This year we have all made a new friend. That friend is called Lockdown. He’s not a friend to everyone – he’s quite smothering and bossy, to be honest. He says he has your best interests at heart. But if that best interest is me eating my body weight in baguette and not taking any exercise then I have a bone to pick with him.
It’s not like he’s forcing me to eat baguette. I can do that entirely by myself without any encouragement. And it’s not like he’s sitting on the sofa with me and Gaylord as we devour homemade pizza and cookies, the two occasions when we ate chocolate cake with berries, and tartiflette – potatoes cooked with cream, wine and bacon lardons, topped with molten Reblochon. And there is currently a baking dish of half-eaten brownies on the dining table, two spoons sitting poised, ready for action. We’re beyond cutting the brownies out the tray.
I mean, disregarding our eating habits for once, I don’t think my lifestyle in general is very healthy during these confinement days. At the moment, most of my time is taken up with freelance editing, with a break to watch ‘The Glee cast hating on Lea Michele’. Watching this video takes longer than expected as it leads on to other videos which are apparently ‘recommended for me’. Then, I venture to Lidl to buy butter (for more unhealthy matters). Lidl is my kryptonite for discounted German Christmas foods. Does any shop do it better? So, I linger in the Christmas aisle, admiring the stollen pieces, the panettone, searching for mince pies to no avail, purely to make my French boyfriend try them. Butter is forgotten as I spot the hazelnut and pistachio oils, wondering if the pistachio oil really is as lush and green as the rumours say. The knickknacks aisle – also known as the Middle of Lidl – is currently selling soufflé dishes for 3,99 euros! I regret not walking out with at least three.
So thanks to my ode to Lidl, my unhealthy eating, and my generally horizontal lifestyle, I realise some action is needed. I determinedly ate broccoli on the side of the tartiflette, hoping it would balance out the fat intake, or maybe its vitamins would polish my arteries like a car wash. But my heart wasn’t in it – there was cheese, cream and bacon on my plate.
Thus, the winter chicken salad.
My mate, Nigel Slater, is the master of seasonal cooking. If anyone knows a salad ideal for these bleak, cold days, he does. Salad at this time of year is a contradiction when all we want are hearty, warming dinners (hence the cheese, cream and bacon) so a winter salad needs oomph, heat, blood, sweat, tears, something to grapple with on your plate.
His recipe for roast chicken, lime and mint salad is perfect – succulent chicken legs hot from the oven, drizzled in their own juices sharpened with lime, served with crisp fresh greens and herbs. To give it extra girth, I omitted the cucumber for bitter greens, crunchy sugar snaps and green beans, crispy shallots and scattered spring onion curls.
What I love about Nigel (Nige), is that he doesn’t go for all that fuss of weights and measures. Sure, the essentials are weighed but never ask a home cook to weigh their herbs – some cooks will get out their scales and weigh each leaf determinedly, others will completely ignore the instruction and put as much as they want, therefore making their own salad and not your recipe. Nigel gets that. At the end of the day, you’ll be eating it so you might as well make it to your own tastes.
Just looking at these pictures makes me feel healthier. I tossed the salad in my favourite sesame, soy and lime dressing, which is sticky, salty and sweet, and the chicken drumsticks can only be eaten with your fingers, then you need baguette to mop up all the zingy chicken juice in the pan. Baguette finds its way into every meal. Even without lockdown.
Roast chicken, lime and herb salad
Adapted from Nigel Slater
- 4 chicken drumsticks
- Olive oil
- Sea salt and black pepper
- A knob of butter
- 1 lime
- 3 tbsp sesame oil
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled
- 1 clove of garlic
- A bag of salad greens including (either/all of) radicchio, curly endive, red leaf, frisée
- A large handful of green beans, ends removed
- A large handful of sugar snap peas
- 1 shallot
- A handful of both coriander and mint leaves
- 2 spring onions
- Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan. Pop the chicken into a baking tray, sprinkle generously with oil and seasoning and add the butter. Once the oven is hot, slide the dish inside and cook for 30 minutes, until the skin is golden and crispy and the juices run clear.
- Next, mix the dressing. Finely chop the ginger and garlic. In a jug mix together the juice of half the lime, the sesame oil, soy sauce, honey, ginger and garlic, taste and squeeze in more lime if necessary.
- Slice the shallot in half then chop into crescent moons. Heat a little olive oil in a frying pan then add the green beans and shallots. Stir fry them until there is some colour on the beans and the shallots are gold and crisp.
- Slice the sugar snaps into bite-sized pieces. Rinse the salad leaves in cold water and dry with some kitchen paper or a salad spinner if you’re fancy.
- Fill a bowl with cold water. Wash the spring onion and cut it into lengths a few inches long. Slice very thin strips lengthways and put them in the cold water. This will help them curl.
- When the chicken is smelling delicious, check the meat is cooked through with a knife or skewer. If the meat is white and firm it is done. There will be loads of juice in the pan. Squeeze over the rest of the lime and mix together.
- Toss the salad with the beans, shallots and sugar snaps, then coat in the salty-sweet dressing. Serve with the chicken legs in their juice, alongside a baguette.