Chicken Risotto. | Peter Clover

Many moons ago, before Covid 19 hijacked our lives, when hugging a good friend was normal; before Disney ran out of magic, and a trip to Paris was romantic; when NOT visiting a parent or loved one became an act of love, and walking down a street didn’t feel like a folk dance, continually side stepping to avoid strangers who disrespect your safe space, I saw a celebrity chef on TV do something with a chicken which changed my life – well, in a gastronomic sense of course!

This passionate ‘poultry in a pot’ experience happened over 25 years ago, yet was an epiphany which has stayed with me, and still delivers faithfully on a regular basis. Now that I’ve got your full attention, you’ve really got to stay with me and commit to this chicken challenge, which will definitely be worth your while along with giving you a good few days of not worrying about what to cook for lunch, dinner, snacks, pickies etc.

An absolute bonus when trying to make food stretch during lockdown. You won’t be sorry!
In Jewish culture, granny’s chicken soup is thought to be the panacea for all ails, and made proverbially by Jewish grandmothers all over the world. There are almost as many ways to make this famed magical potion as there are grannies! Follow the format, and amongst other things, you will have a delectable and delicious die hard version which I hope you will embrace as the big finale to championing your chicken.

Everyone loves a golden roast chicken accompanied by stuffing and all the trimmings, and that doesn’t have to change. But don’t be put off trying something different, which will stretch a humble chicken beyond your imagination! I have been trying to get my dear ‘cuñada’ (sister-in-law) to try this ‘rooster routine’ for almost a quarter of a century (you know who you are Yvette), but she simply shrugs, and inwardly believes that the poaching poultry process involved will boil the life and soul out of the blessed bird, resulting in a dry, unappetizing dish! She just doesn’t realise how juicy and tender the chicken meat becomes when poached in its own stock. It’s a winner.

Here’s how. Start with a decent sized quality bird, yet not necessarily the most expensive chick in the coop. Whatever the size, place in a saucepan large enough to accommodate the bird along with enough room for the poaching vegetables. Fill saucepan with water to a level which will leave the breasts of the chicken exposed above the liquid, then bring to boil with a quality stock cube for added flavour (optional).

Skim off any scum which rises to the surface, then add one large and roughly quartered onion, three roughly chopped carrots, two roughly chopped sticks of celery, a turnip peeled and quartered, two bay leaves, 1tsp black peppercorns and a small posy of parsley, stalks and all. Cover and simmer gently for twenty minutes or so which will perfectly poach the two breasts. Carefully remove chicken from pan and remove the whole/complete breasts in one go. If they are still a little pink close to the bone, simply return to the stock in the pan and poach for a further five minutes, then remove and place in dish. Spoon over a little stock and cover the breasts with foil. Return the rest of the chicken to pan and simmer for further forty minutes. Remove bird and strip all meat from the legs, thighs and carcass, arranging meat in same dish with breasts. Spoon over a little more stock, cover and refridgerate to use at your leisure in your favourite dishes.

Return carcass and all skin to pan, top up with water to cover, and simmer gently for a further hour and half. Strain over large bowl and reserve stock, then refridgerate. When carcass is cool enough to handle, strip every piece of visible meat from bones. Snip this meat with scissors into a bowl, season and add enough mayonnaise to bind with a dash of sweet chilli sauce, and mash into a chicken paste for a tasty treat to spread on crackers or use in a sandwich (you can also mash the poached carrot from the stock into the spread). The following day, remove fat which has solidified on top of the stock and reserve for roasting potatoes.

Now we are ready to make the best chicken risotto EVER, as long as you are prepared to stand over it and give the dish your loving and undivided attention for about 30 to 40 mins. It’s the ultimate one-pot-wonder, and all the hard work has already been done making the incredible stock and preparing the succulent chicken.

For four people – heat around 1 litre of the prepared stock in a saucepan ready to use. (For two people this generous amount of risotto easily goes over two days, and can be gently reheated the following day in a covered pan with a little milk stirred through (Also great topped with a poached egg).

Here we go! Sauté one large, finely chopped onion slowly in a sturdy bottomed pan or wok with a hearty splash of olive oil and a good knob of butter. Add two sticks of finely chopped celery and a quarter of a bulb of chopped fennel (optional) Add three cloves of finely chopped garlic and cook together, stirring frequently for ten minutes or so until the vegetables are nicely softened but definitely not browned.

Add one generous cup of Arborio or Carnaroli risotto rice, and stir into onion mixture for two minutes to coat rice well with oil and butter. Add a generous glug of dry white vermouth (around 100ml) and cook out the alcohol for a few minutes. Your kitchen will smell absolutely fantastic! Ladle enough hot stock to cover the rice, stirring continuously as you go. It sounds odd, but now add a tsp of curry powder along with a small handful of sultanas. Stir into rice. Don’t overdo the curry powder. It gives the hint of a curry layer to the rice. This is NOT a vindaloo!

Keep adding ladlefuls of hot stock, stirring lovingly on a gentle simmer while allowing each addition to be absorbed before adding the next. Whatever you do, DON’T walk away, turn your back, send a text, or having come this far - boil the hell out of it.

Meanwhile heat a little oil and another generous knob of butter in a frying pan and gently sauté around eight decent sized white mushrooms, stalks discarded and caps halved and sliced. When mushrooms are cooked and looking golden and gorgeous (not steamed and soggy) add entire contents of the pan to your risotto and incorporate. Season with salt and pepper, then continue adding and stirring in stock until the rice is soft and creamy but still retaining a slight bite. This usually takes about twenty minutes.

Lastly, stir in a heaped dessertspoon of full fat cream cheese, the grated rind of a lemon and a generous sprinkling of chopped parsley along with your bite sized chicken meat. I tend to keep the breast meat for sandwiches and prefer to use the red meat for the risotto. You don’t need that much – around two good handfuls. Stir into the risotto and when the rice is perfectly cooked and meltingly creamy, turn off heat, cover with a lid and rest for a few minutes before serving. Sprinkle with shavings of parmesan cheese and eat as soon as possible while it retains its moist, creamy texture. You can always stir in a little milk before serving to keep it lusciously silky.

With the remaining stock from poaching the chicken, simply heat up another day, add some thin vermicelli noodles, and you have the light, satisfying, traditional chicken soup known as Jewish penicillin – the one we mentioned earlier. Add a little chopped chicken meat if desired and some sliced carrot reserved from the poaching liquid.

The rest of the tender chicken can be used in salads, coated with a béchamel sauce and stuffed into crepes, baked in a quiche along with chopped bacon or mixed with a curry sauce and used as a filling for baked potatoes. The uses are endless. One little chicken can certainly stretch a very long way through the week . . . and sooooo succulent you wouldn’t believe it!