This recipe comes via Blai’s mother and has become one of our favourites. It’s simple to put together, we almost always have all the ingredients lying about at home and the end result tastes fantastic with the tender chicken and almost caramelised onion and tomato pieces. The Catalans rarely roast chickens whole, preferring to cut them first into pieces; I like this – it gives each piece a chance to get its skin nice and crispy. The recipe can easily be scaled to feed more too.

Catalan Roast Chicken

We like to serve it with kale cooked in the Catalan way with raisins and pine nuts and either some good bread to mop up the delectable sauce or some fried potatoes or, even better, both. I’m also particularly fond of squeezing out the roasted garlic onto some bread. I know I’ll be serving this recipe up a few times over the Christmas season this year!

Catalan Roast Chicken
serves 3-4.

4 chicken legs, separated into drumstick and thigh
olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
dried oregano
1 large onion, sliced thickly
2 tomatoes, sliced thickly
3-4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
3 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
about 100ml of white wine or cognac

Preheat your oven to 220 Celsius.

Arrange the chicken pieces skin side up in a roasting pan (they should fit in one layer). Rub them all over with olive oil and then dust with salt, pepper and dried oregano. Arrange the onion and tomato slices in between the chicken pieces. Snap the cinnamon stick in half and then also arrange that, the garlic and the bay leaves around the chicken. Drizzle olive oil over all and then splash on the wine/cognac.

Place in the oven and roast, turning twice throughout the cooking process (they should finish with their skin sides up), until fully cooked, skin burnished brown and much of the liquid has cooked down to a thick, almost gravy (this will take somewhere between 1 hour and 1.5 hours). Serve, spooning the sauce and the roasted onion and tomato over.

It’s great to be cooking on the weekends again! In a bout of cleaning and clearing the kitchen, my eyes set upon a half bottle of maple syrup that needed to be used up. I thought first of pancakes and waffles but then to sweet potatoes as I’d been wanting to try the combination of sweet and sweet to see if it would work as a savoury (do two sweets making a savoury? Nah…).

What came out of my experiment was this side dish, which we had with chicken last weekend. The sweet potato and the maple do go well together but there’s a bit of lime juice preventing everything from getting too saccharine. I do love pecan nuts so but you could also use walnuts.

Sweet Potato, Maple and Pecan Bake

This was the recipe I was making when I sliced a bit of the tip of my finger off with a mandoline. Pay attention when using these things, folks! They’re sharp and if you’re not paying attention (and I certainly wasn’t), it’s stupidly easy to slice off something unintentionally. In my case, there was just some bleeding and nothing that a plaster couldn’t sort out but it could have been much worse – mandolines are very useful but do take care!

Sweet Potato, Maple and Pecan Bake
serves 2-3 as a side dish.

2 sweet potatoes
salt and pepper
2.5 tbsps maple syrup
1 lime
a few handfuls of pecans

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Peel the sweet potatoes and then slice into thin rounds – I used a mandoline. Arrange in a suitable baking dish and season with salt and pepper. Combine the maple syrup, the juice of 1 lime and 3 tbsps of water and pour over the potato slices. Cover with foil and place in the oven.

After 45 minutes, take the baking dish out of the oven and peel off the foil. Chop the pecans roughly, scatter on top of the sweet potatoes and continue baking for another 20 minutes. Serve.

A few weeks ago, Cathy the Gastronomer was in London for a short stop before her big trip to France with her husband and mother and we arranged to meet at Maltby Street for St John’s vanilla custard filled doughnuts. We also arranged to meet the next day for lunch at The Mall Tavern – it was a Sunday and I convinced them that they needed a proper roast lunch! It would be a first visit to this pub for all of us.

We were seated in the bar area – every table available had been booked up. Our waitress was efficient but quite gruff while we were ordering. We refused to let this ruin our meal though and started cooing over the cute tea towel napkins at each place.

The slightly disturbingly named Cow Pie (£14.50) came out looking glorious. Crisp golden brown pastry topped an excellent beef and ale filling. And in the centre of that pie was a big marrow bone whose marrow had been scooped out, mixed with garlicky, herby breadcrumbs and then stuffed back in – it was fabulous.

Cow Pie

A Chicken Kyiv (£14.50) came out looking marvellously spherical and sat on top of a potato rosti and some slaw. And yes, as expected, a lot of delicious garlic butter came gooshing out when we cut into it – I’m such a sucker for a good chicken kiev.

Chicken Kyiv

The roast dinners were very good but to me, still not a patch on the two previous dishes. The Roast Beef (£15.00) was flavourful and was a generous serving (4-5 good slices) with lots of potatoes, carrots, cabbage and a good Yorkshire pudding.

Roast Beef

The Roast Pork Loin (£15.00) had come recommended by our waitress and the loin was indeed tender. It was very good and was perhaps even better than the beef that day. Both roast dinners came with the appropriate sauces (horseradish and apple for our two roasts) and plenty of gravy.

