by Rosie Birkett from ‘The Joyful Home Cook’ (HarperCollins)
Juicy, golden chicken thighs, caramelised bitter leaves and plump roasted cherries, married together with the anise kiss of tarragon: this dish never fails to make people happy. It’s perfect for a lazy summer lunch, because once the chicken is browned it basically gets on with cooking itself, creating a beautifully balanced jus for spooning over. It’s adaptable too: substitute the chicory for radicchio or whichever bitter leaf is available, and try mixing it up with apricots or plums – whatever looks most alluring at the greengrocer. If you want to make this for two people, just halve the quantities.
4 tsp sea salt flakes
2 tbsp caster sugar
½ tsp fennel seeds
8 bone-in, skin-on organic chicken pieces – preferably thighs, but a mix of thighs and drumsticks works too
2 tbsp olive oil
4 bay leaves
4 heads of chicory (preferably red), halved lengthways
6 shallots, halved (skin on)
1 lemon, halved
150ml glass vermouth or dry white wine
300ml hot water
150g cherries (stone them if you like, but I am too lazy and think they are lovely roasted whole with the stones discarded upon eating, as you might with olives)
handful of tarragon leaves, chopped
freshly ground black pepper
1. A few hours before you cook, grind the salt, sugar and fennel seeds together using a pestle and mortar or spice grinder until the seeds are crushed into the salt, then rub the mixture on the flesh, but not the skin, of the chicken. Chill in the fridge for a few hours (you could leave it overnight) and bring out of the fridge 30 minutes before you cook. If you are short on time, just leave it in the rub while you prepare everything else for the dish.
2. Preheat the oven to 140°C/120°C fan/gas 1. Gently rinse the cure from the chicken and dry it well with kitchen paper.
3. Heat the olive oil in a non-stick frying pan or skillet over a medium heat. Working in batches, add the chicken to the pan, skin side down, and gently brown all over for 8–10 minutes, until the fat has rendered out of the skin and it’s golden and crisp all over. Make sure you’re wearing an apron and watch out for spitting fat! Remove with a slotted spoon and place skin side up in a large roasting tray on top of the bay leaves. Season with black pepper.
4. The chicken will have released some precious fat into the oil in the frying pan, so you’re going to caramelise the chicory and shallots in it. Turn the heat down slightly, add the butter to the pan, then place the chicory, shallot and lemon halves cut side down in the pan and cook for about 5 minutes, until caramelised and softening on their cut sides. Nestle them in the roasting tray cut side up with the chicken and squeeze the lemon over the chicory, throwing the spent lemon in the tray too.
5. Turn the heat up and deglaze the pan with the vermouth or wine, scraping up any crusty bits from the bottom of the pan. Simmer until reduced by half, then pour into the tray, avoiding the chicken skin to keep it crisp.
6. Pour in the hot water, cover the tray with foil and roast in the oven for 30 minutes, then take off the foil and add the cherries and chopped tarragon. Turn the oven up to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6, return the tray to the oven and roast for a further 30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked, the skin is golden and there is plenty of delicious juice in the tray.
7. Remove the chicken from the oven and serve with the juices spooned over, with some blanched runner or green beans and cooked pasta or rice alongside.