Big fuss on Prime Time recently when An Taisce’s Green Schools Programme with support from the National Climate Change Action and Awareness Programme recommended that schools implement ‘Meatless Mondays’ and encourage children to eat less meat and dairy. The IFA were up in arms and the ensuing debate only served to confuse viewers even further.
So what to do……there’s no denying climate change, it’s a blatantly obvious reality in all our lives and each and every one of us has a responsibility to play our part to mitigate it in our own little way. Cooks and chefs can combat climate change by actively sourcing their product from farmers and food producers who farm sustainably in harmony with nature and by working towards a zero waste policy. The same principals apply to the rest of us, but back to the furore. The farming community overall are responding positively to the challenge and are doing their best to move to more sustainable farming systems but meanwhile there’s nothing to be gained from ‘shooting the messenger’. Best to concentrate on producing the very best meat and dairy products, delicious, nutrient dense food that consumers can truly trust, grass fed, chemical free and free from residues of antibiotics. I’m often asked what exactly is the definition of grass fed? Difficult to get an answer…..
Nonetheless, whether we like it or not it’s time to accept that reduced meat consumption is a trend that is definitely here to stay. Note that multi millions of dollars are being invested in the meat substitute industry. That is not going to change anytime soon so let’s put our efforts here in Ireland into producing REAL quality not quantity and charge enough for it. One can of course be super healthy on a vegetarian diet provided one can source nutrient dense organic vegetables and grains.
I myself am, what’s nowadays termed as a flexitarian and a very happy one at that. I love vegetarian dishes and also eat lots of ‘accidently vegan’ food but love good meat, poultry and fish. However I’m super careful about the quality of the meat and fish I eat. I go to considerable lengths to source organic, free range chicken – considerably more expensive but cheaper in the end because I can get six meals from one plump chicken and a fine pot of broth which in itself is ‘super food’. I also try to find lamb from a local butcher who can find a sheep farmer who finishes his lambs on grass rather than concentrates, the difference in the sweetness of the meat is palpable.
I search for beef from our native breeds, Hereford, Aberdeen Angus, Poll Angus, Shorthorn, Dexter or Moilie. I’m looking for a rich beefy flavor when I enjoy a small steak, a stew and indeed the crucially important offal or organ meats as they are referred to by the excellent Weston A Price Foundation, whose Wise Traditions podcasts and guidelines for optimum nutrition are worth checking out. https://www.westonaprice.org/podcast/
However, it’s really important to remember our farmers who labour day in day to produce the food that nourishes us….. Many are having a really tough time at present, struggling to meet the challenges coming from all directions – the uncertainty caused by Brexit, rising production costs coupled with lower and lower prices at farm gate as the supermarkets force the prices ever lower to provide their customers with cheaper and cheaper food.
We urgently need ‘true cost accountancy’ so consumers understand that cheap food is a myth in health terms and socio economic terms. As tax payers we pay many times over to provide subsidies to support what are in many instances unsustainable systems, to clean up the environment, and our rivers and lakes and to fund the health service.
So the real price of the item is invariably 4 or 5 times the price on the shelf. The biggest threat to our health and food security is the low price of food at the farm gate. Famers, particularly small farmers, are leaving the land in droves all over the world, sad and disheartened because they simply cannot produce the nourishing wholesome food, we say we want for the price they are being paid for it. We are sleep walking into a gargantuan crisis. The non-farming communities are generally unaware that farmers are fortunate to get 1/3 of the retail price and lucky to be paid months later. What other section is expected to sell their product or services below an economic level and survive…..
I happen to believe that dairy products and good meat and fish are vitally important elements in our children’s diets and am a great fan of butter and organic raw milk from a small dairy herd. It’s interesting to note that the demand for raw milk is growing steadily as people become aware of it’s extra nutritional elements and flavour. Despite the perception it is not illegal to sell raw milk in Ireland, it is available at several Farmers Markets and small shops. Check out Mahon Point Farmers Market, Midleton Farmers Market and Neighbourfood to name a few……
However, in this column I’ll try to persuade you to invest in a beautiful, plump, organic chicken and here’s how to get superb value and 6 delicious meals for two people from it…..
