As a teenager there were three major periods when my dad was in between jobs. The first one came at a time when I was very used to cooking the family meal every night, therefore guaranteeing I got to eat something I would enjoy. But when Dad was home, for some reason, he decided he should take over kitchen duty, making major - er - discoveries during each sojourn, which we were subjected to five nights a week until he started his next job.
The first time round, Dad discovered Maggi Cook-in-the-Pot. This was basically a packet mix which you added to your pot roast - albeit it beef, chicken, lamb or whatever (thank God it was never tripe!). At the time I loathed pot roast because all too often it turned out like stew and I simply couldn't abide by the indiscriminate way ingredients blended in stew. I like the foods on my plate to be clearly defined. I wouldn't go so far as to demand that nothing touches on the plate - but I do want to know what's what.
Dad and his darned Maggi Cook-in-the Pot was a major confront to my sense of culinary order. On one occasion I thought I would ambush his efforts by arriving in the kitchen ahead of the normal dinner-making schedule and undertake to prepare the meal myself.
"Na, na, na, na" Dad said, bolting to the kitchen from the back verandah (an important place of contemplation). "I'm cooking tonight," he asserted.
"But I'd like to cook tonight!" I said, miffed at being thwarted. Dad didn't answer. I knew there was no chance of changing his mind. And for dinner that night we had... Maggi Cook-in-the-Pot. AGAIN!
So when I was looking for a different way of cooking chicken for a warm winter gathering of friends, I was a little reticent about the recipe I found for Chicken Pot Roast. I read the ingredients, and thought maybe there was a chance to reunite myself with Pot Roast. After all, we'd had a 20 year hiatus. But I liked the idea of something cooked in the oven with little or no involvement from me. It would leave me time to tend to my guests. Here's what I came up with...
4 x 125g chicken breast fillets
1 large leak
Pinch of salt
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
200ml chicken stock
2 tblsp olive oil
3 tblsp water
1 dstsp cornflour (corn starch)
1. Cut all the icky bits off the chicken breast fillets and feed them to your dog. For me, that's quite a bit of the chicken, so I buy ones that are a little bigger than prescribed. Arrange the chicken in a casserole dish, preferably one with a lid. If you haven't got a casserole dish, you can use a regular baking dish (ceramic or glass is best).
2. Slice leak into 6mm rounds, ensuring you use all the tender white section and most of the lighter green section. Don't use the tough dark green section. Arrange the slices of leak over the chicken breast fillets. Season with the salt and pepper.
3. Cover with cling film and refridgerate for 24 hours. The chicken will take on the gorgeous flavour of the leaks and the seasoning during this time. You can just go straight to the next step if time is limited, but I highly recommend this "dry" marinating period for extra flavour.
4. Combine chicken stock and olive oil in a glass jug. Stir vigorously to combine then pour over marinated chicken.
5. Place casserole dish (with lid) in middle shelf of oven, pre-heated to 180 degrees Celsius. If you're using a baking dish, cover completely with aluminium foil. Roast for 1.5 hours. Because there's so much liquid in the pot, the chicken will effectively poach itself. Don't worry, despite being white, it's definitely cooked - and deliciously tender.
6. Heat a medium sized frypan on the stove top. Coat with a light spray of olive oil. Add pot-roasted chicken pieces. Brown on both sides to give the chicken some colour - do not over do! This is for appearance only, since the chicken is already cooked.
7. Add the leaks and chicken stock from the casserole dish to the frypan. Combine water with cornflour and mix until smooth. Add to chicken stock and leaks, stirring constantly to prevent lumps from forming. Continue to stir until sauce thickens and comes to the boil.
8. Place chicken pieces back in sauce and allow to reheat. Serve on a bed of wilted baby spinach with side serving of roasted root vegetables, spooning the sauce carefully over the chicken pieces, ensuring everyone gets several pieces of leak.