Half-term is upon us, and I’ll be spending as much of it as possible outdoors. Whether or not you are in the grips of school holidays, eating outside is something we do justice to in Britain, not least because we are stoically unfazed by the weather, no matter our age. So arm yourself with rugs, jumpers and, if time allows, something homemade. Today’s chicken salad, inspired by a trip to Georgia, is bursting with bright, exotic, summery flavours from a profusion of herbs and light spicing. Add the squidgy, nutty kamut flour brownies, and this is one picnic you won’t forget.
Poached chicken with herby freekeh salad
Slow-poaching gives the bird a wonderfully silky, soft texture. Leave it to cool in its poaching liquid, and most of the “work” is done in advance. Serves four to six.
2 sticks celery
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
4 garlic cloves, peeled
3 bay leaves
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black peppercorns
3 litres chicken stock
1 medium chicken
200g Greek yoghurt
For the salad
100ml olive oil
2 leeks, trimmed and sliced
200g asparagus, tough end discarded and cut into thirds (or broad beans or peas if the asparagus is over)
1 big handful fresh mint, finely chopped
1 big handful parsley, finely chopped
2-3 sprigs fresh tarragon, picked and finely chopped
Juice of ½ lemon
Sumac, or cayenne pepper
Put the celery, onion, three garlic cloves, bay, salt and peppercorns in a deep pan that will comfortably hold the chicken, add the stock and bring to a boil. Lay the bird breast side down in the stock (add boiling water if it’s not quite covered), bring the stock back to a simmer, turn down the heat and leave to bubble very gently for 15 minutes.
Turn off the heat, put the lid on the pot and leave the chicken to cool in the hot stock for at least an hour, or overnight. Once it’s at room temperature, put it in the fridge. (Alternatively, simmer gently for an hour, though the stock will be nowhere near as rich.)
Once you eventually lift the chicken from the pot, you’ll be left with a well-flavoured stock: keep this in the fridge until you have some time to spare, then simmer (ideally with the wings and bones from the carcass) for an hour more, to reduce to a manageable amount; this will leave you with a really killer stock. Pour into a clean milk container, ice-cube tray or freezer bag, chill and freeze.
To make the salad, rinse the freekeh under cold water, then transfer to a pan and add half a teaspoon of salt. Cover with 700ml cold water, bring to a boil, cook for 30-40 minutes (timings can vary) until tender, then drain and cool.
Meanwhile, warm half the oil in a frying pan and saute the leeks with a pinch of salt for five to seven minutes, until soft and sweet.
Bring a small pan of water to a boil, blanch the asparagus for two minutes, drain and stir into the leek pan. Add the freekeh, all but a few tablespoons of the chopped herbs, the lemon juice and the rest of the oil, stir to combine, season to taste and transfer to a platter.
With the flat of a heavy knife, crush the final clove of garlic with a few pinches of salt and stir half of it into the yoghurt. Add a few splashes of cold water to loosen, then add more yoghurt or salt to taste.
Carve the chicken and lay the pieces on top of the freekeh salad. Dollop over some garlic yoghurt, sprinkle over the reserved herbs and a dusting of sumac, and serve with pickled chillies alongside.
Kamut chocolate brownies with white chocolate buttons
Thanks to the kamut, an ancient grain, these are lower in gluten than brownies made with normal flour. Makes enough for eight to 10.
300g unsalted butter, plus extra to grease
300g 70% cocoa solids dark chocolate
250g caster sugar
150g kamut flour
1-2 large pinches salt
1 large pinch ground cinnamon
5 medium eggs
150g white chocolate buttons
Heat the oven to 190C/375F/gas mark 5, and lightly grease and line a square 20cm cake tin. Toast the hazelnuts on a baking sheet for 10 minutes, then rub with a cloth to remove the skins and roughly chop the nuts, just to break them up a little.
Put the chocolate and butter in a large bowl, set it over a pan of very gently simmering water and stir until melted (or do this in a microwave, stirring between 20-30 second blasts). When the chocolate has melted, stir in the sugar and heat gently until dissolved, taking care not to burn the chocolate. Sift the flour, salt and cinnamon into the chocolate mix.
Whisk the eggs lightly, then beat into the cake mixture a third at a time, stirring well between each addition so they’re fully incorporated. Stir in the nuts and chocolate buttons, then pour into the prepared tin. Bake for 30-35 minutes: this will give you a dark, squidgy brownie – it needs to be slightly wobbly in the middle because it will carry on cooking out of the oven.
Leave to cool in the tin for 20 minutes, then turn out on to a wire rack to cool completely. Cut into squares, wrap and take to the picnic.
And for the rest of the week…
The stock will make a mean risotto, or keep it for a chilled summer soup. The salad keeps well, so make more than you need and use the leftovers for a lunch box. Alternatively, devil any excess poached chicken: just coat it with dry mustard powder mixed with water, then fry in hot butter until crisp. I doubt there will be brownies to spare, but you may have a surplus of white chocolate – melted, it makes a brilliant sauce for frozen berries.
- This article was amended on 12 June 2017, to clarify the poached chicken instructions by adding a line saying that the pot should be covered once the chicken is taken off the heat, to retain heat in the pan for longer.