Despite my 12.5% Italian ancestry and my lifelong adherence to the Azzurri I was a bit hesitant about including an Italian dish with people like Italian Foodie around the site. Still, Pollo alla Cacciatora is a great cold weather comfort casserole and a favourite that I cook regularly, so here goes…
‘Cacciatore’ means ‘hunter’. All over Tuscany and Umbria in summer you see conventions of these guys, clad in bright waistcoats and mad bearskin hats, and mingling with the backpackers, Americans-doing-Europe and Japanese happy-snappers. Everything I read about this dish tells me that, given a commonality of chicken, bell peppers, tomatoes and wine, there are umpteen variations so I’m no reason to suspect that mine is not authentic.
You can use any lidded casserole, ideally one large enough to put all the chicken into one layer. I use a Portuguese cataplana, a two-part copper/steel dish (imagine 2 woks clipped together!) of which I have 2 or 3. It enables you to brown the chicken and sweat the vegetables on top of the stove and you don’t need to transfer everything to an oven proof casserole. In addition the air-tightness of the cataplana helps preserve the rich flavours during the cooking process.
1 chicken, jointed. At least free range and as righteous as your budget allows.
1 medium onion, finely chopped.
1 bunch small carrots, topped, tailed and scraped.
1 stick celery, chopped.
3-5 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
1 bell pepper, red, green or a mix, cut into chunks
5-6 large flat mushrooms
350 ml good passata (or a can of chopped tomatoes)
350 ml red wine
handful of herbs – at this time of year (March) I use sage, rosemary and fresh oregano from my garden.
salt and pepper to season. I’d recommend truffle salt for this purpose if you have it.
Pre-heat the oven to 220 C. Brown the chicken. I usually leave the skin on but you can remove it if you wish. Remove from heat and reserve. Sweat the onions, carrots, celery, peppers and garlic in the chicken fat (or olive oil) just until the onion starts to change colour. Put in the lidded casserole and place the mushrooms on top i one layer. Top with the chicken, skin, side up. Deglaze the frying pan with the wine and add the passata. Cook for one minute then pour over the dish. Cook in oven for approximately 1 hour. Remove, take the lid off, turn the oven down to 190 C and return the casserole to the oven. Cook for a further 15 minutes with the lid off to brown the chicken and thicken the sauce.
Serve with your choice of saute potatoes, mash, boiled rice or fried polenta and a green vegetable.
The ‘pop-up restaurant’, a phrase I guarantee you’ll be hearing a lot more of, was conceived as a fly-by-night dining event where a chef with a background in fine dining takes over a restaurant or vacant space for a brief window. There’s an indie, even underground vibe to the concept. The menu changes daily at the whim of the chef; the price is often fixed, and you usually need to make reservations. Pop-up restaurants might serve for only a single evening, or several days, or several weeks. But the menus and locations are never permanent. The internet and the associated social networking phenomena are key tools in marketing these “now you see me, now you don’t” eateries.
Pop-up restaurants are said to have started in Los Angeles and the man most commonly charged with inventing them is French-born, California-domiciled chef, Ludo Lefebvre. He prefers to call his restaurant, Ludo Bites, a “touring restaurant’’ declaring that “like many a band we have been ‘touring’ locally since 2007 and we’ve played at various locations all over Los Angeles”. Since then many prominent chefs have identified themselves with the concept. Many of the roving supper clubs in the US have acquired reputations that are the stuff of legend along with serious waiting lists.
London has its far share of these guerilla dining establishments, perhaps the most famous being The Loft Project where fledgling chefs from The Ledbury and other top establishments were permitted to strut their stuff. The food served is frequently sophisticated or, at least, well off-piste; sample: ‘carpaccio of roe deer with walnut-oil mayonnaise, burnt bread, flowering claytonia, pennywort and hairy bittercress.’
