The dying days of summer 2012

As I write it’s another rain soaked Irish summer’s day with a bit of a gust thrown in. I wonder if I have the will to believe it will turn around before the children return to school. Now the upturned hourglass is well and truly running out of sand and my wishful anticipation of a hot day on the coast with sand in the sandwiches is turning to a wistful philosophical thought that “well there’s always next year”.

As I write it’s another rain soaked Irish summer’s day with a bit of a gust thrown in. I wonder if I have the will to believe it will turn around before the children return to school. Now the upturned hourglass is well and truly running out of sand and my wishful anticipation of a hot day on the coast with sand in the sandwiches is turning to a wistful philosophical thought that “well there’s always next year”.

I have to admit that this summer has tired me somewhat; perhaps it was all that hoping for good weather; I’m exhausted. This won’t be the first time I’ve said it, but is there anything more uninspiring than a damp, wet August? And before we go any further I am fully aware that August is not technically summer, but with everyone still out of routine and people on holidays I always lump it in there in the hope of some late sunshine.

This year my idyllic thoughts of suppers on picnic blankets on the grass with the kids running around until late into the balmy evenings belong in another country altogether and not on the soggy, damp sod of my back garden. Even the more Irish feel of the barbeque on the patio and sticky wings on plastic outdoor tables and disposable plates have also been beaten back into the ‘summer’ box where they reside with the lid firmly screwed down.

One of the things I most enjoy about the changing seasons is ‘how’ we cook as much as ‘what’ we cook. In the winter I love the wafts of meaty casseroles slow cooking for hours in the oven while the wind blusters outside, but the warmer months are meant for the smell of cut grass mingling with aromas of grilled meats coming in the opposite direction and light, peppery salad leaves. Stoking up the barbeque with tongs in one hand and an umbrella in the other to eventually eat the food indoors doesn’t cut it.

So before you chalk me down as Negative Norman, I’m here to spread a little sunshine in your grub. Before we move on to picking blackberries and creating autumnal pies, let’s enjoy what’s left of the season even of the rain is still pelting nosily of the pane.

Chicken has to be one of the most universal and versatile meats on the planet and works well in summer and winter, in hot and cold climates alike. I know the rows and debates that surround our feathered friend, but we can break it down to this; the flavour of chicken depends largely on just two things. The first is what they eat and a good and proper diet will lead to a healthy tasty bird. The second is how they are reared in that if they have had space to move around stress free as God intended them to move, then they will develop normally.

Chicken definitely gets my vote for versatility. It can be eaten hot or cold, it’s good for kids and adults alike, it adapts to the seasons, it can be grilled, boiled or roasted, it is usually good value, you can buy it as a whole or in part, you could even rear your own! However if you decide to ‘grow your own’ I warn you now of the dangers of attachment and tell you, from experience, it is not good to kill the perceived family pet (even if it was for a short time) place it plucked and trussed in the oven and present it for dinner. Such action has the potential to scar children for life if not handled correctly! I suggest using the eggs only and enjoy your new pet should you press ahead.

So how can we cook chicken differently in order to put the spark back into our fowl love affair if it has gone foul? (Okay, I’ll stop now.) Once again it is about thinking outside the norm. Take a traditional method and mix it up a little or marry two things together. For example I recently came across a lovely recipe in an American cook book called ‘Bite Me’. It suggested stuffing a chicken breast with a mix of cream cheese, goats’ cheese, fresh basil and thyme and then breading it with a little Dijon mustard as part of the process. The result was fantastic; creamy, cheesy, crunchy, plump mouthfuls with a lovely subtle herby warm kick. I served this with a leafy salad and some garlic bread. (Yes the garlic bread and the breaded chicken was a little bit bread over load, but I wanted to use it up and it was great). I will definitely keep this recipe for the winter and just serve it with hearty roast vegetables.

Citrus flavours such as orange and lemon also give a nice summery feel to chicken and a simple orange sauce can be made using good quality orange juice and a little cornflour. Talking of sweet orange other sweet flavours complement chicken also; sweet peppers, honey, or a little raisin and brown sugar. You could try a simple breaded breast of gingery chicken with a sweet salad for a little sweet and sour slant. Chicken also works well with nuts; peanuts, cashew and pecan but the usual nut allergy warnings apply here.

We’ve got some great offers on chicken right now and some good ideas on both our website and in store. Drop by before the end of the ‘summer’, I promise you’ll be inspired. I welcome your feedback to pat@jwb.ie

Roast Chicken with Lemon, Rosemary and Garlic

Roast chicken is a dinner that everyone in the family enjoys and of course it makes the perfect sunday lunch. The strong flavours of the lemon, rosemary and garlic here really penetrate the flesh of the chicken and give off the most wonderful aromas.

Serves 6

Ingredients

1 medium chicken, approx 1½ kgs

1 lemon

2 garlic bulbs

3 fresh rosemary sprigs

2 red onions, peeled and halfed

4 small carrots peeled

1 leek chopped in half

2 celery sticks chopped in half

3 tablesp. olive oil

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablesp. plain flour

120ml white wine

300mls stock

To Cook

Method

Take your chicken out of the fridge 30 minutes before it goes in the oven. Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 8, 230°C (450°F).Cut the lemon and one of the garlic bulbs in half and place in the cavity of the chicken with the rosemary sprigs, folding over any loose skin to close. Secure with a cocktail stick.

Separate the remaining garlic bulb into cloves and place in a roasting tin with the onions, carrots, leeks and celery, tossing to coat in one tablespoon of the olive oil. Sit the chicken on top of the pile of vegetables and drizzle all over with the remaining olive oil, then season well.

Place the chicken in the oven and immediately reduce the heat to Gas Mark 6, 200°C (400°F). roast the chicken for 1 hour and 20 minutes, basting the chicken halfway through cooking.

When the chicken is cooked, remove from the oven and transfer to a board and put the carrots and red onions on a warmed plate. Cover each with tin foil and leave to rest for 15 minutes while you make the gravy. Using a large spoon carefully remove most of the fat from the roasting tin and then place the roasting tin directly on the heat. Stir in the flour and then holding the tin steady, mash up the remaining vegetables as much as possible with a potato masher to release their juices.

Pour the wine into the tin and allow to bubble down, stirring continuously to blend the flour in. Pour in the stock and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes until slightly reduced and thickened, stirring occasionally. Take a large jug or bowl and set a sieve into it, then pour in the gravy mixture and use a ladle to push all of the liquid and some of the vegetables throught with the back of the spoon. Stir in the juices from the resting chicken and season to taste. Transfer to a warmed gravy boat.

Serving Suggestions

Carve the chicken into slices and arrange on warmed plates with the reserved carrots and red onion halves and crispy roast potatoes. Pour over the gravy to serve