Roast Pork Loin

Our waitress very kindly packed up the leftovers for us and we set to sharing just one dessert between us (we couldn’t handle any more). It had to be the restaurant’s signature Arctic Rolls (£6.50) – slices of ice cream covered in a thin layer of sponge cake – and we could choose three flavours of the ones available. We chose the Mango Lassi, Original and Tart Lemonade Tart. Mango tasted very much of alphonso mangoes, the original was vanilla ice cream with raspberry jam, and tart lemonade tart was full of the flavour of delicious bitter peel.

Arctic Rolls

Not sure why but by the end of the meal, our waitress seemed to have warmed to us and we even got a bit of a smile. And phew, I’m glad that Cathy did enjoy the meal! Bookings are essential on a Sunday afternoon.

The Mall Tavern
71-73 Palace Gardens Terrace
Notting Hill Gate
London W8 4RU

Mall Tavern on Urbanspoon

Last week, I came home from work just early enough to catch the tail end of an episode of the Great British Food Revival on BBC2. It was the pork episode and I watched Clarissa Dickson Wright drone on rather soothingly about various rare breed pigs and how tasty they are (I can confirm they are!). One recipe she made was a slow roasted pork belly with anchovies and chestnuts that looked mighty appealing and I went onto the BBC food website to get the accompanying recipe. The recipe listed online was clearly missing a step or two and quantities seemed a bit off; still, I thought perhaps they know what they’re talking about. Well, they didn’t and I had to throw some more beer and water into the bottom of the pan to prevent all the goodies at the bottom from burning. This recipe just confirms that we all need to go with our own knowledge and intuition when it comes to cooking.

Slow Roasted Pork Belly

Anyway, I suppose it was the curiosity about whether chestnuts and anchovies go together that piqued my interest with this recipe. Surprisingly, they did – the sweetness of the chestnuts mixing with the saltiness of the anchovies and really, one can never go wrong with a slow roasted pork belly. While my pork wasn’t from a rare breed pig this time, I did get it from the farmers’ market and it was loaded with flavour. We served it with kale and celeriac puree, the latter recommended by the television show. I’d never cooked with celeriac before and while it’s not perhaps a puree I’d serve with just any old roast, its celery sweetness complemented the savoury sauce created here.

Slow Roasted Pork Belly with Anchovies and Chestnuts
adapted from that on the BBC Food website.
serves 4.

A good slab of pork belly, skin scored (I think mine was about 1kg but you can definitely use a larger slab; I’ve used up to 1.5kg in the past)
3 tbsps olive oil
1 tin anchovies in olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
200g precooked chestnuts (mine were vacuum packed)
freshly ground black pepper
400mL dark beer
1 tsp salt
50mL brandy

Preheat your oven to 230 Celsius.

Take a roasting pan that can be used on the stovetop and heat it over medium heat. Add the olive oil and the oil from the anchovy tin. When hot, add your chopped onion and fry for about 5 minutes. Chuck in the garlic and fry for another minute. Roughly chop your chestnuts (or not…I quite liked them whole if small) and the anchovies and stir those through. Season well with lots of black pepper and pour over the beer. Stir and take off the heat.

Dry your slab of pork belly thoroughly, especially its skin. Rub the salt into the skin, getting it into the scored skin. Place it on top of the mixture in the roasting tin, ensuring that the skin doesn’t get wet.

Place the roasting tin into the preheated oven. After 20 minutes, turn the temperature down to 160 Celsius. Roast for 3 hours. Check it every once in a while to ensure that the stuff at the bottom of the tin hasn’t dried up (and burnt!) and if it’s looking a bit dry, chuck in some water, making sure not to get your pork skin wet.

At the end of the time, check your crackling. If it’s not crackly enough, place your pork (in the tin) under a hot grill and watch it closely. Mine took about 15 minutes under the grill this time but yours might be faster. Crackling!

Let the pork rest for about 10 minutes before slicing and serving with the chestnut and anchovy sauce.

Pollo a la brasa (that’s grilled chicken) is a very popular Peruvian dish that’s made its way over to America but unfortunately, not here. I’ve read blog post after blog post about how that rotisserie chicken is freaking delicious and cheap and comes with a multitude of amazing sides and of course, the craving set in. It does seem ridiculous that I’d crave something I’d never tasted before but it’s roast chicken! There’s something quite universal about it, isn’t there?

I set out to make it at home. There are quite a few recipes for the marinade online and I based mine on a few that I found. I wanted to use fresh garlic rather than garlic powder and one recipe that used it suggested putting it under the skin of the chicken rather than mixing it with the marinade as the acid was likely to turn the garlic blue. Some suggested that the acid be lemon juice; others said vinegar. I just put together what sounded good.

Roast Peruvian-Style Chicken

Oh, and it was good! That marinade went right through the skin and the garlic definitely made itself known. Apart from the garlic, the other flavours melded together in a way that you couldn’t put a finger on each individual component; yes, the sum was greater than its parts. Finger licking good. Sure, it may have been more amazing if charcoal grilled but hey, I think my oven did a pretty good job of it.