Pop-up restaurants have until now been conspicuous by their absence in Ireland (apart from a couple of RTE staged stunts involving, among others, Kevin Thornton in unlikely locations like the Rock of Cashel). However this may be about to change with chefs and restaurateurs monitoring the success or otherwise of the new Crackbird in Crane Lane, Temple Bar. In Ireland, we like to do things different. Our first pop-up restaurant, brainchild of Joe Macken of Rathmines’ Joburger and open only until 22nd of May, is no sort of homage to gastronomy. Crackbird, a singular name you’d imagine would attract a dodgy clientele, can only be described as a sort of ‘KFC GTi’ selling but one product, chicken, which comes in two versions – ‘skillet-fried buttermilk’and ‘super crisp soy garlic’, priced at €9.95 per half bird per person or €17.95 for a full bird. Wings are sold by the dozen (€11.95) and there are semolina or chilli ‘chicken crunches’ with a choice of dip included at €4.95. Value-addeds for the restaurant include five sides at €3.75 each and a choice of seven dips at a euro a throw. The room is dimly lit and noisy, with music that can only be described as ‘foreground’. You wouldn’t come to Crackbird for a quiet read or a heart-to-heart with your bezzy. Some of the furniture is distressed to the point of busrting into tears. Cutlery and crockery are very ‘church fete lucky bag’.
We hadn’t booked, indeed we’d hardly have known how to as there’s no phone number listed and booking a restaurant on Twitter is, as yet, an alien thing. It took half an hour’s wait to gain a table, during which time the three of us (me, Daughter One and her partner) placed our order, sat at the bar and drank Pilsner Urquell, only beer on offer and sold by the bottle, four-pack or case, discount for quantity. There was wine – a NZ Sauv B, surprise, surprise and a basic Rioja but beer seems more appropriate. Around us the place was packed, the clientele, I’d say, 25-35 and 70-30 female to male on the night. There was one empty table which apparently is reserved for ‘Tweets’ on a bi-hourly basis. If you are lucky enough to book this table you get the food free gratis. This seems a smart marketing ploy, further helping to spread the word.
We ordered a whole bird of the soy-garlic variety plus a dozen wings. This took another half hour to arrive. Whether through design, organisation or lack of practice I can’t say but Crackbird struck us as being by no stretch of the imagination a fast food restaurant. We chose three sides – a slaw, a roast parsnip & nigella seed salad and had some couscous pressed upon us by the helpful waiter. The others praised the slaw, especially for the lightness of the dressing but I found the cabbage a tad bitter. The parsnips (small portion of)were unmemorable, we agreed, and the couscous (masses of it), excellent. We took four sauces. I’ve often found that the hottest chilli sauce is the one that’s hardest to spell or pronounce so we kept clear of ‘Srirracha’, opting instead for ‘Chipotle’. Pick of them was the burnt lemon and whipped feta which D1 vowed to emulate at home. Seeing the mountain of bones from afar, the waiter returned to offer us dessert – there was only one, a huge chocolate gateau –gorged to our tonsils, we declined. We did take three filter coffees which turned out to be truly excellent – quite the best coffee I’ve had in a restaurant for ages, emphasising that good filter coffee is preferable to average espresso.
Were I to pick two words to crystallise the night they would be ‘fun’ and ‘salty’. There was far too much NaCl on the chooks, the flavour I came away with was that of neat salt, as if you’d been sucking on a rock of it. The wings, in particular, should carry a health warning, so those with cardiac problems could steer clear. The whole bird was drenched in dark soy sauce. Later, as I lay in bed, I felt that ‘Chinese take-away buzz’.
We had good craic at Crackbird and, for sure, that’s half the point of dining out. As I’ve said, fast fast food, it ain’t and we could have done with a bowl for the bones but these are niggles set against the joyous cacophony of people having fun. Nor is it particularly cheap when you factor in the sides and sauces. We spent €82.65, ex service, which included two beers each – rough equivalent of 3 x an early bird and a glass each of wine at a ‘proper’ restaurant.
