About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Monday, October 09, 2006
My Addiction
Hello, my name is Neil and I'm an addict.

It started a long time ago when I was only four or five.

Mum used to keep jars and jars of the stuff in her kitchen cupboard. I was a curious youngster and just had to try it all out, the high it gave was tremendous. Not that anyone was saying that what I did was wrong. Then I got to share with mum....not that she was an addict, more the everyday user, but she set me on the path that has dominated my entire life.

Mum let me rub butter into flour when making her incomparable scones, which was a huge step up from my early cooking enterprises, when I raided her kitchen cupboards and blindly mixed up the contents therein and proudly called the results a cake. Mud pies were never my go, that was too easy - just a bit of dirt and water, anyone could do that. My addiction was the complicated alchemy of ingredients and what happened to them on combining.

I spluttered along with various cooking projects, usually gleaned from the Australian Women's Weekly or Margaret Fulton's cookbooks, which were pretty much all that was available until the early 1970's. I can still remember my absolute triumph in making that most English of puddings, a Spotted Dick when I was about twelve.

But a publication in the early seventies was to change the way I approached cooking forever. The London Cordon Bleu Cookery School had been publishing a series on cooking since 1968. I'm not sure if the first or the subsequent series made it to Australia, but the series published in 1974 certainly did.

It was the most eye opening thing I'd ever seen. It was the first cookbook to explain in detail how to go about cooking, step by step, with fabulous photos. I still remember the giddy anticipation I felt as each month rolled a round and another installment found its way to my growing library. Every month there were four dinner party menus as well as lessons about particular aspects of cooking. This series really taught me how to cook at a time when there was a paucity of instructional cookbooks and cooking teachers.

It's funny to look back on the collected set, as I very rarely use it now. A lot of the recipes are dated and different techniques are in vogue. Even though most of the techniques gleaned from the pages are now an unconscious part of me, I still recall with great fondness the first dinner party menu from the very first edition. I had no real idea what I was doing, but the menu was so well described and simplified right down to a timetable, that I pulled it off for a group of my friends.

The menu was a soup course - Potage Madrilene, main course of Chicken Veronique with a Julienne Potato Cake & Green Salad, followed by a dessert of Oranges in Caramel with Brandy Snaps.

The Veronique part of the chicken dish refers to the garnish of grapes. Rick Stein told a wonderful story of how it was supposed to have originated, though it does sound apocryphal. He said it came about when a chef asked his sous chef to prepare a new grape garnish for some fillets of sole and then left him to it. When he returned he noticed the sous chef, working on the sole dish in a high state of excitement, so asked him what had happened. The sous chef replied that his wife had just given birth to a baby girl and the chef then asked for the name of the newborn, to which the sous chef replied Veronique, so the chef then said that is what we will call this new dish and so Sole Veronique was born.

This version of Chicken Veronique calls for the grapes to be peeled, the only time in my life I ever did so, these days I would just cut them in half, then remove any pips. The method for roasting the chicken is really interesting, it's called French roasting and yields up a far more succulent bird than conventional roasting, well worth trying just for its own sake, though the chicken can look a little pink especially at the joints. However if the juices run clear it is cooked.

Chicken Veronique

1 roasting chicken about 1.5 kg (3.5 lb)
salt and pepper
50 g (2 oz) butter
3-4 sprigs tarragon
250 ml (1/2 p) homemade chicken stock
1 teaspoon cornflour
100 ml (3 fl oz) double cream
100 g (4 oz) white grapes
squeeze of lemon juice

Dry the chicken inside and out, then season the cavity and place in the tarragon and a nut of the butter. If you like truss the bird, then rub the outside with the rest of the butter. Place the chicken breast side up in a roasting pan with half the hot chicken stock and cover with a buttered paper and place in an oven preheated to 200 c (400 f). After fifteen minutes baste the chicken and turn on its side. Fifteen minutes later baste again and turn onto the other side. In another fifteen minutes baste again and turn breast side up, remove the paper and allow to brown for another fifteen minutes, one hour in total. Test for doneness by piercing the thigh, if the juice runs clear, it's done. Remove the chicken and keep warm under a cover. Remove the fat from the roasting pan, leaving about two tablespoons of fat. Add the remaining chicken stock, double cream and the cornflour slaked with a little water and boil until thickened. Cut the grapes in half and add them to the sauce. Carve the chicken, adding any juices to the sauce and serve.
  posted at 7:38 am

At 11:09 am, Anonymous Ellie said...

I keep collecting recipes for roast chicken and keep telling myself that I'll make them 'one day', but am put off by the fact that chicken is one of those meats which is very easy to overcook. If this one gives a more succulent finish, then this may be the one for me to start with!

At 7:46 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi ellie, I promise this is so moist and juicy, though not quite as brown as a regular roast chook. The pan sauce is rich and deep with chickeny flavours. Just remember to take your chook out of the fridge an hour or so before you want to cook it. Oh and the tarragon is so worth it.

At 7:48 am, Blogger Reb said...

OMG I remember my mum cooking Chicken Veronique. The absolute height of dinner party sophistication next to Canard au Cerises. I also remember a similar fascination with a set of Robert Carrier cookbooks. COmplete with pictures where all the bone ends of meat were encased in little paper hats. What a great memory.

At 8:38 am, Blogger gigi said...

Peel me grape! ;D This sounds wonderful ~ I just don't think there's anything better than a nice, juicy roasted chicken. I think I could eat a version of it everyday.

And this; "Then I got to share with mum....not that she was an addict, more the everyday user..." made me laugh. Thanks for that, as well as the kind words for me own mum, who could only entice me into the kitchen by letting me lick the spoon. :)

At 10:53 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi reb, I'm not sure I wanted to hear that you can remember your mum cooking Chicken Veronique,lol. I remember those hats too, does anyone still use them I wonder?

Hi gigi, there is something so elemental about roast chook, it is the most homely dish imaginable. My thoughts are with you and your mum.

At 6:58 am, Blogger Reb said...

.... she was a child bride and had me at a very young age ... :)


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