Swing Your Panés!

Looking out of the window earlier this morning, the garden seemed like it had been dusted with a sprinkling of finely powdered icing sugar, as a layer of frost had settled all over.  Fresh, frosty mornings are always a good excuse to snuggle under the duvet for an extra five minutes (especially as it’s so cold at 5.00am), but every Wintry frost-filled day is another one closer to Spring.  Evenings are beginning to stay lighter,  plus we’ve had bright yellow sunshine & crisp blue skies, bringing a little hope that Winter is on the wane (although it’s been snowing up the road from here & I’m not shedding the thermals just yet).  

Here we are speeding through January, the sugar-free month of sparseness & salads, wine denial & working out, when fast food becomes forbidden.  Whether you’re worn out or just going without, it’s bound to make people a bit tetchy to say the least!  At times like these, you need food that’s quick, easy & satisfying – when you’re not feeling up to much, the last thing you want to be doing is faffing around in the kitchen.  Meals can become a bit boring if you’re not careful too.  It’s far too easy to open a packet of something or do the dial-a-dinner thing, but they don’t tend to hit the spot very often or for very long (usually resulting in ransacking the cupboards for something else afterwards).  This is where a little planning & preparation can help you have dinners done & dusted.

As you probably know by now, I’m a fan of being prepared & getting meals portioned up in pots, frozen for fast fixes of our favourite foods.  Bread is blitzed into breadcrumbs, chucked in bags & frozen, ready for these occasions.  At the weekends, I like to get a couple of chickens in & fillet them, freezing the legs in pairs (these are great for simply defrosting & chucking in the oven with some olive oil, lemon, fresh Rosemary & garlic) & the carcasses are turned into stock for risottos, soups & gravy (nothing gets wasted!).  The chicken breast can be turned into a variety of dishes – my Friday Night Fakeaway or Aisha’s Kick Ass Curry spring to mind, but another favourite of ours is my baked crispy breaded chicken.  This tasty panéed chicken dish is quite possibly the easiest meal to prepare, satisfying those cravings for fried fast food without actually being fried.  Leftovers can be frozen for future lazy suppers, lunchtime wraps with salad or even sliced & tossed in pasta with a little homemade tomato sauce & a few roasted peppers.  To pané means to coat in a little flour, egg & breadcrumbs (in my last blog, I did this with arancini to make crispy risotto balls).  The only tip I will give is you need to keep one hand for the dry ingredients & one for the wet, otherwise you’ll end up with panéed fingers!

These beautiful breadcrumbed chicken pieces can be baked in the oven & dished up faster than a takeaway can be ordered & delivered (yes, really – plus they’re much cheaper & so much healthier, with no hidden ingredients).  If you’re filleting a chicken, a medium sized one makes enough to feed four people generously, just add sides & a salad!  Ready to try making your own?  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

2 large Chicken Breasts (you can get 8-10 pieces from this)
2 Eggs, beaten in a shallow dish with a tiny pinch of salt
8 slices of Bread (any bread you like)
2oz Plain Flour, in a shallow dish
Zest of a Lemon (wash it well in soapy water first!)
Quarter teaspoon Sea Salt
Quarter teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper
Quarter teaspoon Cayenne Pepper
1 teaspoon fresh Thyme or Oregano (optional)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (about 2-3 tablespoons, but keep the bottle handy as you may need a bit more)

What to do:

Pre-heat the oven to 210*C & drizzle half the olive oil around the bottom of a roasting tin.  Set aside for later.

Blitz the slices of bread, a few at a time, in a food processor until fine breadcrumbs.

Add the salt, pepper, herbs & lemon zest to the breadcrumbs, then give it a good mix.  Set aside for now.

Prepare your chicken breasts.  Using a sharp knife, slice them through the middle as if you were butterflying them – lay them flat on the board & slice across from left to right.  Remove the small piece from underneath that looks like a mini-fillet.  Taking a pair of kitchen scissors, cut out the white piece of thin tendon that will be sticking out (it won’t cook out, it will just make your chicken curl up & taste like chewy elastic).

Dip a piece of chicken in the flour & shake off the excess, then lay gently into the beaten egg.

Using your other hand (so you don’t pané your fingers), move the chicken about to coat in the egg, then shake to remove the excess.

Place the wet chicken piece into the breadcrumb mixture & coat well on both sides, patting it on to ensure even coverage.

Lay it in the roasting tin & repeat the process with all the other pieces of chicken, until all are breaded.  Wash your hands thoroughly.