Fried Ripe Plantains

We had it with a few sides; it’s never a proper roast dinner without all the fixin’s, eh? From what I understand, French fries/chips are normally served with pollo a la brasa but I wanted to go all out. We had fried plantains (slice and shallow fry in sunflower oil; sprinkle with salt), garlic rice (same as I make for Cuban rice), black beans (Molly’s recipe is my go-to recipe for quick beans), a chopped avocado and tomato salad, and a fresh green chilli sauce to brighten everything up. That rice was insanely good with the juices from the roast chicken poured on top. It all makes for a nice change from the usual roast potatoes and boiled veg.

A Peruvian-Style Roast Dinner

The chicken recipe was adapted from those at Leite’s Culinaria, Wandering Chopsticks and Sunday Nite Dinner. The green chilli sauce was adapted from a recipe at Peru Food.

Peruvian Roast Chicken

1 chicken, approximately 1.5kg

For the marinade:
5 cloves garlic
2 tbsps paprika
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil
juice of 1/2 a lemon

Trim your chicken of any extra fat. Pat dry both inside and out. Use your finger to carefully separate the skin from the breast and thighs, creating “pockets”. Crush or mash the garlic cloves and distribute evenly between the “pockets”, spreading and smoothing the garlic from the outside.

Mix together the rest of the marinade ingredients and schmear it all on the inside and outside of your chicken. Leave in the fridge to marinade for a few hours or overnight. Take it out half an hour before you want to roast it.

Preheat the oven to 220C. Place your chicken breast side down on a roasting tray and place in the oven for 25-30 minutes. When the time is up, turn your oven temperature down to 160C and flip your chicken so it’s now breast side up. Continue roasting for an hour or until the juices at the thigh run clear (or you can check the internal temperature with a meat thermometer).

Let your chicken rest for 15 minutes before carving.

Green Chilli Sauce

Green Chilli Sauce

a small bunch of coriander
1-2 green chillies
1/2 clove garlic
a pinch of salt
extra virgin olive oil

Wash your coriander and pick off the leaves. Discard the stems or use them elsewhere. Deseed the chillli if you wish (it makes it less hot). Toss the leaves, chillli, garlic and salt into a mini chopper or little blender or whatever it is you use and add about 2 tbsps olive oil. Blend, adding more olive oil if required.

It’s not often that I cook a large cut of meat; I find it quite intimidating. Likewise, it’s not often that I follow a recipe to the letter but I did both a couple weekends ago. This recipe had been sitting in the back of my mind for ages, ever since I watched it on Jamie at Home: slow roasted lamb shoulder and it looked foolproof. It turned out fabulously – the lamb falling off the bone at the slightest tug and the meat so soft it needed little chewing. The mint and caper sauce was tart and brilliant alongside; I expected the mint to be a bit too harsh but it had mellowed in the heat. Really, you’ve got to cook this as it’s almost effortless and the results are excellent. And don’t throw away the roasted garlic – beautifully gooey!

Slow Roasted Lamb Shoulder Dinner

I even went so far as to make the mashed root vegetables and cavolo nero on the side. Both turned out well but I’ll probably switch up the sides next time.

A Bit of Everything

Slow Roasted Lamb Shoulder with Garlic and Rosemary
adapted from a Jamie Oliver recipe.
serves 4.

1.5 kg lamb shoulder on the bone (original recipe says 2kg but the change in weight didn’t affect cooking)
large handful of rosemary
1 large head of garlic
olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to the maximum temperature it can go. Trim the lamb shoulder of any excess fat and slash any remaining fat all over.

Break the garlic into cloves and leave them unpeeled. Put half of the garlic cloves and half of the rosemary sprigs into the bottom of your roasting tray. Place the lamb on top, season it well with salt and pepper and drizzle olive oil on top. Scatter the rest of the garlic and rosemary on top. Cover the roasting tray with two layers of aluminium foil, making sure to seal it well.

Put the roasting tray into the oven and immediately turn the temperature down to 170C. Roast for 4 hours.

Garlic and Rosemary

Hot Caper and Mint Sauce

1 tbsp flour
500mL hot vegetable or chicken stock
3 tbsps drained capers (in brine)
a small bunch of fresh mint
2 tbsps red wine vinegar

Roughly chop together the capers and mint. Set aside.

When the lamb is ready, put the lamb shoulder (along with the rosemary and garlic) on a serving platter and keep warm. There will be liquid at the bottom of the tray – transfer this to a bowl and return a tablespoon or two of the fat to the roasting tray. Place the roasting tray on a hob at medium heat. Add the flour and stir through well. Then add the juices from the lamb (skim off the remaining fat) and the stock. Boil for about 5 minutes. Add in the capers, mint and vinegar and simmer for another minute before serving with the lamb.

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