Chicken Risotto – A Simple Italian Classic

This is a really fabulous Chicken Risotto. It’s worth taking the effort to cook a whole chicken and use the stock and meat to make the risotto. It’s not really that much work and depending on the number of portions you need you might have a left-over poached chicken breast for a fabulous sandwich on the following day.
In my opinion, you want to avoid strong partner flavours for this Chicken Risotto to allow the chicken flavour to shine through. Some folks think there is cream in the risotto but this would be a crime. It’s the mantecatura that makes the difference.
The texture and wetness of the Chicken Risotto is important. There is nothing worse then claggy, stodgy risotto. Equally, you don’t want it too soupy. If, when it has rested it seems too “dry” then adding a ladle of the remaining stock can loosen it up just before serving. Risotto really must be made and served as soon as it has rested for 5 minutes. If you keep it hanging around the rice will overcook, and absorb more liquid, and “dry up”, becoming a fairly unpleasant sticky, claggy, mess. Likewise, it’s not much good for leftovers that can be reheated.
Ingredients
  • A small to medium chicken
  • Some carrot, celery and onion to add to the chicken stock
  • Thyme
  • Bay leaf
  • 1-2 tbsp Olive oil, I just use plain olive oil, again to keep the flavour simple
  • 1 medium onion very finely chopped
  • Risotto rice, 80-100g per person
  • A glass of white wine or white vermouth, I generally use Noilly Prat
  • The chicken stock, there should be enough, but start using boiling water if you run short.
  • 100g frozen peas (optional)
  • 100g Parmesan, finely grated, adjust to taste
  • A decent bunch of flat leaf parsley, chopped just before you use it
  • 25-40g cold butter, cubed
  • The cold chicken meat, torn by hand into decent sized chunks. The chicken pieces need to be small enough to eat in one bite but should be as large as can be managed. Small shreds will just get lost and also be a bit fibrous to eat,
Method
  1. First, cook the chicken. Do this on the morning of the day you will have the risotto if you can, or the previous day if you chill the chicken and the stock in the fridge after cooking. Put the chicken in a pot or casserole suitable for the stove top. It should be tight fitting. You should add some carrot, celery and onion, a bay leaf, and some sprigs of thyme (a few peppercorns won’t go wrong.) Then top it up with water to just cover the chicken. Do not season at this stage. Bring it to the boil and poach at a very gentle simmer for between 60-75 minutes to cook the chicken.
  2. Cool the chicken, till it can be handled, in the stock to keep it moist
  3. Remove the chicken to a work board to pick the meat off the chicken, storing the cooked chicken in the fridge. Keep the breasts whole, you can tear them apart later when you put in the risotto.
  4. Drain the stock through a sieve into a pot. You will use the stock to cook the risotto, giving the chicken flavour to the cooked risotto.
  5. To make the risotto start by softening the onion gently till it is soft. This can take 10-20 minutes. You don’t want colour, no golden onions here. I don’t add celery to this risotto to keep the flavour simpler.
  6. Put the stock pot beside the risotto pot and warm it up till it’s at the gentlest simmer, put a ladle in the pot.
  7. Add the rice and stir until the grains are properly hot and well coated in the oil. You don’t want to brown them, but this tostada stage is important. They will begin to feel like they are sticking to the base of the pan and it’s essential to keep them moving. Once they are nicely hot then move on.
  8. Add the vermouth or wine and let it simmer down, the alcohol will burn off
  9. Add some salt, probably about a teaspoon, you can adjust at the end. Remember the butter might be salted.
  10. Now ladle stock, a couple of ladlefuls at a time, into the rice. Stir the rice more or less continuously until the stock is mainly absorbed, then add some more of the stock, and continue. The stirring brings out the starch and creates the creaminess of texture.
  11. You have to test the grains to see if it is ready. Cooking will take 15-20 minutes. When the rice grains are just losing their dry firmness in the centre they are ready.
  12. If using frozen peas add them now and stir for a minute or so till they are heated
  13. Now for the “mantecatura”, which is simply making it creamy. Add the half the parmesan, the parsley and the cold butter cubes. Beat these in with a wooden spoon for a minute or so till all is incorporated and creamy. Remember that you don’t want to overpower the flavour with parmesan, too little is better than too much.
  14. Stir in the chicken and set the pot somewhere warm to keep hot for about 5 minutes.
  15. Serve in bowls with a sprinkle of parmesan, parsley and freshly ground pepper.
Some folks add finely chopped celery at the onion cooking stage. I prefer a slightly less intense flavour to allow the chicken flavour to shine. If I was making Porcini Risotto I would probably add finely chopped celery alongside the onion. You can add more chopped thyme with the rice if you like a more herby flavour. The peas are fine because they maintain their shape and are lightly cooked so become little pea flavour pods in the finished Chicken Risotto.
For a nice textured Chicken Risotto with lumps of chicken, stir the chicken in last to avoid breaking it up by the mantecatura stage.

