I am, and have always been a lover of meat. It’s not something I feel especially proud of (I really dislike that alpha-male, steak-eating, vegan-baiting nonsense) and I’m making steps to cut down but, like it or not, I am in awe of meat’s ability to transform in the pan from a pallid slab of fat and sinew to a juicy, soft, crisp-topped piece of actual food with the simple application of heat. Few other ingredients undergo such profound changes with so few additions, and that particular form of magic is what brings me back again and again.
Whilst I have a lot of time for the flesh of pretty much any animal you could name (the only thing I can remember never wanting to try again was the eggs of the Horseshoe Crab, which I sampled on a beach in Southern Thailand. The rancid smell of the creature’s innards and the unchewable, sandy texture of the roe is something even Sang Som Rum was unable to make palatable. I’ll never forget it) there’s something quite, quite amazing the simple chicken which, however many times I cook with it, continues to amaze me; It’s hard to think of a single item you can bring home, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper and take out of the oven just over an hour later, skin crisp, bubbling and singing and flesh oozing delicious juices. It is the great leveller of Sunday Roasts; the less you do to it, the better it is. It is truly The Idiot’s Roast, and for that, I love it.
I have flicked past this recipe in the book many times, and yet it’s never quite felt like what I fancied. I, perhaps, have a slight issue with fruit in savoury dishes; I have never been able to, and I fear never will, get past the presence of raisins or dates in Moroccan food, (or indeed in Coronation Chicken or, thanks to some twisted character who prepared meals in the kitchen of my primary school, coleslaw) struggle with bacon and maple syrup (sacrilege to the Americana fetishists amongst my friends), am only a partial convert to pork and apple sauce and tend to treat meat dishes containing fresh fruit with a little suspicion too, so this isn’t a recipe I’d naturally gravitate towards.
All the better then that I’m writing a blog which twists my arm into making things I might otherwise not, cause it was delicious.
I browned the chicken legs in butter, added about a pint of chicken stock, a handful of olives, a little dried thyme, a whole sliced orange and simmered the lot with the lid on for 20 minutes, during which I boiled some potatoes, steamed some french beans and threw together a salad of anything green in the fridge and a few radishes sliced paper-thin.
When the chicken was done, I popped it out onto a warm plate, and reduced the sauce for a few minutes, adding a small bunch of shredded parsley, some salt and pepper and then whisking in a fair chunk of butter. What remained was a beautifully silky, slightly thickened sauce, balanced wonderfully between the sweetness of the orange juice, the bitterness of the olives and the saltiness of the seasoning.
Perhaps the take-home lesson is that, at least for me, everything has its place in a balanced recipe. I may never be a fan of a breakfast slathered in maple syrup or the tiny, overwhelming bullets of sugar that dried fruit brings to a meal, but that needn’t mean the baby should be thrown out with the bathwater where fruit with meat is concerned. Life is nothing if not an education.
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