Last Sunday was all about using up the ends of a roast chicken from a couple of weeks before, plus sundry other odds and ends from the fridge. I was so pleased with the end result I thought I’d share it here: a homely chicken casserole with seasonal veggies, spelt and light dumplings made with rosemary and lemon.
Like most people, we’re feeling the credit crunch a little bit around this way. I’m loathe to cut our food buying in any dramatic way (not surprisingly, eating well is a fairly big priority in our house) so it is a softly, softly approach at the moment. For me part of the deal of being an occasional omnivore means buying higher welfare standard meat and going back from this to cheaper alternatives just isn’t an option. A small organic chicken is surprisingly economical, not to mention tastier than the ubiquitous pale chicken breast fillet. This way the whole of the chicken gets used up, plus there’s something quietly satisfying in a domesticated way about stretching a chicken out to three or four meals.
Here’s what I had left in my fridge:
- Chicken stock – the really good stuff, the sort that sets to a quivering jelly in the fridge. The stock was made from the carcass of a roast chicken that I didn’t have time to turn into stock straight away but slung into the freezer until the next weekend.
- Half a tub of crème fraiche – whenever I buy crème fraiche for a recipe there is always some leftover; every recipe uses half a pot or less!
- A chunk of sourdough – of course the breadcrumbs don’t have to be made from sourdough but the bottom line is that good bread makes good breadcrumbs. Slightly dry, stale bread is even better than fresh, but fresh will work fine too.
- Seasonal vegetables – I’ve used carrot and leek, the seasonal vegetables that I had odds and ends of in the fridge. Celery, squash, onion, fennel and turnip would also work well here.
- Rosemary and bay – not technically in the fridge, but unlike more delicate species, rosemary and bay are the only herbs to consistently survive both my horticultural efforts and the British climate
Casserole with dumplings is a universal comfort food and it turns out that most cultures have their own dumpling recipe, of which the traditional English dumpling is a particularly splendidly stodgy exemplar made from flour and suet (a hard, saturated animal fat). My “leftover” dumplings are suet free, concocted of breadcrumbs and parmesan and held together with egg and leftover crème fraiche. While the egg and crème fraiche are not fat free they at least provide valuable calcium, iron and protein, unlike suet which is essentially an unadulterated fat. Making your own stock is really easy if you haven’t tried it and allows you to control how much salt ends up in there, not to mention the fact that it just tastes better. Freshly homemade stock will settle with a layer of fat across its top which you can easily skim off after leaving it to settle in the fridge.
Posts I like in praise of using up a whole chicken
The House Guest Who Came to Visit and Stayed to Cook a guest post on Mark Bittman’s NY Times blog
3 meals from one bird, from the chicken out campaign – recipes by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall
Three of a kind: October: roast chicken, chicken frittata, chicken soup – slightly infuriating multi-page layout, but some nice suggestions from Arthur Potts Dawson
Jamie Oliver’s easy chicken stock – an easy introduction to making chicken stock from a carcass
Recipe for Chicken casserole with lemon and rosemary dumplings
This serves two greedy people. The recipe is easily stretched with extra vegetables, stock and/or spelt
For the casserole
50g of spelt (dry weight)
1 medium sized leek, cut into thin slices
1 carrot, peeled and cut into 1 cm cubes
500ml chicken stock
1 bay leaf
A handful leftover roast chicken (optional)
For the dumplings
90g breadcrumbs (about a cup)
2 heaped tbsp half-fat crème fraiche
2 heaped tbsp grated parmesan
1 medium egg
zest of one lemon
1 heaped tsp finely chopped rosemary needles
Preheat the oven to 180 C, 350 F
Bring a pan of water to the boil, add the spelt and simmer for 20 minutes.
While the spelt is cooking you can make the dumplings. Place all of the dumpling ingredients together in a bowl and combine together using your hands. Split the dumpling mix into 6 similar sized chunks and roll each one into a ball.
Warm the stock on the hob using a oven-safe pan. Add the leek, carrot and bay leaf to the stock along with any leftover chicken if using. Bring the stock up to simmering point.
Place the dumplings lightly on top of the simmering casserole (tip: drizzle or spray each dumpling lightly with olive oil to help them brown nicely). Place the pan containing the stew and dumplings in the oven and cook for 25 minutes or until the dumplings are golden on top.