Food wise, I have reservations. I’d had a fun evening but, when push came to shove, the ‘craic’ was better than the ‘bird’. I felt it was an opportunity missed, a chance to show us that simple food could be tasty and of honourable provenance. Considering Crackbird goes beyond the call of duty in name-checking suppliers – 3FE coffee, Hall & Keogh’s tea and David Llwellyn’s ‘local’ cider all get a mention – the chicken man’s name is curiously absent, reinforcing my view that these birds may not be the Mae West when it comes to texture or flavour, hence the soy and salt overload. In the unlikely event of my getting a craving to eat chicken I’d probably head for Georges Street and the cuisse de poulet a l’oignon at Café des Irelandais – although I note that, even there, they’ve stopped flagging the bird as ‘Label Rouge.; Now, on their website, it’s just chicken tout court. C’est la vie.
The breasts and legs from 2 St.Sever chickens.
5-6 ripe pears
approx 3 tbsp butter, preferably unsalted
6 morels or other wild mushrooms, if dried, soaked in cold water. Each one sliced into three pieces
1 tbsp cognac
1 tbsp cream or creme fraiche
The night before your dinner party skin and joint the chickens, leaving the breasts whole and dividing the legs into drumstick and thigh. Put the carcase in a large pan with a carrot, an onion, a bay leaf, a bouquet garni, a tablespoon of cognac and two litres of water. Season and boil to make stock or soup (with a small handful of rice or barley added). Next day skim off any fat and drain through a sieve. Lazy cooks may use stock or bouillon cubes!
Peel, core and chop the pears. Put the morels in a pan, add a tablespoon of cognac and cook until the cognac is absorbed. Remove and reserve. Add the pears and a small knob of butter to the pan and cook until soft. Blend with a stick blender or in a processor and pass through a sieve or chinois back into the pan. Keep on a low heat, adding chicken stock to thin the sauce.
I owe this method of cooking chicken to Albert Roux. In a frying pan large enough to accomodate all the chicken pieces on the bottom 2 tablespoons of butter and fry the chicken for two minutes, then turn the pieces and fry for a further two minutes. Season lightly then cover the pan and cook over a very low heat, removing the breasts after 10 minutes and the legs after 20. Reserve, keeping warm. When ready to serve, slice the breasts thinly and give each guest some leg and breast meat – saving some for ‘seconds’. Stir a tablespoon of cream or creme fraiche into the sauce. Plate up the chicken, surround with the sauce, studded with the mushrooms and serve with boiled new potatoes, champ or rosti and a green vegetable for colour and texture. Here I’ve used green ‘stick’ beans, microwaved in a bowl of water until ‘al dente’ then drained and combined in a hot pan with long thin slivers of ginger before glazing with a little of the chicken stock.
Pedro Ximenez is a single-grape variety sherry, thick, dark, unctuous and sweet with slight burnt caramel undertones. If you can’t get this, use any sweet sherry. I’ve also made versions of this dish using port, madeira, marsala and other fortified wines, and with pomegranate syrup.
For this dish, I use one of my favourite cooking pots, a Portuguese cataplana – see kitchen gear
You could also use a dutch oven or any other deep, lidded casserole.
1 free range chicken, skin on, cut into 8 pieces (drumstick/thigh/wing-breast/breast x 2)
1 tbsp olive oil
8 shallots, peeled
1 aubergine, cut into 15mm approx rounds
2 carrots, chopped into 15mm rounds
2 courgettes, cut into 15mm rounds
3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 wineglass Pedro Ximenes or other sweet sherry
zest of an orange
2 tbsp creme fraiche
Pre-heat the oven to 240C.
If using a cataplana, split into two halves, heat the oil in one half and lightly fry the vegetables and the garlic – do not allow the garlic to darken beond pale yelllow. Wash the chicken joints and pat dry on kitchen paper. Heat the other half of the cataplana, throw in about a tsp of salt, add the chicken and brown on both sides. Remove and wipe cataplana free of any fat.
Combine the two halves of the cataplana, vegetables on bottom, then the sprig of thyme, then arrange chicken joints on top skin side up. Scatter the orange zest on top and pour the glass of sherry over the chicken. Close lid and seal with spring clips.
