Chook in all its glory is one of the greatest answers to the midweek dinner rut. It represents all the good things – comfort, convenience, aptitude and resilience – a culinary antidote to all that seems ill with the world in its current frenetic fire- and flu-spreading ways. Maybe as a knee-jerk reaction to this I am opting for food that is simple and honest. It has to be convenient and it has to be gutsy; flavoursome enough to make the tastebuds feel alive and complex enough to accompany my nightly glass of red. The following chicken recipes do exactly that and are time-friendly enough to solve those busy-life, midweek dinner conundrums.
I could sing the praises of a butterflied chook to the end of time. Maximum crisp-skin-to-meat ratio as well as a gloriously even cooking time, avoiding sad and dried thighs.
Please don't judge the potato chips, come along for the ride. When I worked in New York (I lasted a whole red-hot minute), I was taken to the most glorious, 'have to know to be in the know' sort of barbecue joint that served a piri piri butter laced chicken with a bowl of cheese chips and a simple salad. It was a no-frills sort of establishment, the kind where you could put your elbows on the table and lick the marinade from your fingers, and it was pure gustatory heaven. When it was time to leave NYC, I abandoned my friends queuing in Soho and spent my last fistful of dollars alone, at the barbecue joint, for one more hit of chicken 'n' chips.
1.7kg organic chicken, butterflied (ask your butcher to do this or follow our step-by-step guide)
Piri piri butter
1 large marinated roasted capsicum
2 cloves garlic (or smoked garlic)
150g unsalted butter
1 red chilli, chopped (seeds removed, optional)
salt and pepper
½ tsp ground coriander
Quick village salad
1 lebanese cucumber, julienned or shredded using a mandolin
¼ cup semi-dried tomatoes
excellent quality cheese-flavoured potato crisps
1. Preheat oven to 200C and bring the chicken to room temperature.
2. Add the piri piri butter ingredients to a blender and blitz to combine. (It might seem like quite a bit of butter but lots of it will ooze out indecently while the chicken cooks.)
3. Gently loosen the skin of the chicken with your fingers and carefully push the butter under the skin, attempting as even a layer as possible. Smear any remaining butter over the outside of the chicken and season with salt and pepper. Place your chicken on a large baking tray lined with baking paper. Roast for 35-45 minutes or until golden brown and cooked through.
4. While the chicken is roasting, combine the cucumber, semi-dried tomatoes and their oil in a bowl. Squeeze with lemon juice and refrigerate until serving.
5. Serve chicken with salad and potato crisps.
Syrian-style baked chicken with cous cous. Photo: Katrina Meynink
The addition of cavolo nero is hardly traditional, but I keep finding myself throwing bits of greens at most things I cook these days. Feel free to omit. You can also replace the finishing Aleppo chilli flakes with a chopped fresh red chilli added to the braising liquid. I included the chilli flakes as a means for dressing the dish at the end, and it's something you can leave off in case there are heat-averse or smaller tums in your family that need feeding. You could also make this in the one braising dish, but I prefer to fry off the chicken first to get that glorious 'Le Tan' look to the skin, before popping it in the oven.
about 1kg skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
1 heaped tsp cumin seeds, toasted, roughly crushed
zest of 1 lemon
½ preserved lemon, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
1 brown onion, peeled, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed (smoked garlic if available)
1 heaped tbsp freshly grated ginger
1 tsp sumac
juice of 1 lemon
1 cinnamon quill (or 1 tsp ground cinnamon)
1½ cups chicken stock
400g can crushed tomatoes
small pinch saffron threads (or ½-1 tsp saffron powder)
1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted, roughly ground (or 1 tsp cumin powder)
½ tsp ground coriander
5 sprigs lemon thyme (or 3 tsp dried thyme)
¼ cup sultanas, roughly chopped, plus extra to serve
6-8 cavolo nero leaves, coarsely torn
250g Israeli cous cous
¼ cup mint leaves
¼ cup coriander leaves
chilli flakes or Aleppo pepper, to taste (optional)
Greek-style yoghurt (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 180C.
2. Add the chicken, crushed cumin seeds, lemon zest, preserved lemon and olive oil to a bowl. Using your hands massage the oil, lemon and cumin into the chicken.
3. Heat a large frypan over high heat. Add the chicken pieces, skin-side-down and immediately reduce heat to medium. Sear the chicken until the skin has browned, about 2-3 minutes. Turn chicken over in the pan and add the onion, garlic, ginger and sumac. Cook until the onion begins to soften, about 2-3 minutes.
3. Transfer mixture to a large baking dish or continue to use your frypan if you have enough room. Add all of the braising liquid ingredients and give it a shake or swirl to combine. Cover tightly with foil and bake in the oven for about 18-20 minutes. Remove the foil and cook for a further 10 minutes.
