Five ways with chicken by Nigel Slater | Food

A roast chicken is a joyous sight, plump and golden, the star of Sunday lunch, then – the next day – something to plunder for sandwiches and soup. But most of the chicken we eat arrives in the kitchen not as a whole, glorious bird, plucked and tied and ready for the oven, but in the form of wings or thighs, breasts or drumsticks. Neat little packages for weekday dinners.

Wings – cheap and too often forgotten – roast sweetly enough with nothing more than lemon, green oil and black pepper. (I despair of supermarkets and butchers who remove the tips of their chicken wings. The bit that crisps and caramelises so delectably in the roasting tin.) I sometimes leave them in the oven till they are so crisp they almost shatter between the teeth, tiny strips of translucent nut-brown skin – savoury butterscotch to eat with salt, lemon and a tub of hummus.

Thighs from plump, free-range birds need very little work from the cook to be good. They can be roasted with soy sauce, ginger and honey, or simmered with leeks and thyme for soup, though I will often roast a dish of them with butter and lemon to keep in the fridge for snacking on. (Lots of salt, a dollop of mayonnaise and I’m happy.) I buy minced chicken, too, for making into herb-freckled cakes with lemon and garlic and tarragon and stuffing between slices of soft, lightly toasted bread.

Chicken burgers with basil and lemon mayonnaise

I use a soft, brioche-like milk bread for these chicken sandwiches, but a soft, floury roll, split and toasted, would be good too. The basil mayonnaise could be changed to include tarragon if you prefer, but the seasoning of lemon juice and black pepper remains essential. A quick reminder that chicken should be used the day it is minced.

Makes 6 sandwiches
minced chicken breast meat 500g
tarragon leaves 1 heaped tbsp
garlic 2 cloves
dried breadcrumbs 6 heaped tbsp
lemon 1
groundnut oil for frying

For the mayonnaise
basil leaves 30g
ready-made mayonnaise 12 tbsp
pickled cabbage 12 tbsp
pickled gherkins 3
soft brioche-style milk bread 12 slices

Put the minced chicken breast meat in a medium-size mixing bowl. Roughly chop the tarragon leaves and add them to the mince. Finely crush the garlic to a paste, then add to the chicken with the breadcrumbs, the juice of half of the lemon and a generous crumbling of salt. Reserve the other lemon half for the dressing.

Mix everything together – easiest done with your hands – then shape into six burgers and place on a tray in the fridge for a good hour.

Make the herb mayonnaise: finely shred the basil leaves and stir them into the mayonnaise with a squeeze of lemon and a little black pepper. Drain the pickled cabbage, thinly slice the gherkins.

Toast the bread lightly on both sides and spread one side with the basil mayonnaise. Place some of the pickles – red cabbage and gherkins – on six of the slices.

Heat a shallow film of oil in a wide, shallow pan that doesn’t stick. Fry the burgers for a couple of minutes each side until golden. Cover with a lid and continue cooking for 3 or 4 minutes till cooked right through.

Place a burger on each of the six slices of bread then sandwich together with the remaining slices.

Chicken soup with leeks and orzo

Chicken soup with leeks and orzo.
Chicken soup with leeks and orzo. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin/The Observer

Thick, silky soup, with soft leeks and orzo, substantial enough to eat as a main dish. Recipes like this get me through the first chilly days of spring. The consistency is poised between soup and stew (watch the liquid levels as the soup simmers, topping it up if needs be). I like to keep the pieces of chicken thick and roughly torn, they are more pleasing to eat than chicken that has been chopped into cubes.

Serves 4
olive or vegetable oil 3 tbsp
chicken thighs 6 large
leeks 400g
chicken or vegetable stock 1 litre
lemon ½
black peppercorns 8
orzo 100g
green olives 12
peas 150g, shelled or frozen weight
parsley a small handful, chopped

Warm the olive or vegetable oil in a deep, wide pan, add the chicken pieces, skin side down and lightly seasoned, then cook for about 10-15 minutes over a moderate heat until the skin is a rich, deep gold. Turn them and colour the underside similarly, then remove from the pan and set aside.

Trim the leeks, discarding the roots and the very dark tips of the leaves. Slice into rounds, about as thick as a pencil, wash them thoroughly in cold running water, removing every grain of grit trapped between their layers.

Shake the leeks dry, then add them to the pan in which you cooked the chicken – there should still be plenty of juices in which to do so – letting them cook over a moderate heat for about 15 minutes. Cover the pan with a lid, so the leeks soften without browning.

When the leeks are soft and sweet, pour in the stock and bring to the boil, then add the lemon half, the whole peppercorns and a teaspoon of salt. Turn the heat down to a simmer, return the chicken to the pan and let the stock, lemon and leeks bubble gently for about 30 minutes till the chicken is soft and ready to pull from its bones.

Remove the chicken from the stock with a draining spoon and slice the meat from the bones, keeping the pieces big and juicy. Turn up the heat, rain the orzo into the stock and continue boiling for 8-10 minutes till the orzo has swelled and softened.

Add the olives, peas and parsley, and correct the seasoning. Cook for a minute or two – the stew should be thick and soupy – then stir in the chicken and ladle into bowls.

Chicken with lentils and pomegranate

Chicken with lentils and pomegranate.
Chicken with lentils and pomegranate. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin/The Observer

Small brown or green lentils are an earthy addition to this jumble of herbs, rice, nuts and fruit. There is a pleasing contrast of textures here: the mixture of white rice and brown lentils; the pomegranate for its pop of acidity; the toasted nuts offer a welcome crunch. I eat this warm rather than hot or cold, as a dish in its own right, though it would be welcome as an accompaniment too.

