I’ve always considered Nigella Lawson to be my culinary spirit animal. She’s clearly someone who creates food that she wants to eat, rather than food that’s purely there to show off. Her friends and family clearly do well out of that – hopefully like mine. It’s lovely to have people round for dinner and to make food for them. It’s always satisfying to send them home with full stomachs and happy memories. And from time to time a doggy bag. As, much like Nigella, I am never knowingly undercatered.
This Spring Chicken Risotto was inspired by a very popular recipe from Nigella’s book Kitchen – her mother’s “Praised Chicken”. In that recipe the chicken is braised in a vegetable stock, leaving it succulent and full of flavour. Great when there are several of you to feed – or when you’re good with using up leftovers. Not so good for the two of us, who often forget the leftovers exist. Or who don’t need enough food for 8 people when we don’t have guests.
With that in mind I started wondering whether I could recreate the spirit of the original recipe in a slightly different form. As I recall, Nigella suggests serving her chicken with rice. Surely you know me well enough by know to see how I ended up recreating it as a risotto?
Indeed, I think this Spring Chicken Risotto might be one of my favourites to date. I admit that the chicken isn’t braised in a vegetable stock, which means I deviate from the source material almost immediately. But the vegetables are sautéed in the juices from the chicken thighs instead. The addition of a quality chicken stock also helps sustain the meaty flavour. Apart from that it’s a fairly standard risotto recipe, intended to let the vegetable flavour come through. The crème fraîche added right at the end felt like the right thing to do. Bringing, as it does, a freshness and slight sharpness that might otherwise be missing.
Oh and don’t be tempted to stir the cooked chicken thighs into the risotto. Keeping the skin crisp and golden is essential. I normally buy skinless and boneless chicken fillets as the skin is seldom necessary. Here, however, it is an absolute treat and the perfect contrast to the creamy rice beneath.
Spring Chicken Risotto
- 4 Boneless Chicken Thigh Fillets
- Pinch Sea Salt Flakes
- Pinch Freshly Ground Black Pepper
- 2 tbsp Olive Oil
- ½ small Leek washed and thinly sliced
- ½ Carrot finely chopped
- 1 stick Celery finely chopped
- 2 cloves Garlic peeled and crushed
- 150 g Arborio Rice
- 100 ml Vermouth or Dry White Wine
- 500 ml Chicken Stock kept warm
- 1 tbsp Crème Fraîche
- 25 g Parmesan grated
- Watercress to garnish
- Pre-heat the oven to 180°C
- Put a large frying pan over a medium heat and add 1 tbsp of the olive oil. Season the chicken thighs, then lower into the pan. Brown all over, then transfer to a baking tray and roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes until cooked through. Keep warm when cooked, until needed.
- Add the leek, carrot and celery to the same frying pan then sauté for 5-10 minutes, until starting to soften. Add in the garlic then fry for a further minute before removing the vegetables from the pan and putting to one side.
- Heat the remaining olive oil in the same pan and turn the heat up a little. Pour in the rice and stir in the oily mixture until well coated, then cook for a couple of minutes until the ends of each grain have turned slightly translucent.
- Pour in the vermouth, or wine – it will bubble vigorously but you want to keep stirring the rice constantly until almost all of the liquid has been absorbed. Add a generous ladle of the stock into the pan and stir continuously.
- When almost all of the stock has been absorbed add another ladle to the pan, continuing to stir the rice. Repeat this process until the rice is almost cooked through and it has created a rich, creamy coating – this should take around 15-18 minutes. You may not need all of the stock – so proceed with caution to avoid making the risotto too wet (see next step).
- After about 10 minutes return the vegetables to the pan and cook with the rice for the last 10 minutes. They will add moisture to the risotto, so make sure to only add as much stock as needed.
- When the rice is tender and cooked through, remove the pan from the heat and stir through the crème fraîche and half of the parmesan.
- Divide the risotto between two bowls. Thickly slice the chicken thigh fillets, then serve on top of the risotto, sprinkled with the remaining parmesan. Garnish each with a small handful of watercress.