Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Run rabbit (and chicken) run, run, run...

As I said in my last post, when shopping for Becca’s Mum’s birthday paella, I rather over bought.  I didn’t over spend, I hasten to reiterate, everything was a bargain, and most of it just plain cheap – I just bought more than we needed, or indeed could come close to fitting in the pan.  Actually pretty easily done on a trip to Theobalds  Not to worry though, nothing whatsoever went to waste, it just meant I didn’t need to do any proper shopping for a week.  And that week we ate fantastically well.

Apart from the leftover paella itself, which was enough for a light lunch for two or a hearty dinner for one (as it became for Becca on one of the evenings I was working in the week), we had the best part of a whole rabbit, jointed and already browned, six fat chicken thighs and plenty of cooking chorizo.

A tub of rabbit meat, a bowl of rabbit bones
The first thing to be done was make something of the rabbit.  Or rather two inter-related things, a stew of the meat and a stock of the bones.  So the day after the birthday feast I pulled all I could of the rabbit meat from the rabbit bones, put the bones in a stockpot of water with the regular veg, herbs and spices to simmer into a rich gamey stock, while making a basic stew of the meat with some shredded bacon, coarsely chopped onion, fennel and celery, a good splash of white wine and (added later in the whole process) the first few ladlefuls of stock from the pan.

Dinner that night was a simple pasta dish with a sauce made with cherry tomatoes, fried till soft, then a couple of ladles of the rabbit stew and a bit of extra stock added to the pan, tossed together with some penne.  A ribbony pasta, like pappardelle or broad tagliatelle - which one might argue to be something of a tautology - would undoubtedly have been more traditional, and perhaps more appropriate, but the principle culinary object of the day was throwing together something easy out of what we had to hand and that was penne.  And you know what?  It was perfectly good.

The bulk of the rabbit stew, and the stock, went into the fridge.  The next day we’d be due a change from rabbit, and it would be the turn of the chicken thighs.  My original idea had been to roast them with onions and sherry, a wonderfully simple and tasty dish, I believe of my own devising, which I have yet to post on this blog (although it has obvious things in common with the dish described here, it’s an open roast rather than a lidded casserole, and I will write it up one day, I promise).  But, disastrously (I say ‘disastrously’, but that’s speaking very relatively), the only sherry in the house was half a half bottle of 30 (thirty!) year old palo cortado which for all that it’s a ridiculous bargain even at around £18 for a half bottle – it is 30 years old after all – is not something you cook with.  Not even if it wasn’t a gift from your favourite aunt.  So in keeping with the theme for the week, I instead took a look at what we did have in the house and let my decision making be guided by that.  Which turned out to be red peppers, of the long pointy variety widely and cheaply available at the Turkish stores round here – or usually at a pound for a big bowl full in not always ropey condition on Ridley Road market.  And of which, like pretty much everything else intended for the paella, I had bought twice as much as I needed. 

The obvious thing to do with chicken thighs and red pepper perhaps was a Sicilian, Basque or maybe Provencale type stew, and very good that would have been too.  But I decided, more or less on a whim, and still with my onion and sherry dish in mind, to experiment with roasting the peppers whole in the dish with the chicken thighs, and some onion.  That may not have been a particularly wild or daring experiment, but I have to say it turned out to be a very successful one.  And again, very simple.

I simply marinated the chicken in the usual mix of crushed garlic, chilli, lemon juice and zest, olive oil, salt, pepper and herbs (sage and thyme), then browned them well in my stove proof cast iron roasting dish, lay the peppers between them, giving them a good turn in the juices, and tucked wedges of red onion, simply peeled and cut lengthways into sixths, into the remaining gaps.  ThenI transferred to the oven, at around 200, for about half an hour.

At the same time, but in another dish, I roasted some jersey royals and carrots that were slender enough to leave whole (having first been steamed over the potatoes as they were par-boiling), as much for aesthetic coherence with the whole peppers as anything, along with a few cloves of garlic.

The resulting plateful was one of the tastiest and most aesthetically pleasing roast chicken dishes I’ve ever had, while at the same time being one of the simplest.  There wasn’t even any need to think about making a gravy, the juices from the chicken and the red peppers making a thoroughly delectable sweet sauce in the roasting tray all by themselves.

Two chicken thighs apiece for Becca and me was plenty for dinner, and left two thighs over to be added to the rabbit stew for the thing I’d been most looking forward to ever since I’d realised the extent of our paella overstock.  Possibly what I’d been deliberately, but subconsciously, planning even before that, back at the point of making decisions in Theobalds.  The next step in our use-em-up program would be rabbit and chicken pie.  For which you’ll have to wait till my next post…

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