Steamed ginger chicken rice

Steamed ginger chicken rice
Steamed ginger chicken rice

This is similar to a lot of Chinese claypot dishes, and is really worth rolling out on a day when you have guests you want to spend time talking to rather than cooking for. It’s very, very tasty indeed, but it only uses one dish (or a rice cooker, if you happen to have one in the house) and doesn’t require any advance preparation or marinading. You’ll be using the food processor to blitz some chicken thighs into something a bit like a try rough chicken mince. Be careful when blitzing – you want small pieces of chicken, which steam to a really tasty, juicy result, rather than a smooth paste, which steams to a rubbery horribleness. The rice absorbs juices from the chicken along with all its seasoning, making for a really savoury dish.

I’ve been really pleased to see so many oriental ingredients make their way into even some of our…slightly rubbisher supermarkets. I found a jar of bamboo shoots in sesame oil when on an emergency tonic water run to Tesco. They’re great, and if you can track them down they’re well worth using, but if you can’t find them, substitute with canned shoots, rinsed well under the tap. All the other ingredients should be easy for you to get your hands on.

Texture’s a really important part of this dish. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a tasty crust at the bottom of the rice, created by the fat from the stock and the sesame oil which drips to the bottom “frying” the rice at the base of the dish. (Be sparing with the stock when you come to add the chicken mixture to increase the chances of a good crust.) The chicken will be soft from the steaming, and the vegetables, with their lower water content, will cook rather more slowly than the chicken surrounding them, leaving a lovely fresh crunch to things. As ever, use a home-made chicken stock if you have some in the freezer. If you don’t, I’ve had great success recently with the stuff Waitrose have been producing since their partnership with Heston Blumenthal, which is made with some kombu (a Japanese sea vegetable) for an extra umami kick.

To serve two (just multiply the amounts for more people and add an extra 5-10 minutes’ steaming time when you add the chicken for each extra portion) you’ll need:

370g jasmine rice
1 litre chicken stock
2 pieces of ginger the size of your thumb
12 spring onions
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
6 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoons Chinese chilli oil
75ml Chinese rice wine
100g bamboo shoots in sesame oil, drained
100g long-stem broccoli

Choose a Chinese claypot or a heavy saucepan with a close-fitting lid to cook the dish in. (You can also use a rice cooker – see below.) Combine the rice and 750ml of the stock in the pan with two of the spring onions, left whole, and one of the thumbs of ginger, peeled and sliced into coins. Put the lid on and bring the pan to the boil over a medium heat. Turn the heat down low and steam the rice for 20 minutes while you prepare the chicken.

While the rice is cooking, put the chicken thighs in the bowl of your food processor, and pulse gently and briefly until the chicken is chopped finely. Put the chicken pieces in a mixing bowl. Peel and dice the remaining ginger, mince the garlic and chop the rest of the spring onions and the broccoli into little pieces. Throw them in with the chicken, add the bamboo shoots, sesame oil, chilli oil, oyster sauce, rice wine and soy sauce, and use your hands to make sure everything is well combined. (I know, you hate touching raw chicken. Use a spoon if you must, but make sure everything is really well mixed.)

When the rice is ready, it’ll have little holes in the flat surface. Spoon the chicken mixture on top of it, pour over the remaining 25ml of stock, and stick the lid back on. Steam over the low heat the rice cooked at for another 25 minutes, and serve.

If you plan on cooking this in a rice cooker, just cook the rice with the stock, ginger and spring onions under the normal white rice setting, then set it to steam for the required amount of time. If your cooker doesn’t have a steam setting, just set it to “keep warm” when you’ve added the other ingredients, which should provide enough heat to steam the topping, but may take a little longer.

Poulet Antiboise – Antibes roast chicken

Poulet Antiboise, crostiniI’m back from a week at Disneyworld, where I actually lost weight, which should tell you all you need to know about the food there. Shouldn’t complain; it’s not every week you get to accompany your husband on a work trip to somewhere with rollercoasters, but there is only so much deep-fried food a girl can take. I ended up subsisting on toffee apples; a surprisingly effective weight-loss regime. More on all that in a later post; it was, after all, the Epcot Food and Wine Festival while we were there, so I do have something besides churros and overcooked steaks to write about.

