Weekend food with Darina Allen: Delicious dishes with organic chicken

There was a big fuss on RTÉ’s Prime Time recently when An Taisce’s Green Schools Programme with support from the National Climate Change Action and Awareness Programme recommended schools implement ‘Meatless Mondays’ and encourage children to eat less meat and dairy. 

The Irish Farmers Association were up in arms and the ensuing debate only served to confuse viewers further.

So what to do? There’s no denying climate change. Cooks and chefs can combat climate change by actively sourcing their product from farmers and food producers who farm sustainably by working towards a zero waste policy.

The same principals apply to the rest of us, but back to the furore. The farming community overall are responding positively to the challenge but there’s nothing to be gained from ‘shooting the messenger’. Best to concentrate on producing the very best meat and dairy products that consumers can truly trust, grass fed, chemical free and free from residues of antibiotics. I’m often asked what exactly is the definition of grass fed? It’s difficult to get an answer.

Nonetheless, whether we like it or not it’s time to accept reduced meat consumption is a trend that is definitely here to stay. Multiple millions of dollars are being invested in the meat substitute industry. That is not going to change anytime soon so let’s put our efforts here in Ireland into producing real quality not quantity and charge enough for it. One can of course be super healthy on a vegetarian diet provided one can source nutrient dense organic vegetables and grains.

I myself am, what’s nowadays termed as a flexitarian and a very happy one at that. I love vegetarian dishes and also eat lots of ‘accidently vegan’ food but love good meat, poultry and fish. But I’m super careful about the quality of the meat and fish I eat. 

I go to considerable lengths to source organic, free range chicken — considerably more expensive but cheaper in the end because I can get six meals from one plump chicken and a fine pot of broth which in itself is ‘super food’. I also try to find lamb from a local butcher who can find a sheep farmer who finishes his lambs on grass rather than concentrates, the difference in the sweetness of the meat is palpable.

I search for beef from our native breeds, Hereford, Aberdeen Angus, Poll Angus, Shorthorn, Dexter or Moilie. I’m looking for a rich beefy flavor when I enjoy a small steak, a stew and indeed the crucially important offal or organ meats as they are referred to by the excellent Weston A Price Foundation, whose Wise Traditions podcasts and guidelines for optimum nutrition are worth checking out at: www.westonaprice.org/podcast/

I believe dairy products and good meat and fish are vitally important elements in our children’s diets.

It’s interesting to note that the demand for raw milk is growing steadily as people become aware of its extra nutritional elements and flavour.

However, in this column I’ll try to persuade you to invest in a beautiful, plump, organic chicken and here’s how to get superb value and delicious meals from it.

How to joint a chicken

Jointing a chicken into four pieces:

Use a filleting or boning knife, and put your index finger along the back of the blade. Use the thumb of your opposite hand as a guide so you can feel where to cut.

  • Put the chicken on a chopping board with its legs away from you.
  • Remove the wishbone from the neck end (add to the stockpot).
  • Turn the chicken around with the legs and cavity towards you.
  • Cut through the loose skin between the left leg and the breast.
  • Push the left leg down with your thumb and upwards with your four fingers to break the ball-and-socket joint.
  • Turn the bird onto its side and cut around the oyster piece so it remains attached to the leg. Ideally remove the drumstick, thigh and oyster in one piece, leaving as little meat as possible on the carcass.
  • Cut along the edge of the left side of the breastbone to loosen the white meat. Using long, sweeping movements, remove the breast in one piece with the wing attached. (Alternatively use a poultry shears to cut through the breastbone and ribs. This adds extra flavour –— particularly for a casserole.)
  • Chop off the pointed wing tips and discard if the chicken has been intensively reared; otherwise use in the stockpot or use for a chicken wing recipe.
  • Cut off the pinion at the first joint and keep for the stockpot.
  • Turn the chicken around and repeat on the other side.
  • Chop the carcass and put into the stockpot.

Jointing a chicken into eight pieces:

  • Joint the chicken as per the above instructions.
  • Put one leg skin-side down on a chopping board.
  • Divide the leg into two by cutting through the line of fat at the knuckle between the thigh and drumstick. Repeat with the other leg.
  • Cut the wing from the breast.
  • If desired, detach the skin from the breast by pulling it gently away from the flesh.
  • Cut the breast into two pieces at an angle.
  • Repeat with the second breast.

To prepare a chicken breast

Detach the fillet and cook it separately or use it for another recipe, such as a stir-fry or pasta dish. If the chicken breast is to be pan-fried, you may want to remove the skin; however, if the chicken is free-range and organic the skin is delicious when slowly cooked in a low oven for 20 minutes or so, until crisp.

To prepare chicken wings

If still attached to the carcass, cut the entire wing off the chicken. With the blade of the knife at an angle, cut through the cartilage and joint between the third and second joint. Detach the first joint pinion from the middle joint with a quick chop and add it to the stockpot.

To make Chinese drumsticks or buffalo wings use the wing piece closest to the body.

If you have a chopper, chop the end off the narrow bone. Alternatively, cut through the skin around the narrow end of the bone (closest to the middle joint).

Push the flesh back down along the bone with the back of your knife, and turn it inside out so it covers the bone at the other end. Marinate and cook as desired.

