For me, chicken has always been a stabilising food in times of crisis or just when life gets you down, in possession of almost mythical healing abilities. Whether psychosomatic, or truly medically beneficial, when I'm unwell I tend to crave it, then feel better almost immediately for having had it. But different dishes are called for different ailments: when it's any form of sniffles - chicken soup. How could anything feel more internally nurturing than that. When I've had a bowl of a clear, slightly fatty, rich broth, I immediately know I can sit back and let it work its wonders, relax and just be ill. And that in itself is half the way to recovery - after all, a neurotic like me isn't going to sit quietly and let illness take control. No! I will arm-wrestle it until, inevitably, I slump back, looking like a wrung rag, and with the horror of the realisation that I truly am sick, shuffle to the freezer and unleash a frozen tub of greenish-yellow ice, run it under the tap until it's loosened enough to plop into a pan and can be melted and brought to a gentle bubble on the stove.
|A'mehaye (The Reviver)|
At any rate, once the chicken component is in a pot of water and has been brought to a rolling boiling point, turn the heat down, skim the top, and add all your veg - for me it's always aromatics - carrot, celery or celeriac, onion, a handful of parsley, a potato or two, courgette, and one tomato to give a lemony zing, plus bay leaves, whole peppercorns and plenty of salt. Leave on a low heat for a good hour and a half to two hours, skimming occasionally. Your poorly body will thank you.
There are some fascists out there, who, granted - make much nicer soup then me, demand that you throw away the vegetables you cooked the soup with, as they have served their purpose as flavouring, then add new ones for a fresher taste, cooked for a further 20 mins or so. Those people, brilliant chefs as they may be, are the enemies of everything that is basic frugal home economics, pushing luxury to an extent only employed by Michelin-aspiring restaurants, certainly not a whim my mum would ever have dreamed of indulging, and they should be stopped. Ok, they're not wrong, exactly... but personally, I really love the taste of my nutritionally devoid holy trinity et al. Unlike the chicken meat itself, of which any trace of flavour has been sucked dry, they function like fruit in a punch bowl - that secret kick at the bottom of your cup, when nobody seems to realise one half-strawberry has soaked more booze into it than the whole glass... a flavour explosion!
|What am I, chopped liver?!...|
When homesick, the big guns are required, the dish that speaks to the child in me, the essence of every kid who shares my culture - the chicken schnitzel. This, for whatever reason, is a dish that I will petulantly demand my mum make for me whenever I'm at home. It doesn't matter it's the easiest thing to cook in the WORLD, it doesn't matter that I'm an adult and she's possibly now older and wearier than the woman who tirelessly fried off mounds of golden escalopes of joy. The regression cannot be complete until I am 2 or 5 or 12 years old (who knows when I stopped behaving like a spoilt brat, if ever), stomp my foot and stubbornly proclaim 'I want schnitzel!'.
|The correct serving portion of schnitzels per person|
And of course, the ultimate all-purpose remedy is the roast chicken. Now, there really are so many ways to cook this thing. The truth is that it's perfectly simple, regardless of what seasoning/brining/marinating/stuffing you decide to employ. For a 1.5k bird, heat the oven up to 220C, and put the room temperature anointed beast in, on a bed of vegetables if you so wish. Turn the heat down to 190C (170C fan) and leave in the oven undisturbed for an hour and twenty minutes. That's 1 hour 20 mins. Leave it! Then take it out and prick a metal spike into the fattest part of the thigh, and if the juices run clear - you're all good. Now, take the chicken out of the tray and leave to stand on a plate or board for about 20 minutes. Again, leave it! Don't pick at it or be tempted to eat the crispier bits. The juices that have run out while it stood, plus what's left in tray will make a beautiful gravy, various recipes for which can be found all over t'intermanet.
|It's a bird! It's a plane! It's superman! No I was right the first time. It's a delicious bird.|
What's your must-have, soul-reviving chicken dish?