My maternal grandmother (Nanna) was born in the 1890’s, and lived through two world wars with their accompanying ration books and shortages of food. When I was born, partial rationing was still in force and ‘frugality’ was well entrenched in Nanna’s mortal soul. Blessings had to be counted – stockings were mended, collars turned, and clean underwear always had to be worn in case you were run over by a bus. This frugality didn’t stop at the kitchen door. Waste was not to be tolerated. One of my kitchen duties was to scrape the cake mix out of the bowl with a teaspoon, on a promise of the last lick. Every last spoonful, I was told, was enough cake to feed a starving African child. We didn’t own a spatula, so I was amused to read in Bee Wilson’s ‘Consider the Fork’, that rubber spatulas were once referred to as ‘child cheaters’, for their knack of removing every last gram of batter. Nanna would have approved of that.
Sunday lunches were a ritual and a roast. It was probably the only time my brother and I ate with my parents. Once a month the roast would be chicken. Sitting proudly on it’s carving dish, the golden bird, covered in crispy bacon, would be carried in and gently set down in front of my father at the head of the table. Standing he would begin to carve, with my mother at his side waiting to spoon the accompaniments onto our plates. There would be bread sauce, giblet gravy, crispy bacon, roast potatoes and parsnips, boiled carrots and whatever green vegetable was in season. I have to confess the latter two were on the overcooked side – ‘al dente’ hadn’t as yet entered the English language. Father always cut himself a leg, mother a slice or two of breast, my frugal grandmother was served the chicken oysters and always the parsons nose. We children ate what we were given but mainly the other leg, thigh and drum stick between us. We then waited anxiously to see who would be given the wishbone to pull, as he who had first grasp mostly won. There always seemed to be enough chicken left over from this veritable feast, to then be stretched into another two meals for my grandmother and us children.
Starving people have not gone away and food banks are now seemingly part of UK life. So, wasting food is important today as it ever was. My grandmother’s frugality sits lightly on my shoulders, too lightly sometimes, but making the most of the food is not one of them.
Firstly, Roast Chicken. For the purpose of this exercise all the meals serve 2. Preparation time – One and half hours
NB: My grandmother’s way of keeping the bird succulent was by constant basting. I am often too distracted by other things to remember to do this regularly enough, so I’ve adapted a recipe from the wonderful Felicity Cloake’s ‘The perfect roast chicken’ from the Guardian series, my go-to place when I want sound analysis and methodology.
*1 medium chicken (approx. 1.6kg)
Pink Himalayan salt – I like it for its colour and the supposed 84 minerals it contains.
Salt and pepper
2 large cloves of garlic, skin removed and crushed.
Vegetable stock cube
“* Buy the best damn chicken you can. Free range, organic, and know it’s provenance. I buy the slow maturing Ross chicken from Turner & George. It’s taste and texture is so superior to supermarket chickens.”
Preheat the oven to 220˚C – you need to know your own oven strengths and weaknesses, so checking the temperature with an oven thermometer is good practice. Mine runs hot, so I turn it down to 210˚C.
Using a saucepan large enough to fit the chicken in, fill with boiling water from the kettle (quicker) and sprinkle in a good fistful of Himalayan rose salt. Pop in the whole lemon. Fold a piece of foil into a long strap-like shape, wrap it around chicken, and use the ends to lower it into the boiling water breast-side down. Turn down the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove bird immediately using the foil strap. (Wearing oven gloves is a good idea here.) Dry it very thoroughly with kitchen towel.
Put the chicken in a roasting tin and slather it with softened butter. Season generously, both inside and out, and place the lemon, cut into halves and the crushed garlic into the cavity. Dissolve stock cube with a little boiling water and pour it into the bottom of the tin, a couple of centimetres deep. Place into the oven for 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes. Test by pulling a leg a little away from the body, if juices run clear it’s done, if still pink return to oven for another 10 to 15mins.
Ten minutes before the end of cooking, turn up the oven to 250˚C, as this helps to crisp the skin.
Always allow the chicken to rest for at least 15 minutes before carving. It can be kept warm by tenting it with foil.
And then and then. Two more meals and maybe a fourth
Remove every bit of leftover chicken from the roast carcass and shred into bite size pieces. In addition you can make stock for soup with the bones – Chicken Soup for the Soul. Boil bone remains in enough water to cover it, adding a bay leaf, half an onion and carrot for flavour for about 30 mins. If you leave stock in fridge for a night, the fat is easy to skim off in the morning. That would give you four meals for two adults from one chicken. Nanna would be proud.
Secondly. Tom Yum Chicken Noodle Soup – Preparation time 30mins. Serves two
1 packet Tom Yum paste
240ml water. (There is no point in using the chicken stock here as the spices will overpower the subtle flavour.)
240ml coconut milk
6 dried Shitake mushrooms, left to soak in boiling water for 30mins
1 tbs coconut oil
2 Pak Choy, remove base and slice thinly lengthwise
1 clove garlic, smashed
Small bunch spring onions, sliced into thin rings.
120 grams cooked chicken. Shredded
100 grams rice noodles – prepared as per packet instructions
Fish sauce to taste
Coriander, snipped into smallish pieces – sprinkle to taste.
Mix the water with coconut milk and bring to boil either in a jug in the microwave or a pan. Add Tom Yum paste and mix thoroughly. Put to one side. Squeeze out mushrooms and thinly slice. Melt coconut oil in large pan. Add Pak choy and garlic and fry on medium heat for approximately 2 mins, stirring all the time. The leaves should be limp but not coloured. Add Tom Yum liquid and bring to boil, lower heat and add chicken, noodles, spring onions. Taste and add fish sauce to your liking.
Serve in bowls, sharing out noodles, chicken and veg first and then pouring over remaining liquid. Sprinkle over coriander. I love this herb so much it covers my whole bowl!
Lastly but not ever least. Clear the Fridge Rice. Preparation time 30 mins, serving two.
120 grams Wild Rice and Basmati mix – cook as per packet and drain
1 tbs coconut Oil
120 grams left over chicken
20 grams chorizo, sliced
1 red onion, chopped
PLUS – Chopped vegetables – whatever you have in fridge that will stir fry; peppers, broccoli stem, sugar snap. If beans, broccoli, or shredded cabbage/spring green are raw blanch first in boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes. It’s up to you how much you put in. My adage is the more vegetables you have the less rice you need; cooked rice keeps well in fridge to be added to other dishes.
1 tbs Indonesian Sambal – if you like it hot
2 large carrots, grated
Handful coriander, chopped
2 tbs salted peanuts crushed. (place in paper bag, smash using rolling pin)
Heat oil in a deep-frying pan/wok etc. over a high heat. Add chorizo and onion, stir for a moment a two to allow chorizo juices to run and then lower heat and sauté, stirring until onion is soft. Add raw vegetables if using, sauté for 2 to 3 minutes more and then add in chicken and cooked rice. Stir in the tablespoon of Sambal if you are using it and then add the grated carrot, mix thoroughly and then serve into bowls. Sprinkle over coriander and then nuts on top.