Serves 4
leftover roast chicken 400g
green or brown lentils 150g
onion 1 medium
olive oil 2 tbsp
garlic 2 cloves
basmati rice 250g
chicken stock 500ml
orange 1
lemon 1
pomegranate 1
flaked almonds 20g
coriander leaves 3 tbsp
mint leaves 3 tbsp

Get the roast chicken out of the fridge – you don’t want it to be cold. Cook the lentils in deep, boiling water, lightly salted, for about 20 minutes till nutty and tender. Test their progress from time to time, then drain them and set aside.

Peel and finely chop the onion. Warm the oil in a deep saucepan, then add the onion and let it cook for 6-10 minutes or so, until translucent, stirring regularly. Peel and finely chop the garlic, then stir into the onion and continue cooking for a couple of minutes.

Wash the rice three times in a bowl of water, tipping away the cloudy water each time. Stir the rice into the pan, pour in the stock, cover with a lid and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and cook for 10 minutes.

Finely grate the zest from the orange and lemon, and remove the seeds from the pomegranate (you need about 200g). In a shallow pan over a moderate heat, toast the flaked almonds till golden. Tear the chicken into large pieces.

When the rice is ready, stir in the zests, almonds and the pomegranate seeds, the pieces of chicken and the herbs. Season with plenty of salt, black pepper and the juice of half of the lemon.

Spiced wings with garlic butter

Spiced wings with garlic butter.
Spiced wings with garlic butter. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin/The Observer

A recipe that looks like a lot of trouble but isn’t really. The chicken needs an hour or so in its marinade, then you spread it with garlic butter and roast it. A herb and yoghurt dressing is all it needs.

Serves 4
garlic 4 cloves
groundnut oil 1 tbsp
dried chilli flakes 2 tsp
ground cinnamon 1 tsp
limes 3
chicken wings 12 large

For the garlic butter
butter 70g, softened
garlic 2 cloves
ground chilli 1 tsp
fresh ginger 2 tsp, grated to a puree

For the dressing
mint leaves 10
coriander leaves 20
garlic 1 clove
natural yoghurt 200ml

Peel four garlic cloves and crush them to a paste with a pinch of salt. A pestle and mortar is best for this. Stir in the groundnut oil, chilli flakes and cinnamon. Squeeze the juice from the limes – you need about 100ml – and stir into the garlic and spices. Rub the chicken wings all over with this mixture, then cover and set aside for an hour. A few hours more will not hurt. Turn the chicken wings once or twice as they marinate.

Preheat the oven to 180C fan/gas mark 6. To make the garlic butter, peel and crush the garlic and mash into the butter with a little salt and the ground chilli. Stir the pureed ginger into the butter. Season with salt. Spread the chicken with the seasoned butter and place in a roasting tin. Bake for 45-50 minutes – checking regularly – until the wings are crisp. It is a good idea to turn them over halfway through cooking.

While the chicken bakes, make the accompaniment: chop the mint and the coriander leaves, and peel and mash the garlic clove. Stir into the yoghurt with a good pinch of sea salt. Serve with the hot chicken.

Baked chicken thighs, orange and chicory

Baked chicken thighs, orange and chicory.
Baked chicken thighs, orange and chicory. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin/The Observer

The glaze – with fish sauce and ginger, soy and honey – can be used for any cut of chicken but I like it best with brown meat. It bakes to a sticky, almost toffee-like gloss, so I do recommend lining the roasting tin with foil or baking parchment. The sweetness needs something sour such as the orange salad I suggest, or one of cucumber, lime juice and spring onions. I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t mention they are also wonderful served cold – a messy lunchbox treat.

Serves 4
garlic a fat, juicy clove
lemongrass 2 stalks
hot red chillies 2 small
ginger a 40g piece
vegetable oil 1 tbsp
light soy sauce 1 tbsp
lime juice 1 tbsp
fish sauce 1 tbsp
runny honey 3 tbsp
chicken thighs 8 large, free range

For the salad
blood oranges 2
chicory 2 heads

Peel the clove of garlic, crush it to a coarse paste with a pinch of sea salt using a pestle and mortar or the flat of a knife blade, then scrape into a jam jar. Discard the outer leaves of the lemongrass and roughly chop the tender shoot within (you should have about 20g). Put the chopped lemongrass into an electric spice mill or coffee grinder and process to a dry paste. (You can do this by hand with a pestle and mortar, though it will be much coarser in texture and jolly hard work.) Add it to the jar.

Finely chop the chillies and their seeds, and add to the garlic and lemongrass. Peel the ginger, then grate it finely to a puree and scrape into the jar. I use a very sharp, fine-toothed grater for this.

Add the vegetable oil, soy sauce, lime juice and fish sauce, then spoon in the honey, tighten the lid and shake to combine to a thin, syrupy marinade. Pour into a mixing bowl or plastic zip-lock bag, add the chicken thighs – whole and skin on – and turn them over in the marinade until thinly coated, then set aside in a cool place for a couple of hours.

Set the oven at 180C fan/gas mark 6. Line a roasting tin with kitchen foil. Transfer the thighs and their marinade to the tin and bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Turn each piece over and return them to the oven for 15 minutes till sticky and caramelised.

While the thighs are roasting, make the salad. Remove the peel from the oranges with a sharp knife taking care to trim away all the white pith. Cut the orange into segments, retaining as much juice as possible, and put them in a bowl. Snap the chicory leaves into short lengths and toss with the oranges. Serve with the sticky roast thighs.

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