What makes up a recipe, you think? I ask myself that a lot as I’m cooking something but especially when I’m eating something. I have had two types of culinary training, both producing strong lessons and some delightful by-products in their own rights. One kind involved chef whites, Crocs, a knife set and French chefs. They taught me the value of authentic production. The recipes created were passed down, word for word, tested many times and recreated many more times by chefs, both old and new. Those kinds of recipes are looking for obedient creators. The salt must be weighed, the chicken must be trussed and the butter must be in measure. Those kinds of recipes did not tolerate errors and usually, if something went wrong, it could be traced back. It felt good to create something that was steeped in tradition and especially good to know that you won’t be lost in the abyss of a sunken cake without good reason.
The second kind of training involved spending long hours getting wonderfully lost in the kitchen. Feeling my way around recipes that were garnered from trusted blogs, bloggers and cookbooks. I braved some failures and basked in some compliments. I felt free and courageous to tweak and any failed recipe just added to my experience. Although, in the spirit of full disclosure, some failures did involve tears and take-out.
My point is, we all have treasured recipe banks — if not on paper, then definitely in our minds. Meals we have eaten over the years on occasion and not, recipes we can recall without any prompts. These recipes are made time and again in our weekly, monthly meal rotation. Whether it was culinary school, cooking from a beloved cookbook or via Skype as your mother instructs, the recipe always stands to represent a memory of a great meal.
This chicken stew comes from one of my favorite Lawson cookbooks — Kitchen. In a very strange way, it has become my go-to recipe bank. If I’m ever looking to be comforted, even if it is just a quick thumb through before bed, I always reach for the same cookbook. In so many ways, I think it has completely shaped me to become the cook I am. For that, there’s only Nigella Lawson to thank.
It is one of those meals that comes together with such ease. It is gratifying on both counts — one pot meal that cleans out your refrigerator (perfect for a Sunday meal) and intensely rewarding to eat. I find chopping vegetables therapeutic if I have the possibility of a lazy day stretched out in front of me — as a Sunday should be. If it gets rid of all the vegetables I’ve been meaning to cook over the week, that’s just a delicious bonus. The recipe serves as a lenient blueprint and I find that it’s comfortingly similar and daringly different every time I make it, depending on what I have lying around. I hope it serves you well too!
My Mother’s Praised Chicken
Source: Kitchen, by Nigella Lawson
400g chicken pieces on the bone, of your choice
¼ cup white wine
1 bay leaf
A handful of peppercorns
½ carrot, diced
1 onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
Chestnut mushrooms, quartered
Salt, to taste
2 cloves of garlic, grated
1” ginger, grated
- In a large pan, add a splash of oil. Once the pan is significantly hot, add chicken pieces, skin down and let it cook on medium heat.
- After a few minutes, add wine and all the vegetables and seasoning. Stir to combine and add enough water to cover the contents of the pan. Let it cook, covered, on low heat for an hour or until done. I like to let it cool and shred the chicken before eating but you can leave it as you wish. If you have any leftovers, combine with some ready quinoa, a splash of soy sauce, chili sauce and a pinch of five spice powder for a Asian inspired lunch feast!
(Photo by Roshni Vatnani for Bubbobar; cover illustration: Tyler Feder)