Chicken and Broccoli

If you grew up in the nineties and routinely ordered from a certain kind of Chinese restaurant, you could be forgiven for thinking it was all MSG-laden bright orange sugary sauces and mystery meat. Even now, and even in London, those places still exist and I avoid them as much as possible; but there is the other side of Chinese food that I adore: the side with Xinjiang lamb and cumin skewers, with Sichuan peppercorn-spiked twice cooked pork and fluffy bao with sticky pork belly and loads of chilli.

I’m also a sucker for those dishes whose names give little away about what they actually are. For example, who knew that Silk Road‘s ‘home style aubergine’ would be the best aubergine dish I’ve ever eaten? Slippery sweet aubergine flavoured with a little bit of chilli and a lot of garlic. Being the unfussy eater as I am, taking a punt on a dish that has no real description is part of the fun of eating out. I even once ordered ‘saliva chicken’ to the tune of some rather appalled looks from my fellow diners, only to discover that the translation is that it is mouth-watering, rather than containing spit, and was, naturally, delicious.

Even though seeing ‘chicken and broccoli’ on a page will leave you under no illusions about what the dish contains, it seems somewhat simplistic as it really is so much more than that. It’s not really a common dish in the UK, although I have seen it on menus once or twice, but it was in America that I first fell in love with it. It may have been because it came in one of those cardboard boxes with a ton of noodles and some red chopsticks, and I ate it on the street, ticking another one of my American food cliché boxes, who knows, but since I have been back I have made it many times. According to my husband, it is the most comforting food ever and he always asks me to make it for him when he is ill, of course in his favourite noodle bowl with the extra hot sriracha on the side.

Whilst being far from an expert on the vast subject of Chinese cookery, this dish always seems like an anomaly amongst Chinese stir-fry dishes as the flavour is pure savoury, without any sweetness or spiciness at all; which is why my husband, a chilli fiend, always adds the sriracha. Yes, it may be somewhat inauthentic, and it’s origins could be more Chinatown than China, but there is something about its simplicity that keeps me going back to it again and again. When it comes to choosing between this dish and ringing for a takeaway, this wins every time. It takes about half the time that a delivery does and there is no bright orange sauce anywhere to be seen.

Chicken and Broccoli

3 chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
3 tbsp vegetable oil
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp granulated sugar
2 tsp cornflour
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 large broccoli, cut into florets
75ml light soy sauce
2 tbsp dark brown sugar
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tbsp plain flour
1 tbsp rice vinegar
Sesame seeds

Place the chicken breasts in a large shallow bowl.  In a separate bowl, mix together 2 tbsp of the vegetable oil, bicarbonate of soda, granulated sugar, cornflour, dark soy sauce and 1 tbsp water, and pour over the chicken. Leave to marinate for half an hour.

Steam the broccoli for three minutes and set aside. Meanwhile, mix together the light soy sauce, dark brown sugar, garlic cloves, plain flour, rice vinegar and 2 tbsp water to make a sauce.

Heat the remaining oil in a wok and add the chicken with its marinade and a quarter of the sauce. Saute until the chicken is golden and cooked through. Add the remaining sauce and stir in the broccoli. Cook for another couple of minutes.

Top with sesame seeds and serve with rice or noodles.

Chicken and Dumplings for the Overworked Soul

Last week I came down with a cold. Before this, I had some friends over for drinks and three of them, my husband included, had a sniffle, and by mid-week it felled me too. Without meaning to sound too much like a water-cooler conversation, it seems to be the time of year. In fact, whenever I look through old blogs, posts and diaries, I can always find something written around the end of September or the beginning of October where I complain about how ill I am.

Sapped of energy and the desire to do anything beyond watch daytime television and sleep, cooking is often the last thing on my mind. Not only because the process involves so much standing up, but also that I just cannot face the dishes afterwards. That being said, there are only so many sandwiches I can eat, and I know that there is always one dish that makes me feel so much better.

My nan would always make us chicken and dumplings when we were ill as children and, now, as an adult, I cannot decide if it’s the dish itself or the association that revives me so much. The memory of being wrapped in a blanket in her living room, close to the fire, watching her big old television and eating this hearty stew from a bowl is certainly restorative, but I do think there is something in the dish itself.

As with all of  her cooking, that I loved so much, she never wrote down any recipes, and subsequently they were lost when she died nearly four years ago. To be honest, I’m sure there was actually no recipe to follow, she just threw in things that she happened to have around the house, as with many of the dishes she made. I’ve tried to recreate it as best I can, cobbling together ideas that I’ve found online and a rather good recipe in Gwyneth Paltrow’s Notes from My Kitchen Table, which uses suet-free dumplings that I much prefer.

It is, perhaps, not the easiest dish to make when you’re under the weather, after all, it involves jointing a whole chicken, but it is worth the effort. If you’re ill, it is best enjoyed with a bottle of Lucozade (another throwback from my childhood), if you aren’t, I suppose a glass of white wine will do.

Chicken and Dumplings

1 whole chicken, jointed into two legs, two thighs and four breast pieces
Sea salt and black pepper
Olive oil
1 celery stick, roughly chopped
1 large carrot, roughly chopped
1 leek, roughly chopped
2 rashers back bacon, cut into 2cm pieces
1 bay leaf
½ tsp dried thyme
150ml dry white wine
500ml chicken stock

For the dumplings
125g plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
150ml single cream

Preheat the oven to 200c and season the chicken pieces.

Heat some oil in a large frying pan (with a lid) or chef’s pan over a medium-high heat. Brown the chicken pieces on both sides, about 5-6 minutes per side, and remove to a plate.  Add the celery, carrot, leek, bacon, bay leaf and thyme to the pan and cook for 10 minutes over a medium-low heat until the vegetables are soft and translucent but not browned.

Return the chicken to the pan and add the white wine, letting it bubble up and evaporate a little, for two minutes. Add the stock, with a little more seasoning, and bring to the boil.  Turn off the heat, cover the pan with a circle of greaseproof paper, then the lid, and transfer to the oven.  Cook in the oven for 1 ½ hours. Check periodically and if the sauce looks like it is reducing too much, add some water.

Meanwhile, combine the dumplings ingredients in a medium bowl and mix until a shaggy dough is formed. Take the pan out of the oven, discard the paper and lid and scoop large spoonfuls of the dumpling mixture on top of the chicken. Put the pan back into the oven for 10 minutes until the dumplings are golden.

Frizzled Chicken with Avocado and Parmesan on Toast at Pedlar, Peckham

This morning didn’t begin particularly well. There was, of course, a hangover, which is nothing new on a Sunday. Also, the rain meant cancelling my planned walk, and I broke my iPhone. The only thing that was going to cheer me up, at least my husband hoped so, was brunch. I’ve been dying to go to Pedler for brunch for some time, and began to suspect that I was the only person left in south east London who had not done so. One strong coffee in and I started to feel happier, and by the time I saw that there was frizzled chicken on the brunch menu, I had perked up immensely. Frizzled chicken turned out to be a pile of the most delicious moist brined fried chicken, with a coating that was both salty, spicy and a little sweet. It also came with sweet toasted bread, which was soft enough to put on your fork with a piece of chicken without sending it flying across the room. As well as this, perfectly ripe avocado, soft red cabbage and little salty shards of grated parmesan. OK, so fried chicken is not the most typical of brunch foods (even in south London, where the streets are perpetually littered with chicken bones,) but I loved it. It was a perfect balance of flavours and so well put together. Plus, Pedler is a bloody nice place, I can see why they all stared at me in disbelief when I said I hadn’t been.

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