Easy recipes for the newbie cook, the beginner in the kitchen, the nervous novice: we all had to start somewhere, and you can start right here.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Chicken Casserole Recipe: Easy and Inexpensive

Chicken Casserole Recipe: Easy and Inexpensive

The weather is turning Autumnal here in the British Isles; we’re still getting some sunny days, but the winds are picking up and the rainy spells increasing.  This is the time of year when my thoughts start turning to warming stews and similar, and this Easy Chicken Casserole is a typical example of the dishes I want to cook now: it is still quite light, but the flavours are deep and the warmth gets into your bones on a chilly evening.

It is also a good example of how you can use the cheaper cuts of good meat to make a very economical dish: I am, as always, asking you to use free-range chicken here, but by using the thighs you get all the taste and flavour without busting the wallet.  In fact, you should get four to six tasty and satisfying free-range thighs for less than the price of a rubbery broiler house bird.  Better for your wallet, better for your tummy and taste buds, and better for your moral conscience.

Similarly, I have also asked you to use proper dry-cured bacon: you do not want to use the vacuum packed, brine-pumped stuff soaked in artificial chemical smoke flavourings – a little of the real stuff goes a lot further than the flabby imitation, thus again giving you better quality and saving you money.  I have said two to four rashers, or the equivalent in lardons, to depend on how much bacony, smoky taste you prefer.

The theme of The Guerilla Griller since the start has been to encourage kitchen beginners and the less confident or experienced cook, and, as long as you follow the simple steps given below you will find this a very easy, as well as extremely tasty, chicken recipe.

Notice I’m not giving precise weights and measurements here: if you’re a beginner, you may think you want closer guidance, but this kind of recipe is not like that.  How big are the chicken thighs?  Maybe the greengrocer has only monster onions and baby leeks and carrots.  Learn to think on your feet while at the shops, as well as at your chopping board.  Generally, if a recipe has called for four oz of diced carrot and my carrot produces five oz, well, it’s all going to go in the pot – after all, what am I going to otherwise do with an ounce of diced carrot?

Depending on the size of the available thighs, and the size of your appetite, you may want one or two per adult – I’ve given quantities for four thighs, but this is a very forgiving recipe, and the proportions of the  ingredients are completely adaptable to availability and your own tastes. The method here is more important to the finished result than exact proportions.

Easy Chicken Casserole: Ingredients

Four plump free-range chicken thighs
Two to four rashers of dry-cured smoked streaky bacon or pancetta (Italian smoked bacon), any gristly bits removed, sliced into thinnish strips, or two to four oz/55 to 115g smoked lardons (diced bacon)
One small to medium leek, rinsed well of grit, sliced into thin rings, discarding the tougher part of the green end
One small to medium onion, peeled, halved from stalk end to root, then sliced into semicircles to a similar width as the leeks
One or two carrots, peeled and cut into small dice or batons as you prefer
Four cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced in half
Two bay leaves and two sprigs of fresh thyme if you have them, or a couple of pinches of dried mixed herbs if that’s all you’ve got in the cupboard
Approximately half a pint/290ml/10fluid oz of chicken or vegetable stock, preferably fresh and home made, but good quality cubes or powder if you must, dissolved in boiling water to the above quantity
Enough white wine or vermouth (say half a glass) to deglaze the pan (see method)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to your taste

A tablespoon or so of oil for the initial frying

Easy Chicken Casserole: Method

Put a large, deep saucepan or similar (I use a cast iron pot) onto a medium to high heat on the stove top, and put in the diced bacon.  Stir frequently, until it is starting to go golden and some of its fat released: you may or may not have had to add a splash of the oil to help it along.  Adjust the heat as necessary if everything seems to be happening too quickly.  Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and reserve, leaving the bacon fat in the pan.  Add the oil, then put the chicken thighs in the pan.  Again, adjust the heat in you need to.  Using tongs, turn from time to time until the skin is golden brown – this will take around five to eight minutes, as we are not trying to cook the chicken here, just colour it and to get some of the lovely caramelisation flavours going.  Remove the chicken from the pan, and put to one side with the bacon.

Now add the vegetables, including the garlic, to the pan and allow them to soften a little and begin to go golden in the bacon and chicken flavoured oil – stir frequently.  Remember, we are looking for golden brown colouration, not black!

Once the veggies have cooked for five minutes or so, tip in the glass of wine or vermouth (or plain water or some of the stock, if you don’t like or don’t have the booze handy) and quickly stir up any of the flavoursome crusty bits from the bottom of the pan.  Before it quite boils dry, add the rest of the stock and the bacon pieces – the liquid should just cover the vegetables; add a little boiling water if needed.  Add the herbs and salt and pepper, stir well, taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.  Bring back to the boil, add the chicken to the pan, cover with a lid, and bring the heat down to a gentle simmer.

After about eight minutes, give the vegetables a good stir, and turn the chicken so that the side that was in the liquid is now on top.  After another eight minutes, check the chicken for done-ness – either use a temperature probe thermometer to make sure the internal temperature at the thickest part is at least 75C/170F, or poke a skewer in and make sure that after ten seconds the tip is too hot to touch to your lip and/or the chicken juices run clear.  If the chicken is not cooked through, then pop back into the pan and check again every couple of minutes until it is ready.

The point of that last paragraph is that you have to make sure that chicken is cooked to a safe temperature, but only just – don’t overcook it.  It is a fallacy that meat cooked in stock will remain moist – not so: the juices from the meat are drawn out into the cooking liquids.

As soon as you are happy that the chicken is cooked through, remove it from the casserole to rest: cover with a (warmed) bowl or kitchen foil, and cover this with a cloth or towel to keep warm -  you will get a juicier, more tender result by doing this, and five minutes will do the trick on these cuts.

While the chicken is resting, check the rest of the casserole – if you think it is too liquid, (the vegetables will have released some of their own moisture) then bring to the boil, and allow to reduce.  Check for seasoning, then serve onto suitable plates or bowls, resting the chicken on top.

You may wish to cook some fresh veggies, such as broccoli or cauliflower, to go on the side, and serve with the carb of your choice: spuds done any way you like, noodles, rice or just chunks of crusty bread to mop up the juices.

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