It has been said many times that meat which has been cooked on the bone has more impact on the taste buds. So why is it that dreary old chicken breast - or "supreme", in dubious menu parlance - is always the cut that wins hands down? Well, of course it is tender, easy to eat, white and boneless; in a word, tidy. I have a favourite quote from Andy Warhol's book Exposures - it goes something like this: "I paint until the last minute and then go home for my first dinner of the night. I always have something simple and nutritious, because I don't trust food anywhere but home. My favourite dinner is turkey and mashed potatoes - it looks clean." And I bet it was just breast, no brown meat for our Andy.
Turkey breast is much worse than chicken breast. I would rather eat tofu than turkey breast. You have to embellish it so much for it to be interesting that you might as well not bother including the turkey.The brown meat has infinitely more taste, is also texturally invigorating, although naturally, you do have to use your teeth a little - some of us have forgotten about them.
The only dish involving chicken breast that has ever been worth its salt is chicken Kiev. Even then, it is all to do with crisp breadcrumbs, garlic and parsley butter and the worrying excitement of not knowing whether you are going to ruin a tie or blister a bosom. So the bits that really interest me are the chunkier parts: thighs (if I am ever indulging in a late night hit of KFC, I always ask for thighs), wings and drumsticks.
The first recipe should be eaten with fingers and, unless you are deeply into finger bowls, damp J-cloths.
Grilled marinated chicken wings with chilli and coriander, serves 4
for the marinade
8 tbsp light soy sauce (Kikkoman preferably)
150 ml/14 pint dry sherry or rice wine
2 tbsp runny honey
1 tsp Chinese five spice
1 tsp freshly ground white pepper
1 tbsp sesame oil
the thinly pared rind of one orange and its juice
4 tbsp hoisin sauce
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
2 in/5cm piece of fresh ginger, thinly sliced
1 clove of garlic, crushed
24 chicken wings
4 large mild red chillies, seeded and chopped
sprigs of coriander
Snip off the thinnest part of the wing so that you end up with a V-shaped piece. Put all the ingredients for the marinade in a food processor and blend for 30 seconds. Tip the marinade into a roomy bowl and bury the wings. Cover, put in the fridge and leave for 24 hours, turning them occasionally.
Pre-heat the oven to 425F/220C/gas mark 7.
Remove the wings from the marinade and shake off any clinging particles. Place on a rack suspended in a solid roasting dish with room to spare between them. Pour about half a pint of water into the roasting dish (this is to prevent any marinade from burning the base of the dish). Strain the marinade through a fine sieve into a small pan. Simmer until syrupy and then pour a little of it over each wing - you won't use it all at this stage. Put the wings in the oven for five minutes, remove, and spoon a little more marinade over them. Return to the oven for a further ten minutes and then spoon over the remaining marinade. Put back into the oven for a final roasting of between five and ten minutes or until the wings are a rich and glossy golden brown. Place on a serving dish and keep warm in the oven, switched off and with the door ajar.
Strain the marinade into a small pan and once again reduce until syrupy. Drip each wing with a little of the sauce, sprinkle with chopped chilli and strew with sprigs of coriander. Tuck in the lime wedges and serve.
Braised chicken thighs with endives and bacon serves 4
This is deeply savoury and produces a lovely mix of flavours. lt is almost complete in itself, but a spoonful or two of smooth mashed potato on the plate might be perfect for a sloppy finish.
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
8 chicken thighs
165g/6oz smoked bacon, in one piece
8 small endives, trimmed, and with the solid base of each neatly cut off
juice of 2 lemons
1 small glass dry white wine
4 tbsp jellied chicken stock (available from good supermarkets)
2 tbsp coarsely chopped, flat-leafed parsley
Pre-heat the oven to 350F/180C/gas mark 4.
Heat the olive oil and butter in a roomy frying pan until foaming. Season the thighs and gently cook on both sides until a rich golden colour. Transfer to a shallow, heavy casserole dish (if you have a Le Creuset dish, use that, but make sure it is large enough to take the endives too). Cut the rind off the bacon and dice into half-inch chunks, fry in the chicken fat until browned. Remove and add to the chicken. Now cook the endives gently in the frying pan until evenly browned all over; place with the chicken. Remove all but a tablespoon of fat from the pan, add the lemon juice and allow to cook very gently for five minutes, add to chicken. Boil the chicken stock and wine in the frying pan until reduced by half. Stir in the parsley. Pour the stock over the chicken and place in the oven. Cook uncovered for 30-40 minutes, until rich and golden.
Southern fried chicken drumsticks, serves 4
In the southern states of America, this is the method for frying most things. The classic, of course, is Chicken Maryland, with garnishes of fried banana, sweetcorn fritters and cream gravy. For Europeans, it has always been an odd dish, but I remember enjoying it as a child; there might have been some grilled sweet-cured bacon in there, too. But the best thing about that dish is the crusted coating on the chicken, once fried. I think it is best done in a deep-sided frying pan in a mixture of butter and oil, though they use hog fat in America.
8 large chicken drumsticks, skinned
seasoned flour (celery salt, cayenne, paprika and white pepper)
2 small beaten eggs
150ml/5fl oz peanut or vegetable oil (or lard, which I suppose is the nearest thing to hog fat)
Roll the drumsticks in the flour and shake off excess. Coat thoroughly with the beaten egg and lay on a cooling rack for a minute or so. Dip again into the flour and once more into the beaten egg. Return to the rack and dip again into the flour. Set aside on the rack until ready to cook. This seemingly excessive dipping and flouring provides a good crust, however messy it is.
Heat together the butter and oil on slow heat until it starts to sizzle (check by dropping a small piece of bread into the fat). Lower the drumsticks into the fat (if the pan that you are using is not sufficiently large, cook the chicken in two batches, keeping the first four drumsticks warm in the oven) and gently shallow fry each side for seven to ten minutes, or until golden brown. The surfaces will be well crusted and a bit shaggy, but this is the idea. Remove from the pan and place on a double fold of kitchen paper. You might like to strain the fat into a small bowl and keep in the fridge for further Southern frying excursions.
I like to splash liberal amounts of Tabasco over the drumsticks, or mix some into a bowl of mayonnaise - or both. Serve immediately with wedges of lemon or lime and a few sprigs of watercress. Alternatively you could always drop into your local KFCReuse content