Chicken & Mushroom (or Leek) Pie

A completed Chicken and Mushroom Pie with Golden Pastry
Chicken and Mushroom Pie

I love chicken and mushroom pie. Substitute some leeks if you don’t like mushrooms. I particularly like this as it has a good chicken flavour. Some people might argue it’s not a pie because it only has a pastry lid, but it’s a pie to me.

A well-flavoured stock is the secret of a nice chicken pie. And the poaching of the chicken leaves the meat soft and succulent. I like the chicken cooked in advance.

It’s a great one to do in advance all up to the pastry stage. The chilled filling can be in the fridge (well chilled, this is better for the pastry which must go on a cold filling, anything warm partly poaches the pastry before it rises, and makes it very soggy) in the dish just waiting for its pastry lid. Indeed, to save even more last-minute fuss, the pastry lid can also be added when the filling is cold and kept in the fridge, so the pie just needs glazed and then 30-40 minutes in the oven to warm (remember, the chicken is already cooked.)
Ingredients
  • Chicken big enough for the size of pie you want
  • Onion, carrot, celery, herbs (tarragon/parsley is nice) for stock
  • Milk or cream (I use semi-skimmed milk and it’s just fine. A lot of cream makes it heavier)
  • Portobello mushrooms, enough for the pie depending on how many mushrooms you like. If it’s autumn and you get wild mushrooms then use them.)
  • More herbs for the sauce (tarragon and/or parsley)
  • 30g butter
  • 30g plain flour
  • Nutmeg for grating
  • Shop bought rolled puff pastry (life’s too short to make puff pastry)
  • Beaten egg to glaze
 Method
  1. Cook the chicken gently in a casserole of water with herbs and veg. Don’t make the casserole to big in relation to the chicken or you get a weak stock. A tight-fitting casserole is best, you only need about 500ml of stock. Cover the chicken and cook for about 60-75 minutes, depending on the size of the bird. The stock should just blip gently on the stove, it doesn’t need a hard boil.
  2. Drain, sieve and reserve the stock from the cooked chicken, you will use this to make a sauce for the pie
  3. Once cooled pick the chicken meat from the carcass and cover. You may want to keep it in the fridge if you won’t use it soon. Discard the carcass as the flavour has been removed when you made the stock.
  4. Sauté the mushrooms and set aside with chicken
  5. Reduce the stock, if required, with the herbs to about 500ml to concentrate the flavour
  6. Make a roux of the butter and plain flour
  7. Add the stock slowly and in small batches to make a sauce
  8. Add a splash of milk
  9. Season the sauce with salt and plenty of pepper, and a grating of nutmeg
  10. Add the sauce to the chicken and mushrooms, mixed together in a pie dish and chill in the fridge until properly cold
  11. Once cool add the pasty top, glaze with egg and make a hole for steam
  12. Cook for about 30-40 minutes at about 180C fan, until the pastry is golden and the filling hot. If it’s getting too dark you can turn the temperature down 10-20 degrees to allow the filling to fully warm. A temperature probe is brilliant for checking it’s fully warmed through by sticking it in the steam hole you made.
Variants
  • Try some sautéed leeks instead of the mushrooms
  • You could try adding some rehydrated porcini mushrooms but watch you don’t overpower the flavour of the chicken
  • You could add some leftover cooked ham to make chicken and ham pie

Chicken Vindail – Tomato Based Indian Curry

Last night I made Chicken Vindail for dinner. It is really tasty, a bit different, and quick to make. This Chicken Vindail is based on a Rick Stein recipe,  I can highly recommend his book on Indian food.

Pasta bowl with Chicken Vindail and plain basmati rice
Chicken Vindail with Plain Basmati Rice

Make this with chicken breasts, or a jointed chicken, or some skin on thighs and drummers according to your preference. I quite often have some chicken breast in the freezer in single portions to be used to make dishes as required. The cooking time for the chicken needs to be reduced or extended depending on the type and size of chicken pieces you use (cut up breasts will cook much quicker, but have a bit of a flavour disadvantage.)

