Monday, January 25, 2010

Sentimental, moi ?

The first time we lost a chicken, we were really upset. Out for the evening, we’d asked a neighbour to round up our flock and shut the door on the henhouse at the given time. He’d missed the precise hour and the confused chickens failed to cooperate, so after a right fuss and palaver, he’d banked what he had and shut the door one short. We didn’t know this at the time but I’d decided to check in on the roosting chooks with a torch when I came home and thus realised we were a hen down. Too late to ask our neighbour what had happened, we assumed the worst and our spirits sank. I forlornly traipsed round the house a few times and was just about to turn in when I heard a soft cluck from within a dense laurel bush. Shining the torch, I picked out a hint of orange featheriness within the dark green foliage, a good six feet off the ground. A roosting hen is sleepily compliant and she was easily grabbed and restored to the henhouse. We felt disproportionately happy.

We have since lost six chickens (to domestic dogs, rather than a fox) and have come to accept that as a downside of allowing them to free-range during the day, which they clearly enjoy. Luckily, we haven’t lost a chicken for a long while now, so it was a surprise to count one short when I closed them up one evening last week. I’m less troubled by it now, disappointed rather than upset, annoyed that my food had been nabbed by some undeserving canine, especially as we were due to take a few for the pot. We’ve experienced our hens sometimes going absent when broody, so pragmatism returned and I decided not to whistle the Last Post just yet.

Sure enough, she did return the following day. Not broody, perhaps she’d wandered a bit far and been shut up in someone else’s henhouse overnight. Happy were we that the prodigal daughter had returned and so decided to feast the event, slaughtering the wanderer and two others to put chicken on our menu.

It’s fair to say that Gabrielle does the lion’s (lioness’s?) share of the cooking but I do get inspired sometimes. I came across Nigella, while searching through our recipe books. In Feast, the raven-haired, soft-focussed cook suggests “Golden Cardamom Chicken.” Cardamom is one of my favourite spices and the busty, pouty Nigella describes it permeating the dish with its “intense musky perfume”, that’s good enough for me.

I do have a bad habit of beginning to prepare the food, following the recipe without having first read to the end and that has got me in a fluster on more than one occasion. Popping taste buds were frustrated when I reached the instruction to leave it in the marinade for two days; “chicken’s off for tonight, darling.”

And it was only at the point of starting cooking (those two days later) that Gabrielle pointed out that the pieces needed an egg and cornflower coating and then deep-frying. Top Tip: always read a recipe thoroughly before rolling up your sleeves. We decided instead to simmer it in its marinade and so have a dish with gravy instead of a crunchy coating.

Whiz, smash or finely chop, onion, garlic, seeds from 10 cardamom pods (we doubled her quantities of this) lemon zest and juice, 1/2 teaspoon of ground allspice and salt and pepper, then rub this marinade over boned chicken pieces. Put the whole lot into a glass bowl and leave in the fridge. After two days, take the chicken out of the marinade and brown the pieces in a pan with a little oil, then put the chicken and marinade in a saucepan and simmer until cooked. Serve with pulao rice.

It’s fabulously rich and spicy in a delicate and sophisticated sort of way. We want to add a tiny pinch of dried chilli flakes next time, just to give it a little heat.