How to joint a chicken into four pieces:
Use a filleting or boning knife, and put your index finger along the back of the blade. Use the thumb of your opposite hand as a guide so you can feel where to cut.
• Put the chicken on a chopping board with its legs away from you.
• Remove the wishbone from the neck end (add to the stockpot).
• Turn the chicken around with the legs and cavity towards you.
• Cut through the loose skin between the left leg and the breast.
• Push the left leg down with your thumb and upwards with your four fingers to break the ball-and-socket joint.
• Turn the bird onto its side and cut around the oyster piece so it remains attached to the leg. Ideally remove the drumstick, thigh and oyster in one piece, leaving as little meat as possible on the carcass.
• Cut along the edge of the left side of the breastbone to loosen the white meat. Using long, sweeping movements, remove the breast in one piece with the wing attached. (Alternatively use a poultry shears to cut through the breastbone and ribs. This adds extra flavour – particularly for a casserole.)
• Chop off the pointed wing tips and discard if the chicken has been intensively reared; otherwise use in the stockpot or use for a chicken wing recipe.
• Cut off the pinion at the first joint and keep for the stockpot.
• Turn the chicken around and repeat on the other side.
• Chop the carcass and put into the stockpot.
How to joint a chicken into eight pieces:
• Joint the chicken as per the above instructions.
• Put one leg skin-side down on a chopping board.
• Divide the leg into two by cutting through the line of fat at the knuckle between the thigh and drumstick. Repeat with the other leg.
• Cut the wing from the breast.
• If desired, detach the skin from the breast by pulling it gently away from the flesh.
• Cut the breast into two pieces at an angle.
• Repeat with the second breast.
To prepare a chicken breast
Detach the fillet and cook it separately or use it for another recipe, such as a stir-fry or pasta dish. If the chicken breast is to be pan-fried, you may want to remove the skin; however, if the chicken is free-range and organic the skin is delicious when slowly cooked in a low oven for 20 minutes or so, until crisp.
To prepare chicken wings
If still attached to the carcass, cut the entire wing off the chicken. With the blade of the knife at an angle, cut through the cartilage and joint between the third and second joint. Detach the first joint pinion from the middle joint with a quick chop and add it to the stockpot.
To make Chinese drumsticks or buffalo wings use the wing piece closest to the body. If you have a chopper, chop the end off the narrow bone. Alternatively, cut through the skin around the narrow end of the bone (closest to the middle joint). Push the flesh back down along the bone with the back of your knife, and turn it inside out so it covers the bone at the other end. Marinate and cook as desired.
Who doesn’t love chicken wings, use the tips in the stock pot.
16 organic chicken wings
2 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
6 tablespoons Soy Sauce
1 generous tablespoon honey
a drizzle of olive or sunflower oil
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
8-10 fresh mint leaves
Whisk all the ingredients for the marinade in a bowl, add the chicken wings and toss well, allow to marinade for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
Spread the wings on a baking tray just large enough to take them.
Cook for 20 to 30 minutes turning occasionally until cooked through, golden and sticky. Add some of the marinade to the try. Put the remainder in a saucepan, reduce to a thick glaze – add the chicken wings and toss. Sprinkle with shredded fresh mint leaves and serve warm, alone or with a green salad.
Real Chicken Nuggets
Everyone loves these crispy chicken nuggets made from local free-range or organic chicken, so much more nutritious. Get the children to help you make them – they love tossing the chicken in a bag of breadcrumbs. Serve with some home-made tomato sauce or relish.
225g (8oz) bread (brown or white)
1 organic or free range egg
125ml (4floz) whole milk
450g (1 lb) organic chicken breast or boneless thighs cut into nuggets
150 g (6 ozs) flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6
Cut the crusts off the bread. Break into pieces and whizz to fine crumbs in a blender or food processor. Put the breadcrumbs onto a flat plate or into a recycled plastic bag.
