After the hot spell and everyone loosing appetites, gulping bacteria-laden lake waters, overheating, de-hydrating, re-hydrating, under-sleeping and lying in (I wish!), it seems we are back to a more manageable temperature, for basic human existence at least, and a bit more of a culinary routine. I am cold yet I will still refuse to put my legs into a pair of jeans. The native Berliners this morning are out in scarfs....if this was Dublin, we might just about manage in a t-shirt, after all it is apparently 14 degrees there!
Anyway, tempers and temperatures aside, I was at the market this week and got thinking about shallots, and the Erdeven Onion Festival which is coming round in just a few weeks. Erdeven is a little cross-roads village in Brittany, France ,where every September all the local farmers gather to sell onions, shallots and garlic by the tens of kilos. They locally grow apparently more than 40 different varieties of onion and the industry is even more diverse than their cider production. It is held in the local rugby/hurling/football/large green field/multi-purpose pitch where they sell onions obviously but also antiques (go figure that one out) and then follow floats of the local producers around the village. As it sounds, it is a very strange affair to say the least, but I will say that several kilos of garlic and shallots make their way back most years to many kitchens in Ireland, both north and south.
This year alas I will not make it to Erdeven, but I did and will continue to buy shallots and garlic by the kilo. Shallots are so wonderfully versatile and flavoursome that they will transform just about any casserole.
I have made an ever simple chicken casserole as it feels a little wintery today (its only 23 degrees) using shallots, chicken, garlic and brown cap mushrooms. Deliciously warming and easy to make.
For 2 you will need:
2 chicken breasts and maybe 2 legs, or two breasts on the bone, skin on
2 oz plain flour
2 tblsps olive oil
4 oz butter
8-10 brown-cap mushrooms, halved
8-10 shallots, peeled and halved
1 large glass of dry white wine
300 ml chicken stock, home-made better but bought is not the end of the world
5 large ripe tomatoes, de-skinned and de-seeded
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Firstly score the tomatoes, as above, cover with boiling water and leave for a few minutes. Peel away the skins gently from the centre of the cross, thus de-skin and then de-seed. Chop up the ripe flesh into chunks and set aside.
Next take the cubes of chicken breast/legs or breasts with skin on, and roll them in seasoned flour, ie.place some flour in a bowl, sprinkle generously with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and roll the chicken pieces around until they are fully coated.
Pan fry the pieces, in batches, in a little butter and some light olive oil until the skin is brown. If the flour, butter and oil burns in the pan, turn the heat down, remove the meat when it had browned and wipe the pan clean with some absorbent kitchen towel. Simply add another knob of butter, some oil and begin again. Set the chicken pieces aside for a few minutes.
Add another knob of butter and some oil to the frying pan and add the chopped mushrooms and fry for a few minutes, then add the shallots and a little sugar and fry for 3 minutes until the shallots have caramelised slightly and are slightly sticky. Add the wine and boil for a few minutes to remove the alcohol. Then add the chicken pieces, along with the stock, the tomato puree and a large bunch of thyme. You could use any fresh herbs here tied together in a bouquet garni. Tarragon is the typical herb to use here but it is the one herb in the world that I do not like. I once ate a terrible chicken and tarragon packet soup and my tarragon palette has never recovered, no matter how fresh it might be!
So bring all these things to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 45 minutes.
The stock will evaporate and you will have a lovely thick delicious cooking stock and some really tender chicken. At the end of cooking, add the chopped tomatoes and heat through for a few minutes, taste and season with salt and pepper.
You can serve with rice or bread, or as I did, served over a boiled Sicilian potato, firm but floury and absorptive for the delicious juices. Bon appetit, Erdeven.