One of life's most simple pleasures must be the promise of a warm, savoury meal after a cold day outside. The kind of thing you throw together in the afternoon and then sit down to with friends a few hours later. It's not complicated or fussy just good home cooking made with the most basic of ingredients.
Nigel Slater is what I would call a cook's cook. He often eschews traditional recipes for a more organic or instinctual way of cooking. His mission is to make you enjoy cooking both the process and the end result. In his book, Appetite, there is a dish near the end of the book called A Winter Supper to Revive and Restore which was just begging to be made. At its heart is chicken but it is soulfully combined with leeks, onions, carrots, pearl barley, parsnips and potatoes. Below is the recipe directly copied from Mr. Slater's book to give you a taste of his writing style.
A Winter Supper to Revive and Restore - Nigel Slater - Appetite
Enough for 4, at least
- pearl barley -- a good handful
- chicken -- a large free-range one, jointed
- a little fat -- dripping, butter, goose fat or olive oil
- carrots -- 1 or 2, thoroughly scrubbed
- parsnips -- 1 or 2, peeled
- leeks -- a couple of large ones, or one of those enormous, thick winter ones
- onions -- a large one, or 3 smaller ones, peeled
- some herbs -- a few bay leaves, 3 or 4 sprigs of thyme and a couple of sage leaves
- potatoes -- about 4 small to medium ones
- parsley -- a small bunch, perky and vibrant
You will also need a very large, deep pan with a lid.
Simmer the barley in a pan of salted water until it is tender -- a matter of twenty minutes or so but taste it to check it -- then drain it.
Lightly brown the jointed chicken in the fat in a large, deep ovenproof pan. I do this in a relay, three or four pieces at a time, over a moderately high heat. Transfer the browned chicken to a plate. While the chicken is browning you need to cut the carrot and parsnip into large chunks and the leek, thoroughly scrubbed and freed of grit (it gets between the layers) into short lengths. I think it is important to keep the vegetables in fat juicy chunks for this. Cut the onion in half and then into large segments. Once the chicken is out of the pan, add the vegetables, turn them in the fat and let them soften a little, though don't let them colour. In another pan bring enough water to boil to cover the bird. Set the oven at 180°C /Gas 4.
Keeping the vegetables in their pan, drain every little bit of oil from the pan, otherwise you will only have to do it later. Now return the chicken to the pan with the pearl barley, then tuck in all the herbs except the parsley and pour over the hot water. Season with salt and some black pepper. Now slice the potatoes the thickness of pound coins -- I really think there is no need to peel them -- and lay them over the top of the chicken and vegetables. Some will inevitably sink; others will sit on top, the water just lapping at their edges.
Cover with a lid and place in the oven for an hour and a half, by which time the chicken and vegetables will be meltingly tender. Remove the lid, turn up pthe heat to 200°C/Gas 6 and leave for thirty minutes for the potatoes to colour here and there. Remove very carefully from the oven -- the pan will be full and very hot -- then scrape off any floating oil from the top. Chop the parsley and sink it into the broth. Taste the broth and adjust the seasoning with a grinding of salt and pepper.
Spoon the chicken, vegetables, barley and plenty of the broth into shallow bowls, scatter with flakes of sea salt and pass round the the pepper mill.
As mentioned above the past way to serve this piping hot meal is directly from the steaming pot. Place it on the table and let your guests help themselves. A good wintery green salad like kale served with pomegranates would be a perfect accompaniment. The end result is something between a soup and a stew. The chicken is moist and melts in your mouth while the soft vegetables are velvety smooth having absorbed all the flavour of the chicken and herbs.
And for dessert nothing beats a Pecan Pie. You can pop it in the oven right after the chicken comes out.
I hope you find some time this holiday season to make this dish. I'm taking a mini break over the next couple of weeks to revive and restore myself. I'll be back here on January 7th to kick off my third year of blogging. Until then, here's to a fabulous end to 2012. See you in the new year!
Photography - Sian Richards
Props and Styling - Emma Reddington (that's me!)