This is not exactly the same as perhaps the most precious recipe in my repertoire, My Mother’s Praised Chicken, which found a home in my eighth book, Kitchen, but it owes a lot to it. A family favourite, it’s a simple one-pot dish which brings comfort and joy, and it is my pleasure to share that with you.
1 chicken (approx. 1.5kg)
3 fat cloves of garlic
2 medium carrots (approx. 300g)
2 medium leeks (approx. 400g trimmed weight, or approx. 600g if you’re buying them untrimmed)
1 x 15ml tablespoon olive oil 2 lemons
2 teaspoons dried tarragon (or dried thyme)
2 teaspoons sea salt flakes (or 1 teaspoon fine sea salt)
1⁄2 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
1.5 litres cold water
300g orzo pasta
6 x 15ml tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus more to serve
Freshly grated Parmesan, to serve
1. Untruss the chicken, if it comes trussed, and remove all the string. If time allows, let it stand out on a board for 40 minutes or so to let the chill come off it. Heat the oven to 180C/160C Fan.
2. Peel the garlic cloves, and peel and cut the carrots into three lengths across, and then into batons. Wash the leeks to remove any mud, if needed, and cut into approx. 21⁄2cm rounds.
3. Heat the oil in a large heavy-based casserole with a tightly fitting lid; I use an enamelled cast-iron oval casserole 29cm long, in which the chicken fits neatly, leaving just a small space all around it to fit the vegetables later. Place the chicken in the hot oil breast-side down to colour the skin; I do this over high heat for 3–5 minutes, or until the skin is richly golden. Then turn the chicken the right way up.
4. Take the pan off the heat and, aiming for the space around the chicken, finely grate in the zest from the 2 lemons, then grate or mince in the garlic (obviously some can end up on the chicken itself), add the dried tarragon (or thyme) and give a quick stir into the oil as best you can.
5. Scatter the vegetables around the chicken, followed by the salt and chilli flakes (if using), and squeeze in the juice from your zested lemons.
6. Pour in the cold water – covering all but the very top of the breast – and put back on high heat, then bring the pot to a boil. Once it’s bubbling, clamp on the lid and carefully transfer to the oven to cook for 11⁄4 hours, though check to make sure the chicken is all but cooked through and the carrots soft.
7. Take the pot out of the oven, and add the orzo all around the chicken, and push it under the liquid, giving something as approximating a stir as you can manage in the restricted space. Put the lid back on, and return the casserole to the oven for another 15 minutes, by which time the orzo should be soft and swollen.
8. Let the casserole stand, uncovered, out of the oven for 15 minutes before serving. The orzo will continue to soak up the broth as it stands.
9. While you’re waiting, chop the parsley. Stir in 4 tablespoons, and then sprinkle over a little more. You could shred the chicken now, but it looks so wonderful in its pot I like to bring it to the table whole.
10. Place a dish by the casserole, and then pull the chicken gently apart with a couple of forks, removing any bones and skin that come loose to the dish. (For me, these bits are a particular treat: I live for the cartilage.) I find it easiest to do this while the chicken’s still in the pot but, if you prefer, you can try and remove it to a carving board; go carefully as it’s likely to fall to pieces a bit as you do so. Stir the chicken and orzo again and ladle into bowls, sprinkling with parsley as you go. You may also want to offer Parmesan to grate over: I prefer it without, but there is a strong pro-Parmesan contingent in my house.
From ‘Cook, Eat Repeat’ by Nigella Lawson
©Nigella Lawson 2020
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