Saturday 20 January 2018

Rachel Allen goes wild for garlic

Rachel shares tips for cooking with this aromatic bulb in three of her favourite recipes...

Rachel Allen cooks chicken with saffron rice. Photo: Tony Gavin.
Rachel Allen cooks chicken with saffron rice. Photo: Tony Gavin.
Chicken with saffron rice. Photo: Tony Gavin.

Rachel Allen

My friend, Jenny, is allergic to all members of the allium family and, while there are many worse afflictions, I don't envy her having this particular intolerance.

 Imagine a simple potato soup without onions or leeks. Or, perhaps worse, the countless dishes she can never eat because of a few cloves of garlic – the foundation upon which so much cooking is based. The pungent strength of garlic is mythological. Whenever I accidentally bite into a raw clove, I understand the vampire's aversion. That potency can be delicious if used in small quantities in an aioli or even a salad dressing. Too much can be overwhelming, leaving you with little else to taste – and your friends with little else to smell.

The other way to temper garlic's power is through cooking. Much like an onion's harshness is soothed by heat, garlic's taste is transformed in the heat of the oven to become almost unbelievably sweet. One of my favourite ways to roast a chicken is to place about 20 separate, unpeeled cloves into the carcass. When the chicken is ready, the garlic will be golden, sticky and delightfully sweet.

When cooking like this, it's important that the cloves are unpeeled, as when they are peeled, they can dry out and burn. As anyone who hasn't paid attention when cooking garlic can tell you, burnt garlic is unpleasant and has an acrid bitterness.

The more you chop garlic, the stronger the garlicky taste. That's why, in recipes, I often call for the garlic to be mashed or finely grated. When you grate it on a fine grater, such as a Microplane (see Rachel Recommends, opposite), it really gets the most flavour out of the garlic you're using.

The summer spinach recipe, opposite, comes from my husband's uncle, Rory O'Connell, who was head chef at Ballymaloe House for years. This recipe is from his wonderful book, Master It, which, last year, was awarded the prestigious Andre Simon book award. Master It is published by 4th Estate.

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Rachel Allen cooks chicken with saffron rice. Photo: Tony Gavin.

Rory O'Connell's Summer spinach with garlic, chilli and lemon

Serves 4-6.

You will need:

1kg (2lb 3oz) spinach leaves, stalks removed

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and very thinly sliced

1 dried chilli, crushed into small pieces, or a pinch of chilli flakes

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

Wash the destalked spinach in several changes of cold water, then allow it to drain in order to remove as much of the water as possible.

Place a wide, low-sided, heavy saucepan or frying pan on the heat and add the olive oil. Immediately add the peeled thinly sliced garlic, and cook gently until the olive oil gets hot and the garlic colours slightly. Add the crushed dried chilli or the chilli flakes, whichever you are using, and cook for a few seconds – the garlic should now be golden.

Increase the heat and add the drained spinach, being careful because it will hiss and spit a bit. Cook the spinach, turning it constantly, then season with a little salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Add the lemon juice and zest, and stir them in. Pull the pan off the heat and taste. Correct the seasoning and serve the spinach immediately in a hot dish. The spinach can also be removed from the pan when it is cooked, spread out flat to cool, and served later at room temperature.

Baked chicken with lemon and garlic and saffron pilaf rice

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Chicken with saffron rice. Photo: Tony Gavin.

Serves 4-6.

For the chicken dish, you will need:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium chicken, jointed into breasts, thighs, drumsticks, etc

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

125ml (4½fl oz) white wine

20 garlic cloves, unpeeled

Finely grated zest of 2 lemons and the juice of 1 lemon

1 sprig of thyme

1 bay leaf

300ml (11fl oz) chicken stock

1 baguette, cut into 1cm-thick slices

For the pilaf rice, you will need:

25g (1oz) butter

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

300g (11oz) basmati rice

750ml (1¼ pts) chicken or vegetable stock

Good pinch of saffron (optional)

2 tablespoons parsley, chopped

Preheat the oven to 170°C, 325°F, Gas 3, then heat a large casserole or saucepan over a medium heat.

Add the olive oil and the chicken pieces, skin side down, and cook them on both sides until they are golden brown. Season with the salt and freshly ground black pepper, then pour off and discard any excess fat.

Now add the white wine and the unpeeled garlic cloves, then boil for 2 minutes. Next, add the lemon zest and the lemon juice, the sprig of thyme, the bay leaf and the chicken stock.

Bring to the boil, cover with a lid and bake in the oven for about 30-40 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked. While the chicken is cooking, toast the baguette slices.

To cook the basmati rice, melt the butter in a casserole or a large saucepan, then add the chopped onion, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cover and cook over a low heat for approximately 10 minutes, or until the onion is soft.

Add the rice and stir it for about 2 minutes until it crackles, then add the chicken or vegetable stock, whichever you are using, and the pinch of saffron, if you are using it. Season with more salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Bring this mixture to the boil, then transfer it to the oven and cook it for about 10 minutes, or until the rice is slightly al dente and all the liquid is absorbed. Cover the saucepan of cooked rice and keep it warm until you are ready to serve it up. Serve the chicken with the saffron pilaf rice in shallow bowls and sprinkled with the chopped parsley.

Let each person squeeze the soft garlic cloves out of their skins and spread them on to the toasted baguette slices, which can mop up the delicious chicken juices.

Rosemary and Garlic bread

Serves 2-4.

You will need:

150g (5oz) butter

6 cloves garlic, crushed or finely grated

2 tablespoons rosemary, chopped

1 baguette

Preheat the oven to 180°C, 350°F, Gas 4. In the meantime, place a saucepan over a medium heat.

Add the butter to the saucepan and, when it has melted, add in the crushed or finely grated garlic, whichever you're using, and the chopped rosemary. Stir the mixture and cook it for one minute, then remove from the heat.

Slice the baguette in half horizontally, then drizzle the cut sides with a generous amount of the melted-garlic-and-rosemary butter.

Put the buttered baguette slices on a baking tray and into the preheated oven for 15 minutes, or until golden brown.

Rachel recommends

One of the useful tools I have in the kitchen is a good grater. I like them to be strong and sharp. They take all of the work out of grating, meaning you can make short work out of grating, meaning you can make short work of garlic.

Microplane’s graters are very sharp and they do a good range of sizes for when you need finer or coarser grating. They are available in cookware shops and in supermarkets.

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