4. During the final 10 minutes of cooking time, prepare the cous cous according to packet instructions. Remove the chicken from the oven and stir through the cavolo nero, then set aside while you finish the cous cous.
5. Freshly chop the herbs and add to a bowl with the extra sultanas and the cooked cous cous. Season with salt and pepper and combine. Serve the chicken with the cous cous, chilli flakes and yoghurt, if using.
The northern Thai soup reimagined as noodles and meatballs. Photo: Katrina Meynink
I've included the recipe for the curry paste here if you feel like making your own (I highly recommend doing this in double batches then having it stashed in the freezer ready to go for whenever the craving strikes). Otherwise substitute for 1-2 tablespoons of excellent quality red curry paste. If using store-bought paste add slowly and taste as you go. Brands can vary significantly in flavour and intensity of heat.
4 dried red chillies, trimmed, deseeded and softened in boiling water
2 shallots, chopped
6 cloves garlic
1 tsp-sized piece galangal, peeled, chopped
1 tsp-sized piece ginger, peeled, chopped
1 tsp-sized piece turmeric, peeled, chopped (or 1 tbsp turmeric powder)
½ cup coriander stems, cleaned, chopped (reserve leaves for garnish)
1 tsp curry powder
1 tbsp coriander seeds
500g chicken mince (I use half breast, half thigh)
2 spring onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 stalk lemongrass, white part only, finely grated
1 tsp freshly grated ginger
3 kaffir lime leaves, deveined, finely sliced
600ml coconut milk
400ml chicken stock
1 tbsp fish sauce
juice and zest of 1 lime
egg noodles or flat rice noodles
crispy fried shallots
2 cups of green things (I used string beans and coarsely torn kale)
drizzle of coconut cream (optional)
1. Combine all curry paste ingredients in a blender and blitz to form a paste. If too thick, add a tablespoon of water and blitz again.
2. Combine all meatball ingredients in a bowl, then using your hands, roll the mixture into golf-sized balls. Set aside.
3. Place a large frypan over medium heat. Add the oil and wait until shimmering, then add the curry paste and cook until it darkens and looks like it is beginning to split. Add coconut milk, stock, fish sauce, lime juice and zest and stir to combine. Add the chicken meatballs and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes on low, basting and turning the meatballs often.
4. Cook your chosen noodles according to packet instructions.
5. Remove frypan from heat, add noodles and greens and shake gently to coat in the sauce. Sprinkle over the extra herbs, fried shallots and add a healthy dollop of chilli oil. Drizzle over coconut cream, if using, and serve piping hot.
Serves 4 generously
Build-your-own souvlaki bowls. Photo: Katrina Meynink
I'm too impatient, and if I am being honest, too disorganised for meal planning. Those who meal plan for the week ahead blow my mind. So, I need a marinade that works in 15 minutes or something that can safely lurk in the back of my fridge for a few days before I get to it again. This Greek chicken is all those things.
500g chicken thighs
150g haloumi, sliced 1-2cm thick
5 tbsp olive oil
½ tbsp sweet smoked paprika
2 tbsp chopped oregano
1 tsp chopped marjoram (optional)
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
zest and juice of 1 lemon
hefty pinch of red chilli flakes (Aleppo pepper flakes if you have them)
salt and pepper
Sweet potato fries
2 small sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into long chips
2 tsp dried oregano (preferably Greek)
1½ tbsp olive oil
400g sweet cherry tomatoes, halved
½ cup pitted kalamata olives
1 lebanese cucumber, sliced or peeled into ribbons
1 tsp dried oregano
warm pita, naan, or flat bread to serve
1. Add the chicken and marinade ingredients to a bowl, mix together and set aside while you prep the remaining ingredients, or cover and place in the fridge until you are ready to cook. It can sit for up to four days.
2. Preheat oven to 180C.
3. Quickly toss the salad ingredients in a small bowl and place in the fridge until ready to serve.
4. Place the sweet potato pieces on a large baking tray lined with baking paper. Sprinkle over the oregano and the olive oil and, using your hands, toss to coat. Place in the oven and roast for 20-30 minutes, turning halfway through the cooking time. They should be cooked through and starting to colour at the edges.
5. Place a frypan over medium-high heat. Add the marinated chicken thighs, a few at a time, being careful not to overcrowd the pan. Cook for about 5 minutes on each side or until cooked through. Remove and place in one large bowl or individual bowls ready for serving. Add the haloumi slices to the frypan and reduce the heat to low. Cook for 1 minute on each side or until crisp and golden.
6. Add the haloumi to the bowl/s along with the sweet potato fries and some salad. Season generously with salt and pepper, and serve.