Back to the matter at hand. The only recipe I’ve ever seen for Poulet Antiboise comes from Elizabeth David’s A Book of Mediterranean Food. In that desert-island situation that never actually happens, but that we all like to fantasise about, Elizabeth David’s are the cookery books I’d rescue from the hold of my sinking ship – and I wouldn’t use them to make fires with. That fate is reserved strictly for that useless brick of a book from Prue Leith’s cookery school.

A Book of Mediterranean Food is David’s first book, and is now available (in the link above) in a hardback edition with her next two, French Country Cooking and Summer Cooking – well worth buying rather than the paperbacks, which tend to fall to bits if you use them much in the kitchen. These books were the fruits of her period living in France, Italy and Greece, and they ooze sunshine and good times. David’s style is unlike the very didactic recipe writing, full of precise times and measurements, that everybody uses these days (usually at the insistence of those reading and cooking from the recipes – a few years ago I decided to start specifying amounts of herbs in grammes rather than handfuls or sprigs, for example, after one too many worried emails asking me precisely how much basil you can fit in a fist). Her recipes are descriptive and give a clear idea of flavour and method, but without always giving particularly precise measurements, timings or even ingredient lists; all of which should leave you, the creative cook, with a world of experimentation and enthusiastic improvisation to enjoy over each dish.

This is a gorgeous recipe, where a chicken is buried in a giant heap of softened onions in a big casserole dish, then roasted until the onions collapse and make their own sauce with the chicken’s savoury juices, and served with typically Provençal flavourings. Rather than stirring olives into the sauce and serving the lot with fried bread triangles as in David’s original recipe, I’ve made a sort of deconstructed tapenade to spread on grilled crostini, which works a treat alongside the chicken’s richness. I’ve decreased the battleship-floating amount of olive oil that you’ll find in the original, added some shallots to the mix and added cooking times, temperature and a weight for your chicken below. I followed David’s original instruction to add a tablespoon or so of cream to the sauce at the end of cooking, but I’d encourage you to taste it first and decide whether or not you think it needs it; it’s just as good if you leave it out, so it’s not made it into the ingredient list below. Some French sautéed potatoes are a great accompaniment to this dish.

To roast one chicken, you’ll need:

1 roasting chicken, about 1.5kg
6 large onions
5 shallots
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 heaped teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper
10 slices from a ciabatta
5 anchovy fillets
2 heaped tablespoons capers, drained
15 black olives, stoned (I like Greek dry roasted olives that come in a jar, like Crespo, for this recipe – additionally, they’re wonderfully cheap)
100g stupendous tomato sauce or sundried tomato paste
A handful of parsley. Ha. Take that, measurement emailers.

Poulet Antiboise
Poulet Antiboise, immediately on emerging from the oven

Preheat the oven to 180ºC (370ºF). Ferret around inside your chicken and remove any lumps of poultry fat, seasoning it inside with plenty of salt and pepper. Leave it to come to room temperature while you prepare the onions.

Slice the onions and shallots thinly, and sauté them with the cayenne pepper in the oil until soft but not coloured in a heavy-based pan large enough to take the chicken. I use a 29cm oval Le Creuset number which is perfect for pot-roasting a chicken. They’re pricey, but well worth asking for as a Christmas present; mine gets an awful lot of use.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the chicken, burying it upside-down in the onions, which should smother it completely. Put the lid on and roast for 90 minutes (you don’t need to check or baste the chicken while it’s cooking), by which time the chicken will be cooked through and tender, and the onions will have collapsed.

While the chicken is cooking, prepare your tapenade. Chop the capers and olives roughly. In a small frying pan, fry the anchovies with a teaspoon of olive oil, poking occasionally with a wooden spoon until they have “melted”. Add the capers and olives to the pan and sauté for a few minutes to meld the flavours. Remove to a bowl.

Grill the slices of ciabatta and shortly before serving, spread each slice with a teaspoon of tomato sauce and a teaspoon of the tapenade. Sprinkle with parsley and serve alongside the chicken.

Singapore noodles with miso chicken

Singapore noodles with miso chickenSingapore noodles are another dish with a misleading name. They don’t appear at all in Singapore, despite their ubiquity on Hong Kong, UK, US and other Chinese restaurant menus. It’s unclear where the recipe originates, but it’s now a take-away standard. I suppose it makes sense; Singaporean and Malaysian food is characterised as being a bold, mish-mash of cultures, and this dish fits that description well.