Drizzle the remainder of the oil generously over the chicken portions & place the tin in the centre of the oven for about 20 minutes.  Halfway through cooking, give it a good shake to loosen them from the tin & flip them over.  Because it’s thin, the chicken will cook faster & the crumb coating will stop it drying out.

When cooked, the breadcrumbs will be golden & crispy.  Test one by cutting in half – the meat should be white inside.  Transfer to a warm plate & serve immediately with homemade chunky chips & a crisp green salad or corn on the cob & minted petit pois.  That’s it!

These crispy, crunchy chicken portions have a slightly spicy kick, so I like to serve them with a bowl of my chilled homemade tomato sauce (it’s not just reserved for pasta) or a cooling Greek Yoghurt dip to soothe the tongue.  Blue cheese dip, salsa & pesto all go well with these too, so it’s up to you how you dress them up!

These breaded beauties are perfect for supper on the sofa, snuggled up with your other half & a glass of chilled wine or fizz.  If there are any extra pieces, pop them in the freezer & defrost when you need them.  Just reheat at 180*C in the oven for 10-12 minutes (poke with a sharp knife to check they are piping hot before eating), or simply layer them cold in a sandwich, wrap or salad for lunch the next day.  Try adding a teaspoon of pesto to a tablespoon of Greek yoghurt, spread on seeded bread & pile up with pieces of crispy chicken & snipped up sundried tomatoes for a luscious lunch.

So when you’re craving crunchy crispy chicken, forget the dial-a-dinner & bake a batch of my beautiful breadcrumbed chicken instead!  Stay hungry! A 😉 x

 

 

A Bird in the Hand is Worth Ten in a Dish

If I had to count how many single portion meals I can get from one fresh chicken, I would have to say at least ten – yes, you read that correctly: ten!  That’s ten individual meals from one regular sized chicken.  I’m not Merlin the Magician, I’m just a mere mortal woman who insists on getting value for money & doesn’t like waste.

We’ve all done it – shopping tired, hungry, after work or at the last minute, so you buy pre-prepared chicken portions to cook for dinner.   Not only is it ridiculously more expensive (think of the wine you could buy!), but learning to do it yourself is a great skill to have & it’s very satisfying knowing that you’ve got meals in the freezer for when you can’t be bothered to cook.

This is how I bone & fillet a chicken – I’m self-taught, it’s just me in the kitchen at home & this is the way I do it.  If you’re squeamish, please skip the next couple of paragraphs (I understand).

Before I begin, I usually give my husband a beer & hustle him off into the lounge (because he doesn’t like to watch, bless him).  Then I get to work!  If you prefer, you can ask your Butcher to do this for you.  I am in no way expecting anyone to follow my lead here, but if you wish to try, you will need the following equipment for this stage.  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

1 sharp boning knife
1 pair of good strong kitchen scissors
A chopping board (only use for cutting raw meat on)
A tea towel or cloth

What to do:

Firstly, wash your hands thoroughly & dry them (wet hands & sharp knives don’t mix!).

Find a space in the kitchen to work, with enough “elbow room” so you can move about comfortably.  This sounds obvious, but halfway through prepping your chicken you don’t want to have to shift everything because you keep banging your head on a cupboard.

Run the cloth/tea-towel under the cold tap, wring it out well so it’s slightly damp.  Place it on the worktop & then put the board flat on top.  This will help to stop it sliding around when you’re preparing your chicken.

Remove the chicken from it’s packaging, cut off the string & place the bird on the board.  If you’ve got a plastic tray in your chicken wrapping, wash in hot soapy water & put it in the recycling bin.

Hold the chicken in both hands, breast side up, with it’s legs in the palms of your hands & firmly push them outwards, away from the breast – you will feel them pop out easily.

Carefully slide the boning knife between the socket & joint, then cut all the way through to the other side, removing the legs from the body – I use scissors to cut the skin between them & the body because it’s easier, especially with a larger chicken (please use proper kitchen scissors for this).

Once that’s done, carefully peel the skin back from the chicken crown (leaving it attached to the carcass) & feel where the breastbone is – this runs across the top of the chicken.

Carefully, slide the knife as closely to the bone as you can & using firm strokes away from you, cut the meat away from the breastbone & rib cage (these are quite bendy towards the tips, so watch your fingers).  Take your time, there’s no rush & go at your own pace.  Once done on both sides, the bones should be pretty much clean & all that’s left is a thin membrane with the ribs intact (check each piece of meat to ensure no bones escaped).  