If you don’t have a cataplana, cook the chicken and veg separately, as above, but in a fryiing pan or large wok before combining, again as above, in a tightly lidded casserole or dutch oven.
Place cataplana/casserole in oven and cook for 40 minutes. Remove and pour off juices into a wide shallow saucepan. Discard sprig of thyme. Return casserole to oven, lid off. Boil juices on top of stove to reduce, adding a twist of black pepper and stirring in the creme fraiche.
Assemble on plates, pour juice reduction over top of chicken and serve with mash, saute potatoes or boiled rice.
Named for the great Cajun band. When I devised this dish I had in mind to create something to rank alongside jambalaya or philly gumbo (whatever that is). However, after experimenting with the combination of spices, the favoured result was something a bit more East-West, a sort of ‘Bombay meets Baton Rouge’. No matter, it tastes great, especially with fragrant rice, aubergines in cumin batter and dollops of Greek yoghurt.
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas6.
4 chicken breasts, skinned.
1 small tin tomato puree.
Juice and zest of one lemon.
3 teaspoons cumin seeds and 3 of coriander seeds, ground together.
1 heaped tsp smoked paprika
Dash of Tabasco or Crystal Hot Sauce
2 cloves garlic and a thumbnail-sized nugget of ginger, finely chopped
Make four or five deep diagonal slashes in the chicken breasts. Combine the rest of the ingredients and steep the chicken in the marinade for at least five hours.
Heat a dessertspoonful of olive oil in a frying pan and fry the chicken on both sides over a high heat for about five minutes. Black stripes or patches will appear on the chicken, don’t worry the variegated red and black enhances the visual appeal of the finished dish. Transfer the chicken to the oven in an open dish and roast for 20 to 25 minutes.
This marinade is superb on any meat destined for the barbecue.
“Where can I buy smoked chicken?” a friend asked. I had to confess I didn’t know. But I do know how to make it. Try this, it’s easy and soooo tasty. But don’t forget to cover your oven tray with foil unless you have one of those posh ovens that self-cleans at the touch of a button. All you need is
some Chinese five spice
2 oranges, cut into thin slices
1 pkt keemun or lapsang souchong leaf tea
a few sprigs lavender or rosemary (optional)
dark soy sauce
Preheat the oven to 220 degrees C. Cut the chicken down the backbone but not right through “Break” legs and wings by twisting the joints, but fold outwards, do not break off. Mutilate the chicken by biffing it with a mallet (or a half brick wrapped in tinfoil!) – you want it squashed and flat. Pull off any small bones that come loose. Rub the skin side with 5-spice and sea salt. Wrap your roasting tray in tinfoil and scatter the tea, orange slices and lavender sprigs on the tray. Place the chicken, skin side up on an oiled rack just above the tray and roast for 1-11/4 hours, turning twice at 20 minute intervals, sprinkling the chicken with a little soy sauce each time you turn. Chop into pieces and eat, hot or cold. Delish!
“How do you roast a chicken?” is the question food writers are most frequently asked. Considering the little cluckers have featured in our diet for so many years, you’d think people would know. My answer always starts with “first buy your chicken”, for the quality of the bird is the biggest factor in determining whether you dine on succulent fowl or blotting paper. I don’t eat battery birds, I buy from my local butcher – and I know where he gets them so the ‘free range’ appellation is no con. Sure, I pay a bit more but so what, a e10 free-ranger yields six decent portions, leaving enough on the carcass for a nourishing soup. For years I whacked the oven up high – 240°C/gas 9, stuck a knob of butter and an onion inside, rubbed the skin with sea salt and stopped the clock on 70 minutes. It worked just fine. But then I took a holiday in Tuscany…
Now I preheat the oven to 200°C/gas 6, chop up a lemon and stuff it inside along with a couple of sprigs of rosemary and two cloves of garlic, unpeeled cos life’s too short for peeling garlic. I rub sea salt and black pepper on the skin, truss the bird with string and roast for 90 minutes. I’m lucky enough to have a rotisserie, but it works equally well on a rack in a conventional oven. The Italians call it pollo al’limone e rosmarino. I call it tasty.