a taste of sunshine.  That’s why I made Lucas Hollweg’s Chicken and bulgar wheat Waldorf salad with dill and poppy seed yogurt that featured in the September issue of Waitrose Kitchen.  I made a few substitutions: quinoa for bulgar wheat, pecans for walnuts, and orange and lemon instead of just the latter.  This salad was exactly what  I wanted and needed.  Light, refreshing, and full of the promise of spring and sunny summer days.  More importantly, I proved Homer Simpson wrong.  You can too win friends with salad.  My family loved it, especially tiny and these days she doesn’t eat anything but chips.  I’ll be making this one again soon.

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Chicken Soup with Rice

 

In September, for a while

I will ride a crocodile

Down the chicken soupy Nile

Paddle once, paddle twice

Paddle chicken soup with rice

~Maurice Sendak

     Helena, poor mamaleh, has a cold and I can’t help thinking it has something to do with last week’s puddle splashing.  So after I made roast chicken the other night, I decided Jewish penicillin was in order.  As my stock simmered on the stovetop, I realized, oy vey!, we had no matzoh meal in the house.  I saved all that schmaltz for nothing.  Thank goodness for leftover rice because that’s what I used and it was delicious.  To make this follow my recipe for Roast Chicken to Stock to Soup, but instead of adding matzo balls or pasta shapes, add 1-2 cups of rice.  I wanted to use red camargue but just like the matzoh meal, I was out.  I know.  I’ve clearly been slacking on keeping my pantry properly stocked.  All the same, I used basmati and it was wonderful.  “Chicken soup with rice is nice,” Helena has been chanting.  Thus the Maurice Sendak.  I bought her a copy of the poem today and she loves it like I hope you’ll love this soup.

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Slicily (or so I’ve called it after a few aperol spritzes) and the Sweet Life

Five years ago, I met my husband under a blood red moon while on a classic car rally in Sicily.  We were both there as guests of people who owned vintage cars.  Neither of us really fit in.  We were the strangers who came not knowing anyone other than the friends who invited us.  Still, what an adventure.

We spent a week together with 50 or so other people, toodling around hill towns and rugged beaches, meeting up only for meals and parties.  Not until the last day did we actually talk to each other.

At Catania Airport, or Aeroporto I should say, Henry and I had our first proper conversation.  The ice breaker was of a sartorial nature.  He was wearing a stripy blue jacket with white chinos as was I.  His was paired with brown suede loafers and mine with red patent leather ballet slippers that criss-crossed and buckled around my tan ankles. We were like a his and hers page in a J. Crew catalogue.

It was there at the curb while checking luggage that Henry and I realized we had a really good rapport.  Sadly, he lived in London and I in L.A. so we both quit flirting parce que what was the point and said our good-byes.  Neither of us thought we’d ever see the other again.  But life is funny and we knew nothing of what the future held.

When I got back to Los Angeles the customs officer asked if I had anything to declare.  “Boredom, vice, and poverty,” I said.  I thought I was still nursing a grand-daddy of a hangover I felt so bad.  My sickness turned out to be food poisoning from something I ate on the plane.  Once at home, I crawled into bed and stayed there for a week.

My friend who invited me on the trip forwarded me an email.  It was a humorous account of the first breakfast in Sicily that Henry had written for the London Review of Breakfasts.  I enjoyed it so much and immediately wrote to him.  He responded by telling me how pleased he was I was the first person from the rally to comment on it.

From that day forward we were in correspondence.  Daily.  I sent him parcels full of candy, Nat Sherman cigarettes, and CDs.  He sent me books with endearing inscriptions inside.  The day Geoff Dyer’s “Jeff in Venice Death in Varanasi” arrived along with some Owl and the Pussycat vanilla biscuits, I knew I had to go to him.

I flew to London for a ten day visit and there at Heathrow we had our first kiss.  I remember holding his hand the whole of our train ride to Paddington and then the entire cab ride to Bethnal Green.  I remember looking at him and hearing Lord Tanamo’s “I’m in the Mood for Love” on a loop in my head.  Life was full of magic.

Henry took me for lunch at one of his favorite restaurants, 32 Great Queen Street, where we’d later have a dinner party belatedly celebrating our marriage the following spring.  I remember potted shrimp and smoked mackerel and Bandol rosé, but what I remember most about that meal came after we left the restaurant.

As we walked outside and down the street all wrapped up in each other like new lovers do, an old man in a wheel chair outside a pub raised a tremulous arm and pointed to us.  “Love,” he said.  And it was.  So novelistically so.

