I kind of missed Christmas this year having been flattened by a particularly nasty cold virus the day before Christmas Eve. It didn't matter really. My sons live about a hundred miles away and were spending the festive season together in the youngest's first mortgage so I would have been on my own anyway. Besides, I was too sick to care. The very mention of turkey and trimmings made me heave.
I got around to it a bit after the fact - OK, I was three days late but theological experts say that Jesus was probably born in June, anyway, and Christmas should be about families being together. Who cares what the date is?
So, by the time I managed to work up any interest in food, my family had already attended various Christmas feasts and were heartily sick of turkey. 'Let's have chicken, Ma' said the youngest when approached regarding preference - a necessary precaution. He's choosy. The eldest eats anything if it doesn't move so I bought a 5lb chicken and proceeded to turn it into a meal for five.
A couple of lemons cut in half, ditto an onion, inserted into the bird's cavity made sure of flavour before it was shoved in the oven and cooked slowly for two hours - after the initial twenty minute heat blast at the beginning of cooking time to ensure golden brown, crispy skin, that is.
Our 'Christmas' dinner was perfect. Mother thought it was turkey, anyway - no-one had the heart to enlighten or disillusion the old girl - and future daughter-in-law, Lucy, raved gratifyingly about the meal for minutes after it was all over. The boys cleaned their plates and even helped clear away the detritus - their enthusiasm waned sufficiently to avoid washing up but you can't have everything. On our return from the pub, that evening, we ate chicken and stuffing sandwiches while playing hilarious, drunken Scrabble and singing along to Shakin' Stevens. Oh, come on! It's not that sad!
The next day, after the boys and Lu had gone home, the same chicken - cold -provided lunch for Mum and I - accompanied by the remainder of yesterday's cauliflower cheese and fresh mashed potatoes.
I had already boiled the carcass of the chicken so, after having taken my mother home, I knocked up chicken soup with the left-over veg and a bay leaf. Half a dozen dumplings hurled in for the final ten minutes and I had three meals ready to be frozen for when I come home from work in February, tired, cold and reluctant to cook.
On the third day, that darned chicken rose again from the dead and I had to invent something for it's final rite of passage. A Stir-Fry! Sheer genius? Or not. I cheated and added four slices of left over boiled gammon but it was still basically the same chicken.
Onion and lemons in cavity. Cook on full blast for 15 - 20 minutes until chicken is brownish then turn the heat right down to low/medium. Crumble a chicken stock cube into a quarter of a pint of water and baste the chicken with all of it. Baste every twenty minutes during cooking time. I know it's a bind but the diffusion of flavours - lemon and onion - is sublime and the chicken stock keeps the meat moist and flavoursome. Well worth the effort, trust me, and you can make gravy out of the juices with very little effort and just a tad of cornflour paste to thicken.
The poor man has no idea that a supper dish has been named after him. His chicken sandwiches may be far superior to mine, for all I know, but his music seemed to add to the delight, somehow.
Three slices of thin sliced bread for each sarnie is required - the centre slice buttered both sides. Sliced chicken with apple or cranberry sauce in the top layer and stuffing, thinly sliced - or spread if it's still soft because you couldn't force it into the fridge - down below. Don't forget to salt and pepper. Serve with a lettuce leaf garnish (which will be totally ignored) and vodka martinis.
You just have to do this. Cold chicken and mash is not the same without it.
Simmer cauliflower florets in salted water until they are almost tender but still a bit crunchy - about five minutes.
Make a roux (with just over half a pint of milk) add a heaped teaspoon of English mustard and ground black pepper. Then add four chopped rashers of bacon and a small chopped onion - which you will have already fried together in a pan until bacon is crispy.
Add about 4oz of strong, grated Cheddar and two heaped teaspoonsful of parmesan to the sauce. Sling it all over the cauli., making sure that it's mixed in well. Bake in a hottish oven until the top is golden brown - or nuke it under a grill for a few minutes.
Can be served with any roast dinner in its original form but this reheats beautifully in a microwave the next day.
Simmer a chicken carcass, and a bay leaf, in about two pints of water for an hour. Strain through a colander and return liquid to pan. Remove any chicken meat from the bones before discarding. To the chicken stock add the reclaimed meat and any left over vegetables you happen to have handy - I used peas, carrots, broccoli, cooked, diced potatoes and a couple of slightly wrinkled mushrooms found lurking at the back of the 'fridge. Salt and pepper to taste. Bring to simmering point and reduce by a third.
Make up suet/self-raising flour/salt pastry into dumplings and simmer for ten minutes. This, truly, is a meal in itself alongside crusty bread. Sustaining and supremely comforting after a long day.
Tablespoon of olive oil in a pan. Add a chopped onion and a handful or two of frozen peas, salt and pepper. Fry gently for five minutes until onions are soft and transparent. Add cooked chicken and a couple of slices ham (all of it cut into small pieces.) Cook for two minutes. Make a well in the centre of the mixture and pour into it two beaten eggs. Turn the heat down to low. Walk away, make yourself a coffee. Return to pan - by which time the eggs will have cooked - stir cooked eggs into surrounding meat mixture. Then add cooked rice and mix well.
I went out today, New Year's Eve, and bought myself some braising steak for a casserole. I seem to have gone off chicken for some reason!
Copyright © 2002, Rosie Barham