Posh birds: Mark Hix cooks with flavoursome, slowly-reared poultry
I don't think it's going to be very long before chicken makes a return as a luxury food – as it used to be many years ago. The problem is that the past couple of generations has become accustomed to eating cheap birds that taste of very little.
But a slowly-reared posh bird which may well cost up to four times the price of a common chicken can make several good-value and interesting meals for two people. For a start, properly reared chickens are generally a lot larger and, of course, the flavour is far superior and rather more on a par with that of a gamey guinea fowl.
In the restaurants we use poultry from Woolley Park (woolleyparkfarm.co.uk), which has a really small production and its chickens are not readily available to the general public, but there are plenty of farmers out there producing great flavoured and very well raised birds, such as Packington Poultry up in Staffordshire (packingtonpoultry.co.uk), who sell delicious chickens and cockerels, now available to order online.
I was also recently sent Asian black silkie chickens to try from a West Country producer, which are the most bizarre birds – the skin is black, the bones are black and the flesh is grey with a fantastic gamey flavour.
I fear, however, that trying to convince the public to start eating a black-skinned, grey-fleshed chicken is not going to be easy, although I have to admit that the silkies look very cute and I may well adopt a couple as pets.
Chicken en croûte
Depending on the size of your bird, you could get between two and four portions from the breasts. I've served this with a selection of seasonal mushrooms, sautéed in butter and finished with some double cream and parsley, which makes a great accompaniment to chicken.
2 chicken breasts with the wing bone trimmed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
150-200g butter puff pastry, rolled to about one-third of a cm thick
1 small egg, beaten
Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6.
Cut the pastry into 2cm-wide strips, brush the edges with the beaten egg and wrap around the chicken, overlapping by one third of a cm and exposing the bone. Place on a tray and brush with more egg. Bake in the oven for about 20-25 minutes. Serve whole as above or serve cut in half on the angle.
I love chicken curry on the bone, but unfortunately you rarely see it in Indian restaurants these days. I remember when I first moved to London, most restaurants offered chicken curry on the bone – the flavour is just so much better.
2 chicken legs, jointed
20g clarified butter or ghee
tsp cumin seeds
1tsp cumin powder
The black seeds from 4 cardamom pods
A pinch of saffron strands
A small 1cm-piece of cinnamon stick
A good pinch of curry leaves
tsp fenugreek seeds
tsp mustard seeds
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
20g root ginger, scraped and grated
1 small chilli, finely chopped
1tsp tomato purée
1ltr chicken stock
2tbsp chopped coriander
2 servings basmati rice, cooked
Season the chicken pieces. Heat the ghee in a heavy-based pan and fry all of the spices with the onions, garlic, ginger and chilli for a couple of minutes to release the flavours. Put in the chicken and the tomato purée, and cook for a further 5 minutes, stirring all the time.
Pour in the stock and simmer gently for 45 minutes. Add the coriander and re-season if necessary. Serve with the rice.
Udon noodles with chicken
There is something so comforting about a bowl of noodles in a clear broth and when you are using a slow-reared chicken it makes a fantastic flavoured broth for the base of this dish.
For the broth
The carcass and wings from a slow-reared chicken
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 onion, peeled and quartered
10 black peppercorns
A small piece of root ginger, scraped and roughly chopped
200g udon noodles, cooked
40g bean sprouts
60g garlic chives, chopped
4 spring onions, cleaned and sliced
2tbsp roughly chopped coriander leaves
To make the broth, put the chicken carcass and wings in a large saucepan with the rest of the broth ingredients. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 1 hour. Remove the chicken carcass and wings and transfer them to a plate to cool. Strain the stock through a fine-meshed sieve into a clean pan.
Simmer the stock until it is reduced by about one-third and you are happy with the flavour. Meanwhile, remove as much meat from the carcass as you can and put to one side.
Add the noodles, bean sprouts, garlic chives, spring onions, coriander and chicken to the broth and simmer for a minute.
Serve in individual bowls or one large one.
Chicken and egg
This is a meaty version of my boiled egg with asparagus soldier dish. I've used the under-fillets off the breast for this and just cut them in half lengthways.
You can serve this simple dish with some mayonnaise mixed with some chopped green herbs if you wish.
2 chicken fillets, halved lengthways
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Flour for dusting
1 egg, beaten
30g fresh white breadcrumbs
Vegetable or corn oil for deep frying
2 duck's eggs
Preheat about 8cm of oil to 160-180C in a large, thick-bottomed saucepan or electric deep-fat fryer. Season the chicken pieces and dust with flour. Pass them through the egg, then the breadcrumbs and re-shape them by rolling them in your hands.
Soft-boil the duck's eggs for 4-5 minutes, and while they are cooking deep-fry the chicken for a couple of minutes until golden, then remove with a slotted spoon and drain on some kitchen paper. To serve, cut the tops off the eggs and serve in an egg cup on a plate with the chicken pieces and a spoonful of the herb mayonnaise, if using.
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