Whisk the egg in a large bowl with the milk. Put the well-seasoned flour onto another flat dish. Take one piece of chicken at a time and toss in seasoned flour, then coat with beaten egg and then breadcrumbs. Repeat with all the chicken pieces.
Arrange the crumbed chicken on a lightly oiled baking sheet, and bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes until browned and crisp and cooked through.
Chicken Breasts with Parmesan
This recipe is simplicity itself but everyone loves it. It’s also delicious if you smear a little mustard over the chicken breasts before covering them with cheese. It’s also good plain. You might like to drizzle a little cream on top too for extra wickedness!
3-6 boneless organic chicken breasts (depending on size fillet removed)
a little Dijon mustard
50-75g (2-3oz) freshly grated Parmesan cheese (Coolea Farmhouse Cheese from West Cork is also delicious)
25-40g (1/4 – 1/3 stick) melted butter
Piperonata (see recipe)
If there is enough time soak the chicken breasts in milk overnight – this will make them wonderfully tender and juicy. Next day drain and dry on kitchen paper (use the milk for a parsley sauce).
Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F/Gas Mark 8.
Brush an ovenproof dish with a little melted butter. Spread a little mustard over each chicken breast. Arrange in a single layer in the dish and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover with Parmesan cheese. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes or until golden on top and just cooked through in the centre.
Serve immediately with Piperonata and a good green salad.
The chicken breasts from Mary Regan’s Organic chickens are so large that I cut them in half at an angle crossways and get two fine helpings from each.
This is one of the indispensable trio of vegetable stews that we always reckon to have to hand. We use it not only as a vegetable but also as a topping for pizzas, as a sauce for pasta, grilled fish or meat and as a filling for omelettes and pancakes.
2 tablespoons olive oil
225g (8oz) onion, sliced
a clove of garlic, crushed
2 red peppers
2 green peppers
6 large tomatoes (dark red and very ripe) (use tinned if fresh are out of season)
salt, freshly ground pepper and sugar
a few leaves of fresh basil
Heat the olive oil in a casserole, add the onion and garlic, toss in the oil and allow to soften over a gentle heat in a covered casserole while the peppers are being prepared. Halve the peppers, remove the seeds carefully, cut into quarters and then cut the pepper flesh into 2-2 1/2cm (3/4 – 1 inch) squares. Add to the onion and toss in the oil; replace the lid and continue to cook.
Meanwhile peel the tomatoes (scald in boiling water for 10 seconds, pour off the water and peel immediately). Slice the tomatoes and add to the casserole, season with salt, freshly ground pepper, sugar and a few leaves of fresh basil if available. Cook until the vegetables are just soft, 30 minutes approx.
Sticky Chicken Thighs with Soy and Ginger Sauce
Spiced drumsticks are also lip smackingly good.
225ml (8fl oz) soy sauce
3 tablespoons sunflower oil
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons rice wine or dry sherry
1 tablespoon peeled and finely grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1-2 chillies finely chopped
10 free-range and organic chicken thighs
sweet chilli sauce
Mix all the ingredients for the marinade in a bowl or pie dish. Slash the skin of the chicken thighs. Put into a pie dish, cover with the marinade and turn well to coat. Cover and keep refrigerated for at least an hour or even overnight.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350F/gas mark 4. Drain the chicken pieces and save the marinade for basting. Arrange skin side up in a roasting tin. Season with salt and pepper. Cook in the preheated oven for 30 minutes approximately and then baste every 10 minutes or so with some of the extra marinade.
Serve with cucumber wedges about 6cm (2 1/2 inches) long and cut at an angle, green salad, lime wedges and a bowl of sweet chilli sauce for dipping.
