Chicken feed

So who says that pounds 30 isn't a fair price for a top-quality bird?; On this particular visit, I bought the gilt-edged chook, flax oil, some beautiful round floppy lettuces, colon cleanser and a shoulder piece of wondrously fatted Gloucester Old Spot pork Photograph by Jason Lowe

It occurred to me recently, when I inadvertently bought a chicken - well, not exactly inadvertently because I did want to buy a chicken - from Planet Organic, the supremely squeaky clean and green store in London's Westbourne Grove (0171-221 7171). My unmindful purchase was not to do with the bird itself, but the price: about 15 quid. This I did not find out until I returned home, when I peeled off the sticker on the bag; you know, the one that oozes out of the electronic scale machine. I knew I had bought a lot on this particular visit: flax oil, some beautiful round, floppy lettuces, colon cleanser (now there's a recipe) and a shoulder- piece of wondrously fatted Gloucester Old Spot pork, amongst bags of other goodies. Hurry along, because it really is a wonderful shop, if a tad expensive, because the produce is just very, very good, and you know that that makes sense.

I told Jason-the-camera about my extravagant shopping when we were doing the pic for this piece, since when he has not stopped joking about it, and now takes great delight in saying things like "So, Simon, how much did you pay for your carrots this week, then? Fifty pence each?" Well, curiously enough, I paid pounds 1.19 - yes, pounds 1.19! - for two medium-sized onions, in Sainsbury's of all places, only last week. They are described as "sweet onions"; in fact they might have been called "oso sweet" if I remember rightly. Whatever, they were jolly nice onions, but not that jolly nice for the price. However, they had come all the way from Peru, where, as everyone knows, they do a good onion.

So what about this gilt-edged chook? Well, a Poulet de Bresse, imported from Burgundy, can set you back anything between pounds 15 and pounds 20, and that will feed only two people. And a two-kilo beauty, from the House of Albert Roux, Ebury Street, London, SW1 (0171-730 3037) will knock you back around about pounds 30. So my similarly well-strapping bird may seem a bargain: it all depends how much value you put on quality over cost. All I can say is that the home-produced chicken from London W2 was a treat, if not possessing quite the density of meat and muscle that the French manage to produce.

I cooked a leg of the Planet Organic chicken for the benefit of Jason's Linhof (that's a camera, not his German four-year-old), of which pieces are depicted amongst the crusty mess of crisp chillies and burnished garlic you see here today. The gentle roast and braise of the second recipe would possibly be more suitable for pedigree poultry, as it is the flavour and texture of the meat which carries the dish. The crust of the coating, however, in the more Orientally inspired combo, together with the heat and pungency of the other two players, might realistically suggest an eight-pack of less illustrious chicken thighs from the supermarket. Then, at least, you will have enough cash left with which to afford the onions.

Crisply fried chicken with chillies and garlic, serves 4

4 large chicken legs (thigh and drumstick together), or eight thighs

6 tbsp soy sauce

3 tbsp dry sherry

2 tbsp ginger syrup, from a jar of stem ginger

oil for frying

2 tbsp self-raising flour

8 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

5 large red chillies, seeded and sliced


lime or lemon wedges

freshly chopped coriander

Cut the chicken legs in two at the natural joint. Chop the thigh into three pieces and the drumstick in two. Do not skin the meat. Put in a shallow dish. Mix together the soy, sherry and ginger syrup and pour over the chicken. Leave to marinate for at least 2 hours, turning the pieces occasionally.

Pour enough oil in a wok or deep, preferably non-stick, frying pan, to come to a depth of about 0.5cm/14". Place over a moderate flame, and heat up. Lift out the chicken pieces from the marinade and pat dry. Dip in the flour, coating the pieces well and place on a plate. Heat oil until almost smoking and add the chicken pieces, but don't overcrowd; fry in two batches, if necessary. Keeping the heat up, turn the chicken when it has become crusted in places and keep frying until all surfaces are a deep golden brown. Put the chicken pieces on a plate and then add the garlic and chillies to the hot oil. Fry until crisp and slightly browned. Return the chicken to the pan, give a final toss together with the garlic, chillies and a little salt, so that all is well mixed together. Turn into a colander to drain off any excess oil. Tip onto a heated serving platter, garnish with lime or lemon wedges and the chopped fresh coriander. Eat with a watercress and bean sprout salad, dressed with a little sesame oil and rice vinegar.

Casserole of roasted chicken with bacon and vegetables, serves 4

This is the sort of dish that everybody enjoys. Even though there is a little wine suggested in the cooking, it can be omitted if you wish, as the simple flavour of chicken cooked with vegetables, carries enough savour of its own.

1.4kg/3lb free-range chicken

50g/2oz butter, softened

salt and pepper

4 rashes streaky bacon

1 lemon

3 sprigs fresh thyme

2 bay leaves

4 cloves garlic, crushed

2 small onions, peeled and quartered

4 small carrots, peeled and thickly sliced

4 small and tender celery ribs, peeled and thickly sliced

1 severely trimmed spring cabbage (in other words, until you get to the tender pale yellow/green heart), quartered

4 small floury potatoes, peeled and quartered

4 small tomatoes, peeled and quartered

4 tbsp dry white wine (optional)

275ml/12 pint water or chicken stock

2 heaped tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley

Pre-heat the oven to 400F/200C/gas mark 6.

Smear the butter all over the chicken and season with a little salt and much pepper. Put the bird in a shallow, cast-iron, oven-proof dish (Le Creuset would be ideal) and drape over the rashers of bacon. Squeeze over the juice of half of the lemon and put the other half inside the cavity of the chicken, along with the thyme, bay and garlic. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes and then remove the bacon to a plate and leave to cool. Continue roasting for a further 30 minutes, basting from time to time, until golden. Turn the oven down to 350F/180C/gas mark 4.

Lift the chicken out of the dish and up end it so that any juices inside pour into the roasting dish. Put the chicken aside to cool. Place the dish over a moderate heat and tip in the five prepared vegetables. Stir around until coated with fat and chicken juices and then add the wine (if using) and water or stock. Bring up to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, carve the chicken into 8 pieces (2 breasts, each cut in half, 2 legs divided into drumstick and thigh) and add to the simmering vegetables, burying them in the juices. Add the chopped parsley, together with the garlic, thyme and bay from the chicken cavity, but discard the lemon. Cover the dish with a lid or foil and return to the oven for a further 25-30 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and the chicken very tender. Serve as it is, directly from the dish. No further embellishment or accompaniment is required.

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