Maria’s chicken. How hard can a spatchcocking be?
“You need to spatchcock the chicken. Calm down, it’s not as scary as it sounds!” begins the recipe, complete with its own friendly exclamation mark, for Slow-Roasted Paprika Chicken with Butternut Squash, Smashed Butter Beans and Tomatoes. Obviously I panicked. The vague instructions spoke about cutting off the wing tips with scissors and then chopping out the backbone. Mid-meltdown, I made my boyfriend do it. “Shall we watch a video on youtube?” he asked. But that’s against the rules – the plan is to cook every recipe exactly as the book says, using only the book and no initiative, to judge how good it really is.
Fortunately my boyfriend is made of sterner stuff, and with the chicken now as spineless as me I was able to make the simple marinade and stick it in the fridge overnight.
The next morning, hungover, and with guests arriving in three hours for lunch, the act of cooking felt like too much. You know when you’ve drunk too much and everything is an effort, and why is there no Lucozade in the house and who are all these new characters in Hollyoaks? Yes, that. Anyway, I took to my bed in a fit, bemoaning that preparing the parsnips three different ways for my Truffled Parsnip Salad starter was more than I could bear. In fact, two hours later, showered and almost without the sicky feeling the previous night’s wine had caused, it wasn’t. Cubing two and frying them in a lake of butter, roasting two more in the oven (the book said for ten minutes, or until golden brown – this actually took 30) and turning two more into a puree was as difficult as the whole meal got. Every stage was simple, the flavours in each – truffle oil with the cubes, sage with the roasts, milk in the puree – seeming like they could never be anything but delicious.
Maria’s Truffle Parsnip Salad. Everyone loves a good threeway
My replica. Liderally as amazing as it looked
And the chicken couldn’t have been easier too. Slowly roasting for two hours with the butternut squash, there was nothing to do but baste it every half hour, then add the beans at the very end. Obviously, post-strop, I was behind schedule, and our two guests arrived, on time, once it had been cooking for 30 mins. “Who turns up punctually to a Sunday lunch?” I bitched to my long-suffering boyfriend as Matt and Mark arrived with two bottles of prosecco and a bunch of lillies. “Lovely to see you,” I said cheerfully. “Hope you’re not hungry, dinner won’t be for aaaaaaages.” As the whole flat filled with the smell of paprika-y goodness we broke out the cheese Doritos. They’re practically a palette cleanser, right?
My chicken. Almost the same, right? Note the lack of crushed beans. Bitch gotta work for them
The best thing about this dinner was that there was now nothing I needed to do, except wait. We drank the fizz, had a chat, and opened another bag of salt and vinegar Kettle chips – it was the most relaxed and non-stressful three course Sunday lunch ever. The meat was tender, juicy, full of flavour, the squash and beans the perfect accompaniment. It was a dish that looked impressive, smelt amazing, and yet you felt almost sheepish for how easy it was – spatchcocking notwithstanding. The only difficulty came when the book said to mash the butter beans in the roasting dish – but they were all mixed up with the tomatoes and butternut squash, and a pool of incredible juice. I half heartedly managed to crush a few but as they started to make a mush with the tomatoes I gave up and served them whole.
Maria’s trifles. Sweet. Yes, really.
My mother never swears, instead using “Rhubarb” as a cuss word. We don’t know why, we’ve stopped questioning it, just one of those things mums do like ironing old wrapping paper to be re-used after Christmas, or recording Songs of Praise. To me, though, rhubarb is the most perfect ingredient, so tasty and easy and versatile. The Rhubarb, Rosewater and Ginger Trifle didn’t let me down – the whole course took just a few minutes to make after I’d put the chicken in the oven and tasted as creamy and perfect as a pudding can be. Obviously, mine didn’t look as neat as the ones in the book’s picture, but then it still goes down the same way, amiright?
And the homemade version. Not *too* shabby
Every plate of every course was returned clean, and after my unnecessary strop, which I’m blaming on the hangover rather than the recipes, it was easier than pouring another glass of wine. “I’m going to buy this book,” said Mark, leafing through it over coffee after lunch, stopping at a Middle Eastern Inspired Eton Mess which mixes Turkish Delight into the meringue. And I would recommend you do the same.
Cost of ingredients, to serve 4: £28.73 (not including items already in store cupboard)
Starter: * * * * *
Main * * * * *
Dessert * * * * *
Easiness * * * * (Spatchcocking? Really?)
Overall marks: 9.5/10
Published by Kyle Cathie. Official pictures by Jonathan Gregson.