Given that noodles in this style are something of a made-up dish, I allowed myself some latitude when I couldn’t find all the ingredients I wanted to use. You’ll see beansprouts in the ingredient list below, and they do make for a much more interesting mouthful, so include them if you can. There appears to be a beansprout drought in these parts at the moment, so you won’t see any in the photo. I’ve used a wheat/egg ramen noodle rather than the traditional rice vermicelli you often find in restaurants; this isn’t such an odd choice, and you’ll find many UK Chinese restaurants using a wheat noodle, but some do prefer vermicelli, so substitute them if you’re a particular fan. As always with curry powder, find the best you can. There’s a world of difference between those jars from Sharwood’s and Bart’s and a good curry powder from a small producer. Malaysian curry powder is preferable here, if you can find it, for its complex and herbaceous aromatics.

The chicken, sweet and intensely umami, is a lovely foil to the noodles. Marinate it overnight if possible. The marinade, boiled through thoroughly, makes a fine dipping sauce to go alongside this meal, or can be spooned over in small quantities. The sauce is packed with flavour, so you won’t need much. You can, of course, cook the chicken separately from the noodles; it’s fantastic cold and makes a very good sandwich filling or, diced, a Chinese salad addition.

To serve two, you’ll need:

200g thin ramen or rice vermicelli
6 spring onions
1 medium red onion
1 red pepper
1 carrot
75g beansprouts
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons of  your favourite curry powder
30ml rice wine
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
Small amount of oil to stir fry

2 skinless, boneless breasts
2 tablespoons white miso
2 tablespoons rice wine
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon soft brown sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Marinate the chicken overnight in all the chicken ingredients (or for at least six hours). Remove from the marinade and grill under a medium flame for 8-10 minutes per side until done while you cook the noodles. Put the remaining marinade in a little pan and bring it to a rolling boil for a couple of minutes, then put to one side until you are ready to serve.

Chop the spring onions into coins, chop the garlic, slice the onion, dice the pepper and cut the carrot into thin diagonal slivers. Prepare the noodles for stir-frying by following the instructions on the packet. In your wok, take a little groundnut or grapeseed oil, and fry the spring onions, garlic, onion and pepper with the curry powder over a very high heat, moving everything around all the time, until the onion takes on a little char at the edges (only a few minutes). Add the noodles, carrots and beansprouts to the wok. Stir-fry until everything is well mixed, then add the liquid ingredients. Stir through again, turn the heat down and put a lid on the pan for 2 minutes before serving.

Dish the noodles out and slice the chicken breasts on the diagonal before placing them on top of the noodles with a little of the cooked marinade. Serve immediately.

Malaysian fried chicken – inche kabin

Inche kabinI’m on a bit of a Malaysian kick at the moment. I’ve not been back in six years, and it’s getting to me. The best thing to do in these circumstances is to head for Rasa Sayang in London’s Chinatown, where, if you half-close your eyes and relax, you can imagine you’re eating in Kuala Lumpur. (In one of the clean bits.) Failing that, you can get out your wok.

To serve four, you’ll need:

1 jointed chicken OR 200g chicken wings
2 tablespoons soft brown sugar
4 tablespoons coconut milk (this is an occasion on which the brands with emulsifier work best)
2 heaped tablespoons curry powder
2 inches ginger, grated and squeezed for the juice
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
50g rice flour
Oil for deep frying – I used grape seed oil, which has a very high smoke point and a neutral flavour

Try to find a Malaysian curry powder like Linghams which is meant for chicken – they have a very specific and delicious flavour. Failing that, Bolst’s Madras curry powder is always an excellent fallback.

Marinate the jointed chicken or wings in the sugar, coconut, curry powder, ginger juice and soy overnight in the fridge. If you were in Malaysia, you’d take the chicken outside at this point and lay it in the blistering hot sun for half an hour or so, until the marinade had dried onto the meat, and then fry. Fat chance of that in Cambridgeshire.  So I use a tip I picked up from one of my cousins, and dredge the wet, marinaded meat with rice flour. Rice flour gives this dish a fantastic crunch, and also retains that crunch when the chicken is cold, making this a brilliant selection for a picnic.

Heat enough oil in your wok to half-submerge the pieces of chicken (or use your deep fryer), and bring to a frying temperature (about 180°C/360°f). Fry the chicken, turning regularly, for about 12 minutes, until cooked through and tender.

Serve immediately, or cool and eat as part of a cold supper or picnic. Worcestershire sauce is a common accompaniment for this, but I much prefer a bowl of soy sauce with some green bird’s eye chilli snipped into it to dip the chicken pieces into.