Stevie Parle’s Chinese Chicken Lettuce Cups
A past pupil of the Ballymaloe Cookery School now a famous London chef shared this recipe, one of his family’s favourites. This is a super recipe for minced chicken (or turkey). We love this way of eating – wrap some of the spicy chicken in a lettuce leaf and enjoy, so moreish.
A great starter or canapé
50g/2oz of vermicelli rice noodles
4oz (50g) red onion, chopped
1 red chili, deseeded and sliced
½ small bunch of coriander, roots chopped and leaves separated
1oz (25g) ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
350g/12oz chicken mince
½ teaspoon of crushed white pepper
2 tablespoon hoisin
1 tablespoon soy
3 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 Castelfranco or Butterhead lettuce, separated into leaves
3 spring onions, shredded
2 handfuls of peanuts, toasted and roughly chopped
Bring a pan of water to the boil, pour over the vermicelli and leave to soak for five minutes. Pour into a sieve and rinse under cold water. Chop into small lengths and put to one side.
Heat a tablespoon of oil in a wok over a medium heat. Add the onion, chilli, coriander roots, ginger and garlic and stir fry until softened. Remove from the pan, then add another small splash of oil to the pan and turn up the heat.
Lightly season the chicken or pork, then add to the hot pan and fry for a few minutes until cooked through. Return the ginger, etc, to the pan and add the noodles, white pepper, hoisin, soy, sugar, vinegar and sesame oil.
Cook for another minute, then take off the heat and stir in the coriander leaves. Check the seasoning and adjust to suit your tastes. Place a heaped tablespoonful into the centre of each lettuce leaf, then top with the spring onions and peanuts.
Crispy Chicken Skin with Plum or Lime and Sweet Chilli Sauce
This recipe is only worth doing with an organic chicken. The idea of eating chicken skin may frighten some, but it’s soooo yummy. You’ll soon become addicted – just don’t live on it!
skin from organic chicken breasts
or Lime and Sweet Chilli Sauce (mix Sweet Chilli Sauce with freshly squeezed lime juice to taste)
Peel the skin off the chicken breasts. Cut the skin into pieces about the size of a business card (if the pieces are reasonably even they will be more manageable to eat later).
Preheat the oven to 120Cº/250ºF/Gas Mark 1/2.
Spread the chicken skin upwards on a wire cooling rack on a baking tray. Cook for 25–30 minutes, until the skin is irresistibly crisp and the fat has rendered out. Sprinkle with sea salt and serve with a little bowl of plum or lime and sweet chilli sauce for dipping.
Madhur Jaffery’s Creamy Chicken Korma with Almonds
“I happen to like dark meat so, given a choice, I would use only chicken thighs for this recipe. However, many people prefer light meat, including two members of my own family. Whatever chicken parts you choose, all legs must be cut into two parts (leg and thigh) and each breast must be cut across the centre into two parts. You could also use a whole chicken, cut into serving pieces and then skinned.”
5-6 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 inch (2½ cm) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
2oz (50g) blanched, slivered almonds
5 tbsp olive or canola oil
2 bay leaves
8 cardamom pods
1 inch (2½ cm) cinnamon
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp ground coriander
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp tomato puree
3lbs (1½kg) chicken pieces, skinned and cut into serving portions
1¼ tsp salt
3 tbsp single cream
½ tbsp garam masala (see recipe)
Put the garlic, ginger, almonds and 6 tablespoons water into an electric blender and blend until you have a smooth paste. Put the oil in a wide pan set over medium-high heat. When very hot, put in the bay leaves, cardamom pods, cloves and cinnamon. Stir for 10 seconds. Put in the onion. Stir and fry until the onion pieces turn brown. Turn the heat to medium and add the paste from the blender as well as the cumin, coriander and cayenne. Stir and fry for 3-4 minutes. Add the tomato puree and stir for a minute. Add the chicken pieces, salt, cream, garam masala and 150ml (5fl oz/¼ pint) water. Cover and bring to a simmer. Turn heat to low and simmer gently for 25 minutes.