I’m sorry if you’re sick and you’ve been desperately waiting for the third instalment of sick person food while I was banging on about barbecues and meringue-based desserts. Hopefully, though, if you’ve got to this stage you’re so relieved to be past the worst that you’re in a good frame of mind.

For stage three: the recuperation, I turn to Nigella. Always a source of comfort, I find. In fact, the ideal situation would be to have Nigella as your mum, and then you wouldn’t need to bother nursing yourself through the various stages of cold at all.

This, which Nigella calls ‘my mother’s praised chicken’, is really more of a guideline than an actual recipe. I think of it as a more substantial and easy to prepare chicken soup, and it’s one of the most soothing things both to cook and to eat – it’s very good after a particularly over-indulgent phase as well as after having been ill. There’s something very healing and strengthening, whether real or imagined, about chicken stock, and this dish provides lots of it. Then there are vegetables and chicken, gently poached to a yielding state of digestibility. And rice, which I prefer to be brown. This is not exciting food, but steadying, calming fare, almost spiritually so.

Nigella’s mother’s praised chicken

Serves 4-8, but aim to have leftovers

This is the basic recipe pretty much as written, but you can adapt it easily. Last time I made it I went down a more Oriental route, frying a garlic and ginger paste with the oil, using Shaoxing wine instead of vermouth, and coriander stalks, star anise and spring onion instead of the bouquet garni and usual stock vegetables.

1 chicken
2 tsp oil
100ml white wine or dry white vermouth
2-3 leeks, cleaned, trimmed and sliced into long chunks
2-3 carrots, cleaned and cut into chunks or batons
1-2 sticks celery, sliced
cold water
2 garlic cloves, peeled and flattened
1 bouquet garni, or whatever suitable herb stalks you can muster, plus a bay leaf or two
2 tsp sea salt flakes (or 1 tsp pouring salt)
2 tsp red peppercorns, or a lot of ground black pepper

to serve:
chopped parsley leaves (saved from the stalks that went in the stock)
mustard
dill (Nigella’s suggestion – I hate dill)

You will need a pan big enough to hold the whole chicken, preferably quite snugly.

Un-truss the chicken, put it breast-side down and press firmly on it until the breastbone cracks and you are able to flatten it out slightly. Cut off the ankle joints using kitchen scissors or cutting in between the bones with a sharp knife.

Heat the oil in the pan and brown the chicken, breast-side down, for a few minutes. Turn the chicken over and toss in its ankles. Turn up the heat and add the vermouth or wine, letting it bubble a little, then add the leeks, carrots and celery.

Pour in enough cold water to just cover the chicken. Put in the garlic, bouquet garni/herbs, salt and pepper. Bring it just to the boil, then cover the pan and turn the heat as low as it will go. Cook for 1-2 hours, depending on the size of the chicken, but obviously until it’s cooked through with no pink juices. During the cooking time, prepare your rice.

Divide the rice into serving bowls and spoon over ladlefuls of stock and vegetables, giving each person a portion of chicken. Sprinkle with parsley and eat with mustard and/or dill if you like.

This meal gives some of the most useful leftovers it’s possible to have. The stock and meat can be separated and either frozen or used for soups, risottos, salads, sandwiches etc., in combination or alone. Or you can just keep the leftovers as is and reheat for subsequent days when you feel a bit fragile.

From Nigella Lawson’s ‘Kitchen’

 

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