Stir-fried chicken in XO sauce

XO chickenOf all the bajillion little bottles and jars of stuff littering my fridge and kitchen cupboards, the jar of XO sauce is probably my favourite. You know – the one you’d take to a desert island to make all those coconuts more interesting.

XO originates in Hong Kong, and gets its name from the Hong Kong taste for cognac. In cognac terms, XO means “extra old”; in Hong Kong terms, it means “really very delicious and pricey, like cognac”. The sauce itself doesn’t taste like or contain cognac; it’s made from dried seafood and preserved meat (usually scallops, shrimp and wind-dried ham), garlic, chillies, shallots and oil. Until fairly recently, you’d have to make your own or go to a restaurant to try it, but good XO sauces are now available bottled; I like the Lin Lin brand, which you should be able to find at a good oriental grocery. If you’re interested in making your own, the superb recipe from David Chang at Momofuku in New York is online at this tribute blog. Despite all that dried seafood, the resulting sauce isn’t particularly fishy; it is, however, a wonderfully savoury, spicy, rich and flavourful thing to cook with, and it’s a good way to pack flavour into a dish quickly. This should take you all of ten minutes to make – a great dish for an exhausted end-of-the-week supper.

To serve four, you’ll need:

500g boneless chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces (I like thigh best here – brown meat carries much more flavour)
5 tablespoons plain flour
½ teaspoon Madras curry powder (I like Bolsts)
6 spring onions
100g sugar-snap peas
100g baby corn
3 cloves garlic
50ml Chinese cooking wine or sherry
3 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 heaped tablespoons XO sauce
Salt and plenty of black pepper

Mix the flour with the curry powder, a good pinch of salt and several grinds of the peppermill, and toss the chicken in it in a large bowl. Set aside while you chop the other ingredients. Cut the white parts of the spring onions into coins, and put in a bowl with the chopped garlic. Cut the rest of the spring onions and the baby corn into pieces on the diagonal.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of ground nut oil (or another flavourless oil) in a wok over a high heat, and fry the spring onion bottoms with the garlic for a few seconds until they start to give off their scent. Add the chicken to the pan and stir-fry for about 2 minutes, until there is no pink visible. Add the green parts of the spring onions, the baby corn and the peas to the wok, stir-fry for about 30 seconds and throw in the Chinese wine and soy sauce. Stir-fry for another 30 seconds and stir in the XO sauce. Put a lid on the wok and cook for another minute or so, until the chicken is cooked through.

Serve immediately with steamed rice.

Sesame ginger chicken wings

My Dad always taught us that the best part of the chicken was the wings. The flesh in the wing is sweet from its proximity to the bone, delicate, and lubricated with plenty of flavour-carrying fat from the skin that covers it. Accordingly, we used to fight over the wings every time a chicken appeared on the dinner table, occasionally with our cutlery. Ours was a savage household.

Dad’s Chinese, and this is the kind of comfort food he used to rustle up for us when everybody else’s Dad was frying mince with baked beans. I used to take great pride as a little girl in helping out – slicing the garlic, chopping the ginger, carefully mixing the cornflour into some cold water, and watching, fascinated, as he whirled around the kitchen with a wok and a pair of chopsticks. You can’t beat the cosmopolitan nature of the food education my brother and I got from my parents: Mum’s wonderful meals were from Jane Grigson, the Roux brothers and Elizabeth David, and Dad’s all did something fabulous with soy sauce. Alongside lengthy gastronomic holidays in France, where my brother and I were expected to sit quietly for hours in restaurants with endless cutlery and a million cheeses while Mum and Dad bibbed and tucked (and we did – there’s still little I find as fascinating as my very own slab of foie gras), there were the frequent visits to Malaysia, where food is as important to the national psyche as football is in Britain. Back in the UK, there were regular and keenly looked forward to family trips to London’s Chinatown, which, at the time, was the only place you could find ingredients like sesame oil, chilli sauces and tofu – even ginger was sometimes hard to find in 1970s Bedfordshire. There were bribes of candied winter melon and sesame caramels for the kids, and Dad swiftly made friends with all the local Chinese restaurateurs. We met Kenneth Lo once at a garden party when I was about six. Dad didn’t stop talking about it for weeks.

