As a child in the Eastern Wheatbelt, we would get up early to milk the cows, running home with the still warm cream on our lips, checking our geese for eggs on the way back. Walking to school we would greet the baker and, if we were lucky, he’d hand us some warm buns, fresh from the ovens, which we’d eat with hand-made sausage from the butcher. Mother would pick us up and we’d visit the market, offering our advice as to which were the ripest pears and the juiciest oranges.
Alright, alright that’s crap. The Eastern Wheatbelt was pretty rubbish for food. I think the most exciting thing to come to town was pressed chicken. I’m sure things have picked up but when Mon (on the right in the middle at Lamonts with Wozza, someone called Toni, and a couple whose wedding I went to a few years back) asked me to do a hearty rural dinner for farmers wives that didn’t involve lamb or potatoes, I imagined the worst case minimalist shopping scenario. As military strategist von Rumsfeld might have put it “you go to the kitchen with ingredients you have, not the ingredients you might want”. So don’t blame me if it all goes all pear shaped.
The first thing I’d do would be to get a bunch of plastic containers, make a bunch of stock and pop it all in the chest freezer. This is already culinary gold. Stock. Stock. Stock. Did I mention this before? Stock. Stock. Stock. Stock. Then I’d get some wine, great for cooking and it makes me happy. I’d have a herb garden. Lots of butter. Meats in the freezer. Ingredients that have a shelf life of more than a few days. And a copy of Richard Olney’s Simple French Food (he bags the city a lot). What’s for dinner? Provincial French cooking.
This is another recipe that takes a while but is reasonably straightforward. I’ll explain what happens to each ingredient separately.
Chicken Stock– three chicken carcasses, a couple of chopped carrots and celery sticks, half a chopped leek (or a couple of onions), a handful of parsely, half a dozen peppercorns, a bay leaf, .and a glass of white fine. Cover with water and simmer for at least two hours. Strain, pressing out the solids and put the stock on the boil until it reaches the strength you like. Remove any fat on the top. You can use a paper towel but the easiest way is to let it chill and take the congealed fat off the top.
Garlic- peel 20 pieces of garlic, keep their shape. Cook in boiling water for 5 minutes. Remove and then let them simmer for 40 minutes in chicken stock.
Chicken – the recipe uses the legs, which is the drumstick with the thigh attached. I got a whole free-range chicken. Removed the frame, which I used for the stock. And detatched the chicken legs and wings and put the breasts in the freezer for another time. You can cut the knobbly end off the drumstick and the tips off the wings.
Brown the wings and the legs in some butter, remove them and drain the pan, leaving two tablespoons of fat to make the roux.
Roux – add two tablespoons of plain flour to the leftover fat and stir in well over a low heat. Add a half a glass of wine* and stir over a high heat while scraping the bottom of the pan. Add 600ml of chicken stock. And then (this is the Richard Olney hint) – transfer it to a small saucepan as “the small surface permits a more rapid skimming and degreasing of the sauce while preventing an exaggerated reduction”. Skim off any fat or particles with a paper towel for 15 minutes.
*The recipe recommends white wine but I had some light red wine handy so that would do. It says the French Catalan’s use fortified wine like port so there’s a bit of flexibilty.
Assembly-place the chicken pieces at the bottom of a casserole pot, add the garlic, and one peeled and finely sliced lemon, and the cover with the stock. Place in a 170C oven for 40 minutes and serve.
I served this on some pasta (rigatoni). Very enjoyable from ingredinets not very different to what you might use in a Sunday Roast. I’d like to try it again with white wine and one mistake was to place the lemon on top of the chicken rather than in the stock so it didn’t blend as well as it could have (it should dissolve). The garlic is the best part, soft and creamy and not at all garlicky like you’d imagine. Oh and the garnish was done with a lemon zester. If you press hard and run it along the side you should get some nice lengths. Otherwise slice the peel thinly and put in ice cold water.
And there you go, hope this is what you’re looking for. I’m actually a bit out of touch, not quite imagining everybody sits around making billy tea in akubra hats out of touch but well. A good chance to say hello in the comments lurking wheatbelt readers (yes you in Belka, and you in Hyden) and maybe suggest a fave.