Chicken and leek stew/broth, or “stroth”
Serves at least 4. Well, 4 normal-sized people. It’d probably only be enough to serve 2 greedy ones. Or 1 morbidly obese man with a massive appetite, but then only as a snack between deep-fried pizzas. (I hear there is a cookery book of Elvis Presley’s favourite snacks written by his personal chef which will kick your heart to pieces with the force of a four-ton burger just by reading it. Sounds absolutely foul to me. I’m sorely tempted.)
Things it’s handy to have:
Chicken thighs, legs, drumsticks &c. About 5 or 6 of them. (Organic and free range if you can. (Be nice to the chickens: they have a horrible life. They’re far too stupid to realise this, true, and your shopping habits are much more a feeble statement about you and the hypocritical compromise you make between your appetite and your attitude to cruelty, but then you know that already: that’s why you’re not a vegetarian.) If it’s a toss-up between organic and free range then you’re on your own. It’s the ultimate middle-class dilemma and no one’s solved it satisfactorily yet. Sit in Waitrose crying for an hour if you wish: no one will answer your plea.)
Carrots (Organic. You don’t have to worry about veg being free-range, thank heavens, and if they were free-range you’d be worrying for entirely different reasons. (Visions of angry carrots marauding across the hillsides… Actually, why do we always picture hitherto-inanimate objects as marauding angrily when granted movement? They could well turn out to be interested only in rambling or some similarly wholesome, harmless outdoor pursuit. John Wyndham has a lot to answer for.))
Onions (And again.)
Fresh thyme (If you don’t happen to be growing any (and I for one am not at the moment: my mother occasionally turns up at my flat, triumphantly bearing plants she’s gently nurtured from seedlings, only for me to kill them fairly promptly either through neglect or over-zealous kindness), keep some in your freezer for added freshness. Freezers are great for herbs. Plus, there is the added pleasure that when your freezer inevitably turns into one massive block of ice it will at least have pretty green specks throughout. You can imagine they’re slow-moving aliens cut short by an ice floe if you like. I don’t do that sort of thing myself, of course.)
PEARL BARLEY (Wonderful, wonderful PEARL BARLEY gets to be written in uppercase because it’s amazing stuff. I’ll say no more. You know how good it is. PEARL BARLEY. Mmmm…)
Chicken stock (We’ve talked about this before, haven’t we? Perhaps I shouldn’t have written up two chicken recipes on the trot, especially two chicken recipes as similar as this and the risotto, but for all you know I’m just writing these things in thematic order. (I’m not.) Anyway. Like any self-respecting modern man, I keep bags of the proper stuff frozen, pace Mrs. Saatchi, and spend all of my free hours boiling up carcasses with leeks, carrots and onions. Gallons of the bloody stuff I make. Honest. It’s just that, well, stock cubes are easier. Plus, of course, whenever I go shopping I get bored and whenever I get bored I get absent-minded, and so I think I’m running out of cubes when I’m not and end up buying more: my cupboards are absolutely overrun with all the animal and vegetable variants of OXO, Kallo, Knorr, Sainsburgh’s, Cohen’s etc. you can imagine and I’ve got to do something with them all, the Mrs having pooh-poohed my suggestion of chucking them in the bath to provide her with a low-cost fake tan. (Women nowadays don’t really get the concept of thrift, do they? Shame. Shame!))
Probably other stuff I’ve forgotten. It doesn’t matter; it’s not as if anyone’s going to cook from this anyway, is it?
Switch on Radio 4. Listen to Martin Jarvis burble soothingly until such a point that your level of smug relaxation is suitable for the cooking of something warm, hearty, and comforting. Crack open a bottle of Badger’s Fursty Ferret* to help the mood. (*Other beers are available.) Survey kitchen with proprietorial pride etc. Sigh contentedly. Select largest pan, place on stove top or hob, add a generous glug of olive oil. Switch on gas. Singe knuckles again. You do not learn. Wait for pan to heat up.
Add the chicken limbs, skin-side down. They will spit at you. Do not be disheartened. It’s not personal. Keep the heat up. Let them spi- OW, will you STOP that you fu- put lid on pan.
Wait a couple of minutes. Remove lid from pan. Using tongs (not tongues; I cannot stress this strongly enough: tongs, not tongues), prize the sticky chicken flesh from the bottom of the pan and turn them over. The skin ought to be a glistening, mottled brown. Clatter the lid back on and continue to let them brown without spitting hot oil at you. Chop up an onion, a couple of leeks and two or three carrots into hefty chunks. Remove lid from pan, add thyme and onion and a generous grind or ten of black pepper. Put lid back on. Leave for five minutes. Quick gulp of beer. Chuck in the carrot and the leeks. Lid back on. Let them sweat a bit.
When you can bear it no more, stir, and pour in chicken stock (or hot water and a couple of stock cubes ho hum), covering the contents of the pan. Sling in a few handfuls of PEARL BARLEY for good measure. Simmer. Lid on. Notice Radio 4 has stopped Jarvising and is now broadcasting a bleak programme about tragic only twins (no, not like Peter Cook, but those whose genetic duplicates have died). Feel a bit grim. Quickly switch to Radio 3. Sit down at kitchen table with glass of ale and laptop. Start writing this. (Actually, you can probably miss this step out. It depends how slavishly you want to follow my example, really. As a general rule that’s something it’s never worth doing.)
Time passes. Let it. Tick tock…
Check on the pan. Curse roundly. Remember PEARL BARLEY is like rice: it grows. The pan is full of PEARL BARLEY. Panic. Boil kettle. More water, more water!
Crisis averted, lid on again. Heat as low as possible. Leave for a few hours. Chop some parsley, mix that in, serve with crusty bread (or a couple of slices of whatever you’ve got in the cupboard if you’ve neglected to buy any crusty bread) or a few more veg, perhaps a potato or two if you’re really hungry. Big glass of red wine. Eat.