While most wing recipes you’ll find will have you grill or fry the wings so they are crisp, this Chinese method will have you simmering them in an aromatic, savoury sauce. You’re best off eating these with a knife and fork; fingers will be a bit messy. The popularity of chicken breasts and legs, all neatly pre-jointed, means that there are a lot of surplus wings kicking around out there, and you’ll likely find that you can buy them very cheaply (I prefer the butcher’s wings to the boxes from the supermarket, because I’m more confident about their origin) – this is a good budget dish for the end of the month.

I like to remove the wingtips, which don’t yield any meat, with a pair of poultry shears, and use them to make stock. This isn’t absolutely necessary – if you’re in a hurry, leave yours on. And although my Dad would use a wok to make this, I find a large casserole dish a bit easier, not least because it’s an even depth and comes with a lid.

To serve two, you’ll need:

800g chicken wings
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
2in piece of ginger
2 cloves garlic
12 spring onions, chopped and separated into green and white parts
75ml sesame oil
100ml soy sauce
2 teaspoons cornflour
Groundnut oil to fry

Half an hour before you start to cook, sprinkle the salt, pepper and sugar over the chicken wings, mix well, and set aside.

Heat a couple of spoonsful of oil in your pan, and brown the wings on each side. You may need to do this in a few batches, depending on the size of your pan. When they are browned, return them to the pan with the chopped garlic, the ginger, cut into coins, and the white part of the spring onions. Keep stirring carefully for a minute until the garlic, ginger and onions start to give up their aroma – be careful not to break the skin on any of the wings.

Pour over the sesame oil and soy sauce, and reduce the heat to a low flame. Add water to cover the wings, stir to combine everything, and bring slowly to a simmer. Put a lid on the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, for 12 minutes.

Combine the cornflour with a little cold water. Remove the lid and stir the cornflour mixture through the dish. Continue to simmer until the sauce thickens. Stir through the green part of the spring onions, reserving a little to scatter over the finished dish, and serve with steamed rice and a stir-fried vegetable.

Glass noodle salad

Glass noodle saladA friend complained the other week that there aren’t enough noodle recipes on this blog. So here, just for you, Andras, is a noodle salad.

The noodles in this salad are glass noodles, made from mung beans (the same beans that beansprouts…sprout from). Don’t be tempted to substitute rice noodles, which have a very different texture. You’re unlikely to find glass noodles at your local supermarket, but any oriental grocer will carry them – they are sometimes marked “bean thread” or “pea thread” noodles. Check the packet – the only ingredient should be beans, or bean flour.

Texture’s all-important in this salad. The moist crunch of the lettuce against the dry crunch of crispy shallots, the slip of the noodles and the dense pieces of chicken and prawn all add up to a world-beating mouthfeel. A Thai-style dressing, with herbs, fish sauce, palm sugar, chillies and limes, gets the tastebuds in every part of your tongue working. We ate this as a main dish; it’s great as a side-dish too. For some reason, this is one of those recipes which demands to be eaten outdoors, so consider making it for a picnic or to serve at a barbecue.

To serve two to three as a main course or six as a side-dish, you’ll need:

8 large, raw prawns
2 chicken breasts, without skins
1 tablespoon tom yum paste
1 iceberg lettuce
100g glass noodles
1 handful (25g) coriander
1 handful (25g) mint
Juice of 4 limes
3 tablespoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons palm sugar (substitute soft brown sugar if you can’t find any)
1 red chilli
3 banana shallots

Stir the tom yum paste into the prawns and leave to marinade while you prepare the noodles (about 10 minutes).

Pour boiling water over the noodles to cover, and leave for 5 minutes until they are soft. Drain in a sieve, rinse in cold running water and transfer to a bowl. Use scissors to snip into the noodles so they are cut into pieces about an inch long. Cover and refrigerate.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a very hot frying pan, and cook the prawns until pink. Remove to a bowl. In the same pan, which will have retained some of the paste, sauté the chicken until it is brown outside and cooked through. Remove to another bowl. Leave the prawns and chicken to cool while you prepare the crispy shallots and dressing – when you come to make the salad, they’ll be close to room temperature.

Slice two long shallots into very thin rings, and shallow-fry in a couple of centimetres of oil, stirring occasionally, until they are brown and sweet (10-15 minutes). Remove from the oil with a skimmer and drain on kitchen paper. Set aside.

Slice the third shallot in half lengthways, and chop very finely. In a bowl, mix it with the herbs, chopped very finely, the sugar, lime juice, fish sauce and finely chopped chilli. Stir the dressing into the chilled noodles. Chop the chicken into dice the size of the top joint of your little finger, and toss the pieces, along with any juices from the chicken, with the noodles.