At the end of those ten days, I never went home.  Instead, Henry and I survived a car crash in the South of France and he asked me to marry him on the Eurostar back to London.  A few days later he presented me with a diamond ring so I wouldn’t doubt the sincerity of his proposal.  The rest is history.

Tomorrow, we’ll be back in Sicily for the first time in five years.  Just the two of us.  No classic cars, no naughty toddler, no distractions.  Just the owl and the pussycat and a pea green boat.  Maybe a little Nino Rota on the iPod to keep us company.  And why not?  This is the sweet life.  Sweet and refreshing as any good frappato.

When I return I’ll inundate you with pictures of rugged coastlines and cannoli.  Until then, I’ll leave you with this.  My recipe for Swarthy Sicilian Chicken for Magical Realists.  Life is magical.  Sometimes it just takes a blood red moon and a distance of 5,437 miles to illuminate it for you.

 

Roast Chicken to Stock to Soup

I have a friend who judges restaurants solely on their roast chicken.  His reason being that it’s such a simple dish yet rarely is it served to perfection.  To quote my mama, “I’ll stop him when he’s wrong.”

Roast chicken is one of my favorite things to eat.  It is comfortingly simple and I make it at least once a week.  Not just for the crispy skin and tender meat but also for the magical golden stock it yields.  Whenever I’m sick or in need of something soothing, nothing makes me feel better than some chicken and stars or a bowl of matzo ball soup.  I suppose some recipes are classics for a reason.  Here are my versions of them for you.

Roast Chicken

Ingredients:

one medium sized chicken

1 large onion

2 cloves of garlic, smashed

2 carrots, washed, peeled, and halved lengthwise as well as across

1 lemon

a bunch of thyme

a bunch of parsley

dry white wine

dijon mustard

olive oil/butter/bacon fat if you have it

sea salt

pepper

Method:  Before you begin, make sure your chicken is at room temperature.  This will help it cook faster and more evenly.  It will also prevent the outside from going tough and dry while the inside is still raw.  I usually take mine out of the fridge an hour and a half to two hours before I start preparations.

Preheat your oven to 400°C/200°C/Gas6

Slice the onion into thin rounds and lay these at the bottom of your roasting dish.

Now put the lemon, thyme, and parsley into the cavity of the bird.

Divide the smashed garlic and put it under the skin of the breast meat.  Do the same with a tablespoon of butter.  This helps make the skin extra crispy.

Rub a little olive oil or bacon fat all over your bird.

Season with salt and pepper.

Lay the chicken on top of the onions and put the carrots all around.

prepped chicken

Roast for about 35 minutes then remove the chicken from the oven.  Use two wooden spoons to turn your chicken breast side down.  Also push the onions and carrots to one end of the roasting dish.  Stick the chicken back in the oven.  Continue roasting for another 30 minutes.  Remove again and flip the chicken right side up.  Add a half cup of white wine and a tablespoon of dijon mustard.  Stick it in the oven for a final 15-20 minutes or when the skin is crisp and juices run clear.  Let stand covered with foil on a carving board for at least ten minutes.  No need to make gravy as you already did by adding wine and mustard to the onions and drippings while the chicken roasted.

Stock

Ingredients:

1 chicken carcass

2 onions, halved

2 carrots, roughly cut

2 celery stalks with leaves, roughly cut

4 garlic cloves, smashed

stock

Method:  Pick all remaining meat from the chicken and set aside.  It’ll be nice to use later in a soup.  Remove the lemon and herbs from the cavity.  Now put the bird into a large pot with the vegetables and cover completely with cold water.  Bring to a boil then simmer for  an hour and half.  Put a lid on the pot and let the stock cool.  Then remove the vegetables and bones from the stock using a skimmer and sieve.  Add a cup or two of water if you like and even a tablespoon of vegetable bouillon.  It’ll only make the stock that much richer.  Reduce the broth that’s left for another hour.  Cool and store or use accordingly.  I always put a small tupperware’s worth in my freezer before moving on to make soup.

Chicken and Stars Soup

This really is food for kindergarteners or what my husband would call nursery food.  But that doesn’t make it any less comforting.

Ingredients:

1 pot of chicken stock

1 cup of pasta stars (I use De Cecco’s Stellete)

2 carrots, diced

2 small onions, peeled and cut into wedges

1 celery stalk with leaves, diced

chopped chicken meat preserved when stripping the carcass

whatever leftover gravy or drippings you might have from your chicken the night before

ingredients for chicken and stars

Method:  First things first.  Make sure you have an adorable kitchen helper.  Someone who will shake all your spices and spill vanilla on the floor while you’re cooking.  Maybe even break a mug or two if you’re lucky.

sous chef helper

Now bring the stock to a simmer.  Add the vegetables and cook for 15 minutes.  Then stir in the stars.  Stir them often as they tend to stick to the bottom of the pot.  After 10 minutes, stir in the chicken and gravy.  Remove from the heat.   Put a lid on the top and allow to stand 5 minutes before serving.

chicken and stars bowl of chicken and stars

Chicken Matzo Ball Soup

Some people call this Jewish Penicillin.  I choose to believe it is.  It always cures whatever ails me.

