chicken casserole

There are countless versions of this dish around the world, this one works for me:

1 whole free range chicken (1.8-2.2kg)
100g swiss brown mushrooms
1 carrot
1 large brown onion
2-3 stalks celery
3 cloves garlic
1 can whole peeled tomatoes (400g)
fresh herbs (eg. oregano, thyme)
white wine or verjuice
salt and pepper
olive oil

Using a sharp knife remove the breasts and wings from the body of the chicken, and slice off the legs as Marylands (ie. with lots of meat still attached above the drumstick). Reserve the breasts for another meal, and use the carcass to make a good chicken stock for future use.

Marinate the Marylands and wings in the white wine or verjuice and some of the herbs, adding a little olive oil. Cover and refrigerate anywhere from 1 hour to 24 hours.

When ready to cook, heat some oil in a heavy based pan with tight-fitting lid. Finely dice the onion, carrot and celery and saute in the oil until a little softened, approx 5 minutes. Dice the garlic and chop the mushrooms to your desired size (I prefer small) and add to the pan. Stir regularly until the mushrooms start to soften and release their moisture again, approx 10 minutes.

Once the mixture starts to stick slightly to the bottom of pan and smell delicious, deglaze with some more white wine or verjuice. Add the roughly chopped tomatoes, chopped herbs and some salt and pepper and stir well. Remove the chicken pieces from the marinade and add to the pan, discarding the marinade. Ensure the chicken pieces are barely covered by the liquid, cover the pan and reduce heat to very low. Simmer, covered, for about an hour and half. There is no need to stir, but check once in a while to ensure the heat is not too high or low (it should bubble gently the whole time).

After an hour and half remove the lid and give it a good stir with some tongs. The meat should begin to separate from the bones – this is what you want. Raise the heat slightly to keep the bubble going and simmer uncovered for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. The meat should separate into smaller and smaller pieces and the liquid will reduce nicely. When possible, start to remove the cleaned bones and joints from the stew. Once you’ve removed all the bones and gristle, reduce the liquid further to the desired consistency and turn off the heat. This recipe makes enough for four main meals or six entrees. Or you can just put it in a big bowl in the middle of the table and let people help themselves…

Serve with your desired accompaniment, which can be anything you want: pasta, mashed potato, on toast, with polenta either creamy or solid, vegetables any which way, in a pastry crust as a pie filling. Or by itself – it’s that good. And even better the day after 🙂

Variations are endless too, depending on your tastes and what is to hand. A luxurious version might use dried porcini mushrooms or even truffle salt or truffle crumbs. In summer a 2-inch piece of orange rind (minus pith) adds a sweet touch, or you can use chopped fresh apricots instead of tomatoes. Add some chillies or paprika for a punch. Or a budget version might omit the mushrooms and the white wine entirely, use dried herbs instead of fresh, and just rely on simple slow cooking to get the flavour going.

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