Slice the lettuce, straight from the fridge, as thinly as possible, and lay it in the bottom of a large serving bowl. Cover with the noodle mixture, and arrange the prawns on top. Sprinkle the crispy shallots over the dish and serve, making sure that some of every layer makes it onto the plate.

Chicken and chorizo risotto

This is a very, very tasty use of all of those bits from a roast chicken that you don’t get round to eating on its first appearance on the table. I rather enjoy stripping a cold chicken carcass after a roast: popping the oysters out of the underside, shredding the meat from a leftover leg with my fingers, and spooning any jellied juices into a bowl with the scraps. Now, those bits of chicken will serve to make a very fine sandwich with plenty of salt and pepper, but you can also make them work a bit harder as part of a rich, creamy risotto for supper the next day.

The quality of your chicken stock here is all-important, and the risotto will be much better if yours is home-made. I like to buy those very cheap boxes of chicken wings and pop them in a stockpot with the stripped carcass, some aromatics (bay, carrots, shallot and celery), a covering of water and a slug of white wine. You can make a handsome amount of stock like this, and freeze what you don’t use immediately.

To serve four, you’ll need:

As much meat as you can save from a roast or poached chicken (I had a whole leg and thigh, and scraps from the breast and underside, but you’ll be fine with less meat)
1 dried chorizo ring
320g Carnaroli risotto rice
1 litre hot chicken stock
75ml vermouth
3 banana shallots, diced finely
2 sticks celery, diced finely
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
Zest of 1 lemon
75g frozen peas
60g grated parmesan cheese
30g butter
Salt and pepper

Chop the chorizo into coins, and each of those coins into quarters. While you cook the risotto, cook in a frying pan without oil until the chorizo is becoming crisp and the fat is running – once it reaches this stage, remove it from the heat and set aside.

In a large pan, saute the shallots and celery with the bay and fennel in the butter until the shallots are soft, but not taking on colour. Add the rice and continue sauteing over a low heat until the rice is coated with butter and looks translucent. Stir in the shredded chicken meat and pour over the vermouth, and stir until all the liquid is absorbed into the rice.

Add a ladle of the hot stock and simmer, stirring until the stock is absorbed. Add another ladle of stock and repeat until all the stock is absorbed into the rice, and the risotto is thick and creamy, the grains of rice al dente. This should take about 20 minutes. Stir in the lemon zest with the peas and parmesan, and check the seasoning, adjusting to taste. Remove from the heat and leave covered for 5 minutes.

Remove the lid and stir the chorizo with its oil through the risotto, reserving a few pieces to scatter over the top. Serve immediately.

Spatchcocked grilled poussin with capers and oregano

I’ll admit it – one of the motives in coming up with this recipe was in ensuring that the first word I typed on Gastronomy Domine in 2010 could be “Spatchcocked”, a word which hasn’t got any less fun since I last typed it.

It being just after the festive season, the shops are still full of meats a little beyond the ordinary, so my local supermarket has shelves full of lovely fatty bacon collars (three are in the fridge at the moment, waiting for a little boiling swim in some Chinese aromatics which will turn them into interesting hams); veal mince (superb in a cottage pie); turkey crowns (I walked straight past these grimacing); pheasant and venison mixtures for stewing; and poussins, ready-spatchcocked.

I really enjoy cooking a bird prepared like this. Cooking times are reduced massively by flattening a bird out, so the meat can be passed very quickly under the grill, leaving you with wonderfully moist meat. If your poussin hasn’t been spatchcocked, it’s very easy to do it yourself – there are instructions here for spatchcocking a full-sized chicken.

I just couldn’t bring myself to go outside into the freezing winter with the barbecue, so I’ve cooked this under the conventional grill rather than over charcoal. If you’re in a position to use charcoal here, please do – it’ll be delicious.

Reckon to serve one poussin per person (try saying that after a glass of post-festive Prosecco – incidentally, Prosecco is a very nice match to this dish with its Italian aromatics). Some packaging will suggest that one bird will serve two. It won’t. They’re small, they’re bony and they’re fiddly to eat. Much better to serve a generous whole poussin to each person than to find yourselves squabbling over too little food. To marinade two flattened-out baby birds, you’ll need:

75ml extra-virgin olive oil
Juice and zest of 2 lemons
1 bunch (about 15g) fresh oregano, chopped finely
3 tablespoons capers, chopped finely
4 fat cloves garlic, crushed
1 heaped teaspoon Italian chilli flakes (use more or less according to how spicy you fancy it)
1 teaspoon salt
A generous grinding of pepper

Mix all the marinade ingredients and smear them all over the poussins in a large bowl. Refrigerate for 24 hours with a cover, turning a few times.

