The sky is grey and once again, the rain beats down. I am inside on the couch, admiring the beauty outside and thinking about how all I really want to do is go into hibernation. It seems to be a common pattern for me, when this time of year comes I want to fill my cupboards with bounty, I want to cook and preserve as much of Summer’s gorgeous offerings and I want to wrap myself in soft blankets and stay home pottering at the stove. Or perhaps just have a really long sleep like the bear. I love the intimacy of this weather, it feels cozy and personal. And anything that invites the lighting of a fire and the drinking of red wine is alright by me! The trouble is that with the need for comfort comes the dreaded need to comfort eat. Perfectly reasonable, healthy people suddenly find themselves fantasising about bowls full of creamy mashed potatoes or warm puddings with a mugs of hot chocolate. While I am not a believer in self-denial, I do acknowledge that eating as if we are in fact going to hibernate and stop eating for the winter when we are not, is not good for anyone either! The trick here is to fill our bodies with the nutrients they require and crave and instead of filling up on high-sugar carbs and empty calories – treat yourself to increased healthy fats and nutrient dense food instead. Another great trick is using warming spices to literally wake you up. The magic of spices will comfort you, aid your immune system, excite your taste buds and literally make you feel good. Think warming ginger, zingy citrus, fiery chilli, earthy and always welcome garlic. We pretty much consume these four all-rounders year-round, but they really do help out a lot as winter approaches, so use them. This specific dish is one of Bevan’s creations, I cannot tell you how impressed I was when I first had it, it is so comforting, delicate and utterly delicious. We use skinless chicken breasts, but if you prefer to do a whole chicken to shred, please do, just give yourself more time. You can also keep this vegetarian and poach veggies of your choice in the fragrant liquor. The trick is not to rush the cooking, keep it very gentle: it is poaching, not boiling. Trust me, the weather may be grey outside, but this dish will fill your soul with the all the exotic colours of the Orient!
Best quality chicken/veg broth or stock
Spring onions, finely sliced (optional)
Coriander, roughly chopped
Start by making your broth so the spices have time to infuse and the flavour can develop. Make sure the pot you use is large enough to hold all the chicken breasts in a poaching liquor which is 50/50 verjuice and stock. Pour your liquid into the pot, then add your aromatics – the ginger, garlic, chilli and lemongrass. How much is really up to you, I like it quite robust, so I use a large elephant garlic clove, a 6cm knob of ginger, 2 chillies and 2 smallish but very fresh lemongrass stalks from the garden. We use 750ml verjuice to 750ml stock and keep whatever is left over. Gently boil this heavenly scented broth for 5-10mins and if you have time turn off the heat and leave it to steep, this can be done ahead of time. Now the mash – you can peel and steam your sweet potatoes or put them in the oven whole till they are nice and tender, then scoop out the flesh. Don’t boil them, you want them to be as dry as possible to counter the brothy nature of the dish. When the sweet potatoes are ready, keep them warm while you start to poach the chicken. Bring the broth to a gentle simmer, taste it and add some some salt & pepper. Place the chicken breasts in the liquor, this will bring the temperature right down. Now bring it back to a simmer, put on the lid and turn off the heat. Leave it undisturbed for 10-15mins depending on the size of your breasts. Put your hot sweet potato in a bowl, add a generous bit of butter and thoroughly mash, if you are using spring onions, fold them through now. Lift the lid of broth pot and take a breast out, close the lid again. Give it a slice, but don’t slice all the way through and check that it is cooked. You want the juices to run clear, don’t be tempted to overcook them. If it is not done, return to the pot and turn the heat on ever so low until satisfied. Now dish a dollop of mash into a pasta bowl, place your chicken breast onto a cutting board and cut into slices – but not all the way through. Place the breast on top of the mash and fan open. Pour a lovely hot ladle-full or two of broth over the top, allowing the meat to hold some broth. Top with the mystical coriander and a chilli or two. Beautiful!
Don’t keep this dish for autumn and winter, it is not a heavy dish. The aromatically fresh coriander lifts all the flavours and makes it perfect for warmer weather too, use it generously… If you are one of those people out there who would rather eat your muddy takkie than a sprig of dreaded coriander, I can’t apologise, I love it! But perhaps try some Thai basil instead for something a little different. If you want to serve this with a little tipple, try a good Gewürtztramminer. With or without alcohol, this is sure to make you feel good. Enjoy!