Chicken and leek in a white wine sauce
I always feel relatively precious over cooking with leeks. Growing up in the South Wales Valleys and being a fluent Welsh speaker, I was always aware of the leek’s significance to my Welsh heritage and always find that incorporating the leek in my cooking is some form of salute to the Welsh kitchens from yesteryears.
The leek would often creep up in meals from my youth but never as a primary contender for the title, often finding its place at the base of many of my mother’s traditional dishes such as stews and soups. However the mild sweetness of the leek is an undeniable taste with a ribbony texture unlike any other onion-base vegetable that I feel is more than capable of acting as a lone component on a plate.
Through using a milder meat roasted in a basic manner, this particular recipe allows the leek to speak volumes on a plate in a creamy white sauce that amplifies the cushiony chew of the roasted chicken and the fluffy roast potatoes. I use the term ‘fluffy’ loosely as you can see in the picture I may have burnt mine however as my mother has discovered– I am very fond of my roast potatoes slightly burnt and she is forever having to hold back a few ‘roasties’ in the oven until they are to my personal liking. Sorry!
I began by pre-heating the oven on 250 for my mother always taught me that roast potatoes can only be cooked in oil that is piping hot. While the oven heated I peeled and halved a few potatoes and dropped into a pan of water on a high heat. I then added olive oil and a small amount of butter to a deep pan and placed in the oven to heat up.
While the cut potatoes bubbled and softened in the boiling water on the hob, I lightly coated a chicken breast in some olive oil and sprinkled with a little thyme. That was all I did to the chicken as I later made a flavourful sauce that more than makes up for the sparse seasoning on the bird. I slipped the roast chicken into the oven and turned the heat down to 200.
Once the potatoes have part-boiled and softened, I drained them into a colander. Then I commenced to doing something I have witness my mother and grandmother do before her, which was ‘scruff up’ the potatoes i.e. whipping the colander around in a circle so that the small holes rough up the surface of the potatoes giving them a crisp texture to roast.
At this point I then took the roasting dish of boiling hot oil out of the oven. For Lord’s sake I had to be careful here as I am awfully clumsy and butter-fingered and dropping a roasting dish of scorching hot oil on myself is not my idea of a party. I carefully dropped the part-boiled potatoes into the roasting dish, carefully tossed about a little so they were evenly coated in the beautifully scented bronze oils before sliding back into the oven next door to my formerly feathered friend.
The bird and the spuds would need to roast for 30-40 minutes but around the 15 minute mark I began to make my sauce. In a deep pan on the hob I melted a very small amount of butter and olive oil. I then cut a leek into small slithers – almost the size of two pound coins together and also a stick of celery – once lengthways and thinly across. I tumbled the green ingredients into the pan of melted butter and oil and allowed to cook.
The scent at this point was something special. Leeks already have sweet supporting notes in their body so when combined with the robust bitterness of the celery provide a perfect combination for the creaminess of the sauce that follows it. Once the leeks had softened and a few had unravelled themselves, I began to make the sauce.
I poured in a very small amount of chicken stock, a glass of white wine and then a few glugs of double cream and a small grating of Parmesan cheese. There needs to be more cream than wine or stock otherwise the sauce runs the risk of being watery and almost ‘jus’ like whereas the double cream ensures the sauce stays thick and appropriately heavy to smother the chicken. Allow to simmer on a low heat so that the flavours have the opportunity to mingle but also so that the alcohol taste can burn out of the wine.
I then took the plump, golden roasted thyme chicken out of the oven and dropped onto a plate. I then – very carefully – took out the roast potatoes and slid them next to the chicken being very careful of any oil suicides that want to jump from the scorching pan. I then poured a creamy ladleful of the leeks and celery over the chicken with another ladleful of just the velvety smooth sauce over the chicken.
It’s a delicious way of paying homage to the vegetable that acted as a staple to any child growing up in South Wales. When I eat this, I know the little seven year old Mikey in my head – who was forced to wear a leek on his chest while dancing the traditional Welsh folk dance – is smiling in content.