When you are ready to cook, position the birds on a rack under a hot grill, as far from the element as possible, skin-side down. Spoon over some of the marinade and grill the non-skin side for about 12 minutes. Flip the poussins over so the skin is uppermost, baste with some more marinade, and cook for another 12 minutes, until the skin is golden brown. Check the meat is cooked through by piercing a thigh at the thickest part – the juices should run clear. if the juices are bloody, leave the birds under the grill for another five minutes and repeat the test.

Sprinkle the cooked poussins with a little more oregano, and serve with buttered rice and a sharp salad.

Lo-Lo’s Chicken and Waffles, Phoenix AZ

There are flavour combinations out there that sound barking mad until you try them. Witness the blissful comings-together of Cheddar cheese and Christmas cake; chocolate and hare; fig and prosciutto; strawberries and Balsamico. But how do you feel about fried chicken, breakfast waffles and maple syrup?

As it turned out, I discovered that I felt remarkably good about the idea, so took the opportunity to drive down to South Phoenix, where you’ll find Lo-Lo’s (Lo-Lo has just opened another branch in Scottsdale, but it’s the original restaurant just south of Downtown Phoenix that we’re concerned with here.) It’s a little shack of a soul food restaurant in an area full of hand-painted warnings about vicious dogs, barbed wire and abandoned cars. Park in the yard behind the restaurant, hurry around to the entrance on the other side of the building, grab a seat at a counter or one of the tables, and get to grappling with the menu.

The main event here is the chicken and waffles, and the menu offers you about a dozen different chicken/waffle combinations, like Sheedah’s Special (a breast, a wing, a waffle), Lil Amadt (a leg, a thigh, a waffle), and Lo-Lo’s (three pieces of chicken, two waffles). If waffles aren’t your thing, there are grits or fries; and you can sample collard greens, home fries, candied sweet potatoes and other things of the sort it’s very hard to stop eating, all of which come as part of those combos or as side orders – try the cornbread with honey butter, crisp on the outside and light as a feather inside.

We ended up visiting twice, so we could explore a bit more of the menu. Drinks, served in massive Mason jars, are really good fun – sweet iced tea, silky with so much sugar syrup that your eyeballs hurt; home-made lemonade; Kool-Aid (the red sort only); Cherry Pepsi (which sent me into a Proustian reverie about the cans of cherry cola in my prep-school lunchbox). The fried chicken in Lo-Lo’s very delicately spiced batter is delectable, pressure-fried so hot that the coating comes out dry and perfectly crisp, the chicken inside moist and succulent. The fat is scrupulously fresh – enormous refuse hoppers out back for the old fat demonstrated that it’s changed very regularly, and you can taste this in what’s on the plate. Waffles are light and puffy, with a dollop of whipped butter and a little glass ramekin of maple syrup, which you’ll find yourself sloshing all over everything on your plate.

Every table sports a squeezy bottle of honey and some Trappey’s hot peppers in vinegar – the pepper vinegar is meant for your collard greens, but I found myself drizzling the intensely fruity, spicy liquor all over the fried chicken and everything else I was eating. The kitchen also produces something called Chyna’s honey hot sauce, which tasted a lot like a vinegar-based hot sauce like Frank’s blended with honey – we dipped wings in it and pronounced it just splendid. The fried okra in cornmeal is, I think, bought in frozen, which is a shame; that said, once doctored with some pepper vinegar we found ourselves ordering it twice, so perhaps the frozen-ness isn’t such a disaster.

The atmosphere at Lo-Lo’s is fantastic – we got chatting to neighbouring tables, found ourselves engaged in deep conversation with the waiters and bemoaning the UK’s useless absence of chillies in vinegar. Ultimately, I’m rather relieved there’s nothing like Lo-Lo’s round here; I’d be having serious trouble fitting into my trousers if there was. But if you find yourself in Phoenix, you’d be mad not to go. This is food with real heart – you can see why they call it soul food – and it’s more delicious and less expensive than anything else we ate in the city.