24 January, 2009

"this usurped beard"

An amazing night at the Donmar, watching Derek Jacobi as Malvolio (the yellow stockings! the smile!) in his element, in an unexpected comedic turn in "Twelfth Night." The last thing Avery's constitution needed, on Thursday night, after a week that included the inaugural festivities late into the night, was another adventure before a much-delayed bedtime. But just you TRY to get tickets to the play on a weekend! It can't be done. So there we were. It is without a doubt one of the most enjoyable theatre evenings of our experience, so go if you can. A marvellous jester with a beautiful voice, quite a convincing pair in Viola and Sebastian, but Jacobi is the star, big surprise. At times he had the demeanor of Lane, the famously unflappable butler of "The Importance of Being Earnest," or Bunter of Lord Peter Wimsey fame, but then the appearance of the life-changing love letter brings out all the humor. You'll love it. Avery was in heaven. As we clapped and clapped, she said softly, "That's definitely what I want to do."

To think I played Viola in college! How could I have so little memory of the play? Every once in awhile a line came back to me, but let's be honest, it's 25 years ago at best.

What else has been happening? A couple of failed dinners (never buy cheap prawns for a fancy Thai dish, someone print that on a t-shirt and sell it; not enough cream in tonight's carbonara, but still edible), punctuated with a sublime if mistaken version of my ever-changing "slow-braised chicken." Two weeks ago I asked John to put it in the oven for me and we arrived at home that night to find that a recipe that called for a CUP of white wine had been transformed into one including an entire BOTTLE of white wine, as well as the usual tablespoon of butter used to rub the inside of the pot being transformed into an entire BLOCK of butter, about a half cup. THAT was a nice version of the recipe!

The latest innovation occurred when yesterday I put together the dish, clapped the lid on, and left the house to take Avery to the ice rink. Then I called John and said in shame, "I forgot to put the chicken in the oven. Would you turn the oven to 120C [240F] and stick it in?" No problem, it was on time.

Something, however, prompted me to call several hours later to check to see how the chicken was going. "It should smell marvellous by now!" I assured him, and was surprised to be met with total silence. "What? Is it overdone?" I asked. "You won't believe this, I am SO sorry," my beloved said. "I turned on the wrong oven."

So... slow-braised chicken became FAST-braised chicken, and in two hours at 200 C, 400F, it was lovely. Not quite as melting, but lovely. And the chicken soup for lunch today was sublime. So fear not, you can do almost anything to this recipe and be home SAFE. Good luck, and remember: a mistake is only a variation, told the wrong way! Avery and I decided that if I hadn't called home that afternoon, and we'd been willing to wait about two weeks for dinner, we'd have had "REALLY Slow-Braised Chicken."

Slow-Braised Chicken With Root Vegetables
(serves four for dinner, plus soup)

1 large chicken
1 bunch fresh thyme
3 parsnips
5 cloves garlic
1 onion
3 carrots
handful new potatoes
1 bottle nice white wine
1 cup chicken broth
Maldon salt and black pepper

Butter the inside of the large pot. Place the bunch of thyme on the bottom and put the chicken BREAST DOWN on top of it. Separate your garlic, peel it and whack a few cloves with your knife, then slice your parsnips, onions and carrots as you like them. Throw them all around the chicken, with the potatoes. Pour a good cup of wine over all, then the chicken stock. Season it all well.

Place in a very low oven (120 C, 240 F) with the lid on. Cook for at least three hours, but any time after three hours the oven may be turned off and the chicken left to rest. Just before serving, turn the chicken over very carefully (it will tend to fall apart) and remove the broth-soaked skin and discard. Place a pat of butter on the breast and put the lid back on so that it melts. When you are ready to eat, carve the bites you like best and serve with a baguette to soak up the juices, while drinking the rest of the wine.

Pull the extra meat from the bones and save them for sandwiches, then cover everything in the pot with water and simmer for at least two hours for the best chicken soup of your life.


min said...

Believe it or not, I am happy to read about your "mistakes" in the kitchen. I find it encouraging as a cook taking on new risks and recipes. I sometimes find things turn our "pretty good" but not exactly "right", that brillant cooks such as you (and I sincerely mean that) somtimes deal with the same issues is somehow comforting and encouraging. I enjoy the process so if the end result is not exactly right I am ok with it but I do worry at times that I am the only one in the boat of mistakes. So again, thanks for sharing.

Kristen In London said...

You're always so kind, Min! Believe me, there are never EVER shortages of mistakes in my kitchen. My feeling is this: if you cook every single day, the odds are something will go wrong some time. There are just too many variables for it all to come out perfectly every time. At least for me! I do hate it when I try something new and it's not a good idea, but if I didn't experiment I'd never find ANYTHING new. Thank you for your encouragement.