Sunday, 23 June 2013

A summery meal for two - chicken, pancetta, herbs, butter, asparagus, potato, courgette & feta!

My herb garden!
"It was when I started handing out advice on how to make shortcrust pastry that our collaborative relationship in the kitchen broke down permanently."

When I sat down to write this blog entry I had intended to do the third in my series of shorter "Gastrolad likes" posts, but the photo I took of the sushi from the Japan Centre on Lower Regent's Street was crap. Given that I have minimum (but low) editorial standards it didn't quite cut the mustard. So luckily for you, the reader, I am going to pull my finger out and do the full monty instead.

Instead of sushi, we have a couple of recipes I cooked about three weeks ago when the sainted Mrs Gastrolad came to stay for a night. This is the lady who nurtured my burgeoning culinary talents from a young age before I became too big for my boots and started telling her how to suck eggs (so to speak). It was when I started handing out advice on how to make shortcrust pastry that our collaborative relationship in the kitchen broke down permanently. Now, the best we can both hope for is a relatively peaceful co-existence! (See December 2013's edition of Delicious Magazine for the non-abridged version of this story)

As such, I needed to produce a meal that stood a good chance of pleasing Mother, who isn't known for her effusive praise. Something light and summery, but with a bit of substance to it. After a poke around the John Lewis foodhall on Oxford Street and a quick rummage in the greengrocers next door I decided on chicken with herb butter and pancetta, some asparagus, and a potato, courgette, feta and mint salad. Nothing too tricky, but a moderate amount of skill and technique required.

Chicken with herb butter, pancetta and asparagus

Either 6 chicken mini fillets, 2 skinless chicken breasts - butterflied out, or 2 large skinless and boneless chicken thighs
75g butter, softened
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tbsp chopped green herbs of your choice - tarragon, parsley, marjoram, sage etc (nothing too woody though)
grated zest of a lemon
4-6 slices pancetta
10 spears asparagus, ends trimmed
olive oil
salt and pepper

As you can see I have given plenty of options for the chicken part of this dish. I originally made it with some of those mini-fillets because they were on offer in the shops, but subsequently tried the same thing with chicken thighs, which were actually a superior option. Obviously the choice is yours and while the preparation remains pretty much the same, if you're using chicken thighs they will need an extra 8-10 minutes in the oven.

  1. Start by making the herb butter by combining the softened butter, garlic, herbs, lemon zest and some salt and pepper in a bowl. Mashing everything together with a fork is the easiest way to achieve the desired mix.
  2. Leave the butter to one side and turn your attention to the chicken. If you are using the breast or mini fillets, lay out two or three slices of the pancetta, slightly overlapping, on a chopping board, top with three of the mini-fillets or the chicken breast and then taking half of the herb butter, shape it into a sausage with your hands and lay this on top of the chicken (see photo below).
  3. If using the chicken thighs, the process is the same, but you will need to trim the thighs of excess sinew and some of the fat and also open them out using a knife, as if you were butterflying a leg of lamb for example.
  4. Now carefully, starting from the edge closest to you, roll up the chicken, pancetta and herbs as if you were making a Swiss roll. The aim is to end up with neat, sausage shaped package, with no bits of chicken or herb butter poking out. (A symmetrical version of Danny's Camberwell Carrot from Withnail and I).
  5. Now here's the cheffy bit, tightly roll each of your chicken and pancetta sausages up in cling film, which will ensure a uniform shape when you come to cook them. Then leave in the fridge until you are ready.
  6. To cook, take the the chicken out of the fridge, remove the cling film and fry in olive oil until they are browned on all sides. Then transfer to a baking tray and cook in an oven pre-heated to 180 degrees Celsius for 10-12 minutes (or 20-22 minutes if you are using the thighs).  
  7. You can cook the asparagus the normal way, i.e. steam or griddle, but I laid my spears out on the baking tray and put the chicken on top of them so they cooked together in the oven. This meant the asparagus absorbed some of the chicken's herby juices and has the added benefit of less washing up! If you are using chicken thighs add them halfway through the cooking though or they will overcook.
  8. Now cut the chicken in half at an angle (presentation is everything after all!) and serve alongside the potato and courgette salad and a glass of white - I think a lightly oaked chardonnay would work very well!

Stage 1

Stage 2

Stage 4

Stage 7

Finished article

Potato, courgette, feta and mint salad

10-12 new potatoes
2 medium courgettes, sliced
100g feta
6-8 mint leaves, finely sliced
olive oil
juice 1 lemon
salt and pepper
  1. Cook the new potatoes in a large pan of salted boiling water (15-18 minutes) then drain and leave to steam-dry in a colander.
  2. Cook the courgettes in a splash of olive oil a large frying pan. You want them to get some colour so don't be too shy with using a bit of heat to caramelise them.
  3. Cut the large potatoes in half and then combine in a bowl with the courgettes, mint and crumble in the feta. Now dress with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and give the whole lot a good mix!


  1. Given there's no mention of it, is it right to suppose that mother wasn't impressed?

  2. She was very impressed actually...said it was "very nice".

  3. Actually it was nice, but his shortcuts pastry still has a long way to go!