I hate spring. I never know what to expect and find that I am always unprepared. Summer and winter, as seasons, are dependable. Winter will be cold, and in summer we act like it’s warm whatever the weather. Spring leaves me indecisive and uneasy. No more so than with food. The stews and thick soups of winter no longer seem appropriate, and the light summer fare is not quite enough. I know it is time to move away from the casserole pots, but the simple ease of a chicken stew is almost irresistible.
It seems odd to eat when it’s still light, and anything too soporific makes me feel guilty not to be making the most of the day, but every once in a while I’ll give up on the forced excitement spring provokes in me and admit that it is still too cold to be outside without a coat. The casserole pot comes off the dresser, and a spring stew follows.
Chicken and leek is the perfect combination for spring; they are light and soft and simple, a touch of cream at the end grounds the two in a more substantial dish. The herbs you use really make a difference to the tone of the dish. Thyme is great for the colder days, parsley will really lift the cream for a lighter-feeling dish. Of course, for a really hot day you can forgo the cream altogether, the wine, pan juices and a touch of chicken stock will serve just as nicely.
Browning the chicken first can seem like a real task, but the juices in the pan will make up for any misgivings. Plus, for one of the colder spring days, a handful of cubed pancetta in the pan while it’s still hot is a warming addition.
If you’re deep in the throws of enjoying spring to the full, serve with green salad.
If you're evening plan is to eat on your lap in front of The Killing, mashed potatoes will do just fine.
Chicken, Leeks and Cream
two chicken thighs per person, or a whole chicken portioned by the butcher
70g cubed pancetta (optional)
two or three leeks, trimmed, washed and sliced
four cloves of garlic
a glass of white wine
500ml chicken stock
a splash of double cream (optional)
a handful of herbs
Heat the oven to 180°c
Start by browning the chicken thighs over a medium-high heat in a bit of olive oil. I use a big wide shallow casserole pot, but I still have to do it in batches. Any big pot with a lid is perfect.
When all the chicken is done, throw in the pancetta and let the pan cool to a medium-low heat. When the pan is cool enough and smells good, add the leeks. The pan shouldn't be too dry because the pancetta should render a little bit, but if it is a bit more olive oil is fine. The leeks shouldn't brown. They may take a long time, but you don't want them bitter.
When the leeks are looking soft and delicious, give the garlic cloves a bit of a bash and add them to the pan, followed by the wine. You may have to work over any caramelized bits of goodness sticking to the bottom of the pan with a wooden spatula, but you really do not want to miss them.
Let the wine bubble for a bit, add the chicken stock and half the herbs, and place the chicken thighs back in the pan, on top of the leeks.
Cover with a lid, or a sheet of foil and put in the oven.
30 minutes later, take the pan out and take the chicken out to rest for a few minutes while the sauce finishes itself off. Leave to bubble, season and cool to a medium heat. Pour in a dash of cream and the rest of the herbs.
Spoon the chicken over your accompaniment of choice and eat.