Ingredients:

1 pot of stock

2 carrots, diced

2 small onions, peeled and cut into wedges

1 celery stalk with leaves, diced

chopped chicken meat preserved when stripping the carcass

1 cup matzo meal

4 eggs lightly beaten

4 tablespoons schmaltz or vegetable oil

2 teaspoons sea salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

4 tablespoons chicken stock or seltzer water

Below in my unfortunate scrawl is the matzo ball recipe I’ve been using for years.  It’s never done me wrong.  Though I always double it when making soup.  I’m a greedy woman.  What more can I say?

matzo balls

Method: Mix the matzo balls according to recipe above.  After they’ve chilled and before dropping them into the broth, make sure you’ve added the vegetables and let them cook for at least ten minutes.  This will flavor give the broth a richer flavor to be soaked up by the matzo balls.  Just before serving, stir in the chicken.  Serve with fresh parsley.

bowl of matzo ball soup

Noilly Prat and Bacon Fat and Apple-Berry Crumble for Boys Who Are Humble

Oscar is my neighbor.  He is twelve and despite the ten and a half year age gap, Helena adores him.  Frankly, so do I.  More Dickon Sowerby from The Secret Garden than Glen Bishop from Mad Men, he has a sweetness about him (a quality I think he inherited from his mother) and an interest in me, the lonely foreign outsider, that’s really endearing.

When Helena and I are out back picking berries he comes to the balcony to chat.  Today, like last weekend, he came down with thick gloves and a pair of secateurs to help.  For an hour and a half he and I collected blackberries while Helena sat on a gently sloping hill eating them and trying to fish out her Thomas the Tank Engine as well as her wooden clown toy she had stuffed down a fox hole.

While in the communal garden Oscar refilled his bird feeders and introduced us to his friend, Mr. Greedy, a chirpy robin red breast he’s been feeding for years.  We talked flowers and fauna and woodland creatures and pest control–a trade he’s learning from his dad.  But they never kill the animals he wanted me to know.  They only trap them then release them into the wild.  Well, maybe except for rats.

After some time Helena was much too stained and sticky and grumpy to remain outdoors.  So we took her and her wooden toy inside.  Thomas, it seems, has gone missing.

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As a thank you for all his fruit picking help, I told Oscar and his mother that Helena and I would bring him a crumble of his own.  But first, I’d have to cook Kleine Maus some lunch.  So here is what we had–chicken legs cooked in bacon fat and Noilly Prat.  Below is the recipe.  And below that is the recipe for the apple-berry crumbles I baked.  I hope you enjoy them both.

Bacon Fat and Noilly Prat Chicken Legs:

Knowing that I had chicken legs for lunch, I purposefully left this morning’s bacon grease in a pan.  I reheated it over a medium-high flame then added the chicken pieces that I had rubbed down with Maldon salt and freshly cracked pepper.  I sautéed them and constantly shook them around, so as to avoid sticking, for about 10 minutes.  Then I added a quarter cup of Noilly Prat and allowed everything to sizzle.  I waited until the liquid evaporated and the chicken skin was crispy again.  The result was sweet, salty and aromatic.  It was also stupidly delicious and probably too good for a toddler.  But what can I say?  I love her.  I put truffle oil on her scrambled eggs and cook her nice things.

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Apple-Berry Crumble Ingredients:

Preheat the oven to 375F/190C/Gas5

For the fruit mixture:

blackberries (I used about 6 cups worth)

3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and sliced  (not too thin!  otherwise, they dissolve)

the zest of 1 lemon + half a teaspoon of its juice

1 3/4 cup sugar (a mix of Demerara and caster)

1 teaspoon vanilla bean extract

about a tablespoon of freshly grated ginger

Combine all ingredients except for the berries.  Those you gently stir in once everything else is mixed.  Take care not to bash them otherwise you’ll have soup.

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For the crumble topping:

1/4 cup flour

1 cup sugar (I use a combination of soft brown and Demerara)

1/2 cup dried coconut

3/4 cup oatmeal

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

6 tablespoons of cold cubed butter

Put all ingredients in a large bowl and use only your fingertips to combine it until it looks like fine meal.  Sprinkle liberally atop your crumble.