Even if making this for myself where I reduce the quantities a bit I find I can put in a similar amount of spice and the full amount of vinegar and sugar, even if I’m using only 300g tomatoes and 1 chicken breast. Kashmiri Mirch is pretty ferocious so I’ve reduced the quantity to 1 tsp. If you like it hot, or your chilli powder is not as strong, then you may want some more.
Ingredients
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2cm cinnamon stick
  • 1 clove
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 10 cloves of garlic, crushed. Use common sense here. If they are huge fat cloves then reduce by a few.
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp Kashmiri mirch, chilli powder
  • ½ tsp ground fenugreek
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 500g chopped tomatoes (no need to peel)
  • 1kg chicken thighs and drummers (or 2-3 chicken breasts chopped into big chunks. Don’t cut them too small or they just dry out. Reduce the time they are in the cooking sauce. I find 15 minutes simmering long enough.)
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp sugar (you could get a bit fancy and use jaggery but it really won’t make any difference)
Method
  1. Temper the cinnamon, clove and star anise by frying in the hot oil for 60 seconds
  2. Add the chopped onions and cook on a medium heat till they soften and go a bit golden, should take about 15 minutes
  3. Add the crushed garlic, cumin, chilli, fenugreek, turmeric, and salt. Cook these off for about 2 minutes.
  4. Add the chopped tomatoes, cooking them for 5 minutes till they begin to soften down.
  5. Add the chicken pieces, stirring them in to coat with the sauce, if using breast meat then hold them back for a later addition.
  6. Cover the pot and simmer for 30-40 minutes. (Simmer the sauce until the chicken is cooked and the sauce has a nice consistency.) Watch for it drying and catching, add a little water from the kettle if needed. If using breast you will get away with leaving it out until last 15 minutes. If using larger chicken pieces take care to cook long enough to fully cook through. A temperature probe can be useful for checking if larger pieces of meat are cooked.
  7. Stir in the vinegar and sugar to finish, simmering gently for 5 minutes uncovered.
Lovely with plain basmati rice or some Indian breads.

Kozani Chicken – Simple Greek Food

Kozani chicken is a Greek recipe and this based on a version from Rick Stein. These quantities serve about 4 people depending on the size of the chicken pieces etc.
It is very simple but quite tasty. A nice saffron tone, with some sweetness from the prunes. It might even stand a pinch of sugar, taste and season once it’s cooked.
I’ve made it with chicken thighs with bones in (after removing their skin) and this is probably better for flavour. Some folks can’t be fussed with the bones and if you are wanting to serve as a fork and bowl TV dinner then you might prefer to use boneless and skinless thighs. I haven’t tried with chicken breast but this might work if the breast was kept in large pieces, perhaps halved, and then poached, taking care it isn’t cooked too long.
Reducing the sauce was essential. I took out the chicken when I was reducing. In a wide pan, this doesn’t take long. While it reduced I stripped the chicken flesh from the thighs and put it back in for a couple of minutes to re-heat at the end.
Serve in a bowl with some simple boiled rice or some boiled potatoes, and a Greek side salad.
Ingredients
  • 8 chicken thighs, skin removed
  • pinch of Kozani saffron (or Spanish saffron) – I just used regular saffron
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 red onions, thinly sliced
  • 1½ tbsp sweet paprika (that’s the normal plain paprika, neither smoked nor too hot)
  • 20 pitted prunes (The soft “ready to eat” ones are Ok but don’t need much cooking so perhaps add them later in the process so they don’t over soften)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • A few turns of ground black pepper, or more if you like more kick
Method
  1. Put the chicken thighs in a large saucepan with about 1 litre water and the saffron. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and poach the chicken for 10–15 minutes. Drain, reserving the now yellow and saffron flavoured cooking liquid.
  2. At the same time heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium-low heat and sweat the onion gently until very soft, about 15-20 minutes.
  3. Add the paprika, cook for 1-2 minutes.
  4. Add the chicken thighs, about 700ml of the cooking liquid and the prunes. Season with the salt and pepper and simmer for about 20 minutes, until heated through and the chicken is cooked. This is where pieces of chicken breast may need less time. (You could always remove the breast and sit to the side while the sauce finishes.)
  5. If the sauce is very watery, which it almost certainly will be, remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and keep warm while you reduce down the sauce so that you have enough to spoon over each portion.
  6. A sprinkling of fresh parsley might be nice.