Chicken out

Risotto is at the top of my list for mid-week suppers. I love nothing more than standing at the stove (glass of wine in hand of course) and stirring the plump arborio, coaxing each grain until its starches yield a creamy sauce. I've made risotto so often that I can quite happily go through the motions whilst my mind drifts to the day that has just passed.

I want to spend a moment on risotto as I feel it deserves nothing less, and a basic risotto recipe is the canvas for many beautiful dishes. Risotto can be made so many different ways, and I urge you to seek out your favorite combination. First, there is rice itself. Italians lean towards arborio, vialone nano or carnaroli, but arborio seems to be the easiest to find in the US and the UK.

Perhaps you could start with Risotto Milanese or one of my all time favorites Risi e Bisi... aka rice and peas. I'm not sure what can go wrong when you combine peas, pancetta, butter and parmesan. Who cares if there's rice in there somewhere? The best recipe I've found is from a cookbook my friend Liz gave me called Just Like Mother Used to Make. It is simple and divine.

Many an Italian will tell you how to and when to add the stock and wine, how much to stir, how little to stir.... everyone has an opinion. I've found through many a trial and little error that if you stand over it and stir it until there is no more liquid at the bottom of your pan when you pass a wooden spoon through it- it's time to add more stock. Again, refer to a basic recipe when attempting your first risotto.

The recipe I wanted to share with you is a little bit more than just another risotto. It's not particularly authentic, in fact it's from an Englishman. Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall runs River Cottage in beautiful Dorset, England. Several years ago, he ran a campaign called "Chicken Out" to impress upon the UK public why we should buy free-range poultry and more importantly, why we should care about how our food is raised before it reaches the table. I'm happy to say that the "farm to table" philosophy seems to be a global phenomenon, but there is still much to be done. Whenever I get on my tiny soap box on this subject, I hear people raise the issue of money.

Here is one way to make those few extra dollars our pounds you spend on a free-range bird stretch to two or three meals, including a roast chicken dinner, a tasty risotto that could feed an army, any number of soups OR delicious leftover chicken sandwiches. I promise it will be the tastiest bird you'll ever eat. Don't feel obliged to make your own stock, but I can testify that doing so will make a huge and tasty difference to any soup or risotto.

Firstly, roast a chicken. Roast it any way you like, but I prefer to season it liberally with salt and pepper and rub the skin with butter. Simple as that. If you're being adventurous, add a 1/2 glass of white wine to the pan, add some herbs like tarragon or parsley, stuff it with a lemon and some garlic. Throw some small potatoes in the pan to roast with the chicken- the world is your oyster.

Roast in an oven at 425F for about an hour or hour and a half until the juices run clear when you cut between the leg and thigh. A great tip from the Barefoot Contessa urges us not to follow outdated instructions. Test the temperature of your chicken and take it out when it reaches 140F (and juices are clear as above). Let it rest under foil for about 20 minutes and it will continue to cook to perfection.

At my house, a roast chicken is unparalleled as a Sunday supper. As you can see, my dog thinks so as well. Serve with a green salad and some tasty wine.

When your first meal is satisfyingly resting in your belly, remove EVERY SCRAP of meat from the chicken carcass and refrigerate.

Don't throw away the carcass. Use it to make a simple stock:

Chicken Stock
Adapted from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's "Chicken Out" Program on Channel 4

1 cooked chicken carcass
the neck and giblets from the chicken, if you have them, but not the liver
1-2 onions, chopped roughly
2 bay leaves
1-2 large carrots, chopped roughly
3-4 celery sticks
1/2 a large leek, chopped roughly
sprig of thyme
parsley stalks
a few black peppercorns
1.5 litres of water (6 1/2 cups or 1.5 quarts)

Place the carcass in a pan, cutting it up if you need to, and add the rest of the ingredients. Pour over the water and bring to a boil. Let it simmer, uncovered for about 3 hours, topping up the water once or twice.

Pass it through a sieve and let it cool, removing the layer of fat that will solidify at the top.

The risotto that results from the roast chicken is deeply satisfying and brings new meaning to leftovers. To place it in front of someone is like a bear hug or a big thank you. I've made it many times, most memorably in Lima, Peru for our very good friend, Bod, to thank him for letting us sleep in his bed after hiking the Inca Trail. Enough said.

Roast Chicken Risotto with Sweet Corn
Adapted from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's "Chicken Out" Program on Channel 4
Serves 4 with leftovers

1.5 litres or 1.5 quarts of chicken stock
3 tbsp butter
1 small onion, finely diced
1 1/2 cups risotto rice
1 glass of white wine
1 cup of sweet corn, fresh if you have it, but frozen or canned will do
grated parmesan cheese and a little more butter to finish
salt and freshly ground pepper
handful of parsley, chopped

Firstly, place your stock in a pan and heat it to where it's just simmering. Don't let it boil and evaporate while your risotto cooks.

Melt your butter in a heavy bottomed pan and add the onion, letting it sweat down until it's soft but not colored. On medium-high heat, add the rice and stir constantly for a minute, letting the grains absorb the butter from the onions. Again, don't let it color. Add your wine and stir until it's absorbed into the rice. This is when you start adding your stock, ladle by ladle, letting each one absorb completely until adding the next.

You want the rice to be done, but al dente and not mushy. Just before you add your last ladle of stock, add the sweet corn. Just before it's finished, add the leftover chicken and make sure it's heated all the way through.

When it's ready, add the butter, parmesan, seasoning and parsley. Stir it all through, tasting as you go to make sure the seasoning is right.

Serve with another green salad.


  1. mMMMMM!
    hOPE yOU aRE wELL.
    xO, lilBELL.

  2. i see you've served your chicken with nigella's hasselback potatoes - my faves! x

  3. lilBELL- hope Boulder is treating you well!

    Henri- well spotted! those are some little hasselback potatoes perched on the side of the platter that probably deserved a mention!