Place the legs & breast meat on a plate, then put the carcass in a roasting tin.  Sometimes, I like to do this in the morning & save time at night, so I will put the portions in double freezer bags & stash in the bottom of the fridge until dinner time (raw meat should always be kept on the bottom shelf).

A few minutes of filleting done & you have a plate of prepped chicken portions, plus a carcass to make a fuss-free stock!  Homemade chicken stock is simply beautiful & a staple base ingredient for soups, risotto, gravy, sauces & all kinds of lovely meals, so it’s always handy to have in the freezer.  Making stock is really easy & this is my simple way to do it – I make mine in the oven, not on the stove (because who has the time).  Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!

What you need:

2-3 sticks of Celery & a couple of the inner leafy stems
2-3 large Carrots
1 medium Onion & 1 small
2-3 sprigs fresh Rosemary
Handful of fresh Thyme
8-12 leaves fresh Sage
Sea Salt & freshly ground Black Pepper
Olive Oil
2-3 pints cold Water (depending on the size of your chicken/tin)

What to do:

Firstly, put the chicken carcass into the centre of a deep roasting tin.  This needs to be bout 4 inches deep, as you’re going to put liquid in & want it to be contained well.

Next, prepare your vegetables.  Wash the celery & carrots (you don’t want any bits of dirt, grit or bugs in there).

Peel any dirty outer leaves from the onion & cut the larger onion into quarters, placing in each corner of the tin around the carcass.

Chop the celery & carrots into quarters, then chuck them around the edges of the tin too.  Cut one of the pieces of carrot into slender sticks & save these for the next stage.

Peel back the skin from the chicken & cram with a handful of the fresh herbs, along with some leafy stems of celery, the smaller onion (cut in half first) & the carrot sticks you saved, pulling the skin back over the top of the chicken to hold it all in.

Drizzle the carcass with a good glug of olive oil, add a sprinkling of sea salt & few grinds of black pepper, then carefully pour the cold water around the tin (leave at least an inch between the top of the water to the top of the tin).

Once that’s done, just chuck it in the oven for a couple of hours & when ready, sit the tin on a wire rack for a few minutes to cool slightly. 

Get yourself a large metal colander & place over a deep pan that covers all the little holes (I use my pasta pan for this) & tip in the carcass, veg & stock to strain through.  I usually strain it again through a fine sieve to remove any sediment & that’s the stock done!  It will keep in the fridge for a couple of days or you can freeze it. 

To remove the layer of fat that will rise to the top of the stock, simply pop your pot of stock in the fridge for an hour.  Once it’s cooled, it will become a flat fat block & much easier to lift out with a slotted spoon or spatula (don’t mess around trying to spoon it off while it’s still liquid, or you’ll just stir it back in & get frustrated).  Again, you can freeze these fat blocks – slip them into separate freezer bags, ready to infuse flavour & seasoning in future roasting (especially good for making crispy & flavoursome roasted potatoes or vegetables!).  

That fabulously fragrant, golden stock will make a generous risotto for four people, or two portions of risotto & at least another four generous portions  of beautiful arancini balls the day after (arancini literally translates as “little oranges”).  The legs make a perfect Pollo alla Cacciatore for two people (I’ve included links for my recipes at the end), or they can simply be roasted in the oven with some wedges of lemon, a drizzle of honey & some sprigs of fresh herbs.

Then there are the very versatile chicken breasts – these are almost double the size of the ones you get in those pre-prepared packs! Usually, I can make four kievs per chicken (coating them in homemade breadcrumbs from leftover crusts), or use each breast to make a meal for two people – pie, curry, sweet & sour, whatever I like!  Plus, if someone is feeling a bit under the weather, I make a couple of bowlfuls of homemade soup using the vegetables that roasted with the carcass & a little diluted stock (which is why I always wash the veg before roasting).  It’s a great “pick me up”, especially when you have a few slices of warm, buttered bread to dunk in it too.

Let’s not forget the meat on the underside of the carcass & the wings – I strip this tender, lean chicken for our beautiful cat, who does a great Dyson impression & vacuums it from her plate!

If I can make more than ten meals from one chicken, anyone can – all it takes is a bit of practise & imagination, all for the princely sum of one lovely, whole chicken.   Where else can you get ten decent sized servings for about a fiver?

So show the chicken some respect: use the whole bird, fill your family & save yourself some money too!  Stay hungry!  Aimee 😉 x

PS:  here are the recipe links for Pollo alla Cacciatore & Risotto (including Arancini):

http://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/pollo-put-the-cacciatore-on-lets-all-have-tea/

http://hopeyourehungry.co.uk/resplendent-risotto-the-itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny-tiny-little-arancini/