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Now bake for about 50 minutes or until the topping is crisp and golden brown and the fruit is viscous and bubbling.  Serve with Greek yogurt, whipped cream, or a nice vanilla bean ice cream.

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Swarthy Sicilian Chicken for Magical Realists

sunbathing

I look better with a tan.  I don’t care how gauche you think I am to say it.  My best friend is a dermatologist.  I know about the dangers of sun exposure.  My healthy fear of melanoma aside, I am also a Vanity Smurf.  I realize too much sun is bad and can render you a blotchy, freckly, ginger hag who has been living in the Canary Islands sans SPF for twenty plus years (I have given this alter ego the name of Mrs. Rathbone).  No woman wants a face like a moccasin.  Nor do I believe does any man.  This is why I always slather myself with sunscreen.  Still, the fact remains.  I look better with a tan.  For me, a tawny complexion is tantamount to instantly losing five pounds.  It also makes one’s teeth look whiter.  Who in Britain wouldn’t want that?

The first time I met the man I had no idea would be my husband, I was so swarthy he thought I was Brazilian.  I wasn’t.  I’m not.  Though I had just spent two weeks in the Caribbean drinking caipirinhas with my family, building sandcastles with my baby sister, and soaking up the sun.

Ah, the sun.  The glorious sun.

Under the Sicilian sun, my husband and I had our beginnings.  For me, this heat will always be romanticized.  When life in London gets too cold and dreary or I‘ve gone as sallow as a Dickensian orphan, this Sicilian ideal is where I go in my mind.  One of the things that helps me get there is a dish we’ve dubbed Swarthy Chicken.  For us, it’s evocative of that glowing tan I had the first time I noticed how much I loved my future husband’s nose in profile.  It reminds us of the day we sat reading next to each other poolside, ignorant to what was written in the stars, under a sea of bougainvillea on the grounds of a 17th century mansion overlooking the Mediterranean.  Swarthy Chicken is for magical realists because one serving of this dish can transport you to our sultry jasmine-scented Sicily.  But only if you believe.

The recipe is as follows:

Preheat your oven to 225 Celsius.  You want it to have all the heat of Mount Etna when she roars.

Next, slice a large yellow onion into thin rounds.  Lay these rounds at the bottom of an earthenware casserole.  Be sure to use some sort of enameled ceramic dish.  Only philistines use glass or tin.  My favorites are either a Le Creuset lasagne dish or a pretty Italian Majolica piece.  Both are built in fire and can handle fire.  Add two thinly sliced red, yellow or orange bell peppers.  Make them thin, but do not julienne.  Now smash four garlic cloves and scatter them amongst the other vegetable ruins.

Take 8-10 chicken thighs.  Thighs are inexpensive, moist, full of flavor and most importantly, they can withstand long cooking at high heat.  Rub the chicken pieces with butter.  Be generous.  Use the butter as if it were the chicken’s sunscreen.  Add a light drizzle of olive oil then liberally salt, pepper, and sprinkle with spicy smoked paprika.  This will add a fiery oaky flavor to the dish that will hearken back to the Aragonese invasion of Sicily.

Bake for 20-30 minutes.  The skin should be crisp and brown.  The onions should be caramelized with a few charred bits as if seared to seal in deliciousness by Etna herself.  Roll the chicken pieces in the savory drippings to keep moist.

Turn down the oven to 175 Celsius and bake for another 15 minutes.

Roll the chicken thighs in their juices and add a splash of good Marsala wine.  Bake for another 15 minutes so the alcohol cooks off but the flavor remains.  Terre Arse is the brand we use in our house.  My husband swears it tastes of Sicily’s past.  Perhaps he fought against the French during the War of Vespers in another life?  I have no idea.  But I take most of what he says, especially about wine, to heart. The oranges, cinnamon and pistachios that the Arabs brought to Sicily 1,000 years ago are very present in this fortified wine’s flavor notes and you will definitely be able to taste them in your gravy.  Let us not forget Marsala is Arabic for Port of Allah.  And it is from Allah (or at least his port) that Marsala must come as it really is the most otherworldly emulsifier.  It pulls together all the elements of this dish—the smoke and the spice of the paprika, the oak of the casks that aged the wine, the sweetness of the caramelized onions and peppers—to create the richest, most fragrant gravy.

Before serving, throw in a handful of roughly chopped green Sicilian olives.  My favorite are the giant meaty ones from Puglia that are so sweet and fruity, one could mistake them for cherries.

Serve atop basmati rice, turn on the Nino Rota and you’re there.  Swarthy in Sicily that is.