Sticky Chicken Wings with Fresh Mint

Who doesn’t love chicken wings, use the tips in the stock pot.

Serves 4

16 organic chicken wings

Marinade

2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

6 tbsp soy sauce

1 generous tbsp honey

A drizzle of olive or sunflower oil

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Garnish

8-10 fresh mint leaves

Whisk all the ingredients for the marinade in a bowl, add the chicken wings and toss well, allow to marinade for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4.

Spread the wings on a baking tray just large enough to take them.

Cook for 20 to 30 minutes turning occasionally until cooked through, golden and sticky. Add some of the marinade to the tray. Put the remainder in a saucepan, reduce to a thick glaze — add the chicken wings and toss. Sprinkle with shredded fresh mint leaves and serve warm.

Real Chicken Nuggets

Everyone loves these crispy chicken nuggets made from local free-range or organic chicken, so much more nutritious. Get the children to help you make them — they love tossing the chicken in a bag of breadcrumbs. 

Serve with some home-made tomato sauce or relish.

Serves 4

225g (8oz) bread (brown or white)

1 organic or free range egg

125ml (4floz) whole milk

450g (1 lb) organic chicken breast or boneless thighs cut into nuggets

150g (6 ozs) flour, seasoned with salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6

Cut the crusts off the bread. Break into pieces and whizz to fine crumbs in a blender or food processor. Put the breadcrumbs onto a flat plate or into a recycled plastic bag.

Whisk the egg in a large bowl with the milk. Put the well-seasoned flour onto another flat dish. Take one piece of chicken at a time and toss in seasoned flour, then coat with beaten egg and then breadcrumbs. Repeat with all the chicken pieces.

Arrange the crumbed chicken on a lightly oiled baking sheet, and bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes until browned and crisp and cooked through.

Madhur Jaffery’s Creamy Chicken Korma with Almonds

“I happen to like dark meat so, given a choice, I would use only chicken thighs for this recipe. However, many people prefer light meat, including two members of my own family. Whatever chicken parts you choose, all legs must be cut into two parts (leg and thigh) and each breast must be cut across the centre into two parts. You could also use a whole chicken, cut into serving pieces and then skinned.”

Serves 4

5-6 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 inch (2½ cm) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

2oz (50g) blanched, slivered almonds

5 tbsp olive or canola oil

2 bay leaves

8 cardamom pods

4 cloves

1 inch (2½ cm) cinnamon

1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 tbsp ground cumin

1 tbsp ground coriander

¼ tsp cayenne pepper

1 tbsp tomato puree

3lbs (1½kg) chicken pieces, skinned and cut into serving portions

1¼ tsp salt

3 tbsp single cream

½ tbsp garam masala

Put the garlic, ginger, almonds and 6 tablespoons water into an electric blender and blend until you have a smooth paste.

Put the oil in a wide pan set over medium-high heat. When very hot, put in the bay leaves, cardamom pods, cloves and cinnamon. Stir for 10 seconds. Put in the onion. Stir and fry until the onion pieces turn brown.

Turn the heat to medium and add the paste from the blender as well as the cumin, coriander and cayenne. Stir and fry for 3-4 minutes. Add the tomato puree and stir for a minute.

Add the chicken pieces, salt, cream, garam masala and 150ml (5fl oz/¼ pint) water. Cover and bring to a simmer. Turn heat to low and simmer gently for 25 minutes.

Sticky Chicken Thighs with Soy and Ginger Sauce

Spiced drumsticks are also lip smackingly good.

Serves 10

Marinade

225ml (8fl oz) soy sauce

3 tbsp sunflower oil

3 tbsp honey

3 tbsp rice wine or dry sherry

1 tbsp peeled and finely grated ginger

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1-2 chillies finely chopped

10 free-range and organic chicken thighs

Accompaniment

cucumber wedges

green salad

sweet chilli sauce

lime wedges

Mix all the ingredients for the marinade in a bowl or pie dish. Slash the skin of the chicken thighs. Put into a pie dish, cover with the marinade and turn well to coat. Cover and keep refrigerated for at least an hour or even overnight.

To Serve

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Drain the chicken pieces and save the marinade for basting. Arrange skin side up in a roasting tin. Season with salt and pepper. Cook in the preheated oven for 30 minutes approximately and then baste every 10 minutes or so with some of the extra marinade.

Serve with cucumber wedges about 6cm (2½ inches) long and cut at an angle, green salad, lime wedges and a bowl of sweet chilli sauce for dipping.

Hot Tips

Natural Umber — Organic Apple Cider Vinegar

Seek out this delicious new find, Natural Umber Organic Apple Cider Vinegar. Named after its deep colour, Natural Umber is made in County Tyrone by the Mackle Family who have been producing apples in the UK and Ireland for over 50 years. It was a winner in the 2018 Great Taste Awards and we can verify that it indeed is delicious. To find out where to buy it or order online go to www.naturalumber.com

Regan’s Organic Chickens

We love to use Mary Regan’s Organic Chickens here at Ballymaloe Cookery School. They are fat, juicy and nutritious and we sell them here in the Farm shop. Check out where else they are stocked or order directly from www.reganorganicfarm.ie

www.cookingisfun.ie 

www.instagram.com/darina_allen 

www.instagram.com/ballymaloecookeryschool

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