TIMES are tough in Ireland and families are going to suffer more than anyone over the next few years.
Less will have to become more. With this in mind, is it possible to provide a family of four with their evening meal for three days using just one chicken and some relatively ordinary household staples that could be found in a supermarket?
Most families of four could demolish a whole chicken in one meal, but not if you provide enough trimmings.
All the ingredients were purchased in SuperValu for under €25. I chose SuperValu because I felt it was a good middle ground between the discount supermarkets and the big names and I like their free-range chickens.
The key to this meal is that every flavour and nutrient is preserved, no cooking water is discarded and nothing is wasted.
Day one - Roast Chicken
First, put a large stock pot on the cooker. Roast chicken with ALL the trimmings.
1 large free range chicken — minimum 1.5kg, 1 lemon, 2 garlic cloves, fresh parsley (or any herb from the garden), 1 tbs oil, salt & pepper.
Pre-heat oven to 200°C. Remove the legs from the chicken — cut into the skin where the leg meets the breast, follow the line of the leg and twist it off at the joint. Discard the skin from the legs, wrap each leg tightly in cling film and freeze.
Wash the chicken under gently running cold water (avoid splashes onto work surfaces). Place in a neat-fitting roasting dish and sprinkle salt and pepper inside and out.
Rub olive (or sunflower) oil into the chicken with your hands, squeeze over the lemon and push the squeezed halves inside the bird along with the garlic and fresh herbs (if using).
Pour 500ml of water into the roasting tin and cook in the preheated oven for 75 minutes or so — longer if you are using a larger chicken. Every 30 minutes or so, remove the chicken and baste by spooning some of the juices over the bird.
The chicken is cooked if the juices run clear with no trace of pink. Allow to rest for 15 minutes. so the juices can settle back into the meat.
Serve with the roast potatoes, mashed potatoes, carrots, roast parsnips and two kinds of stuffing — one made with apple and one made with fresh mango and pomegranate.
Preparation for Day Two:
Carve the chicken but keep 80-100g (eg from underneath), and wrap in tinfoil in the fridge.
Break up the carcass and add to the stock pot with two peeled, chopped carrots, two peeled, chopped onions, fresh parsley sprigs and the woody parsnip centres.
Add water until almost full and simmer on a low heat — only occasional bubbles should break the surface.
The longer the stock cooks, the more flavour you will extract, so allow it to cook as long as you can.
Day two - Risotto
As soon as you are home for the evening, top up the stock with water and place on a low heat.
Risotto is best served as soon as it is cooked. Forty-five minutes before you wish to eat, strain the stock through a muslin cloth or fine sieve. Pick over the bones and remove any pieces of meat before discarding the bones and veg (as the goodness as been cooked out of them).
400g of carnaroli or arborio rice (see note below), 500ml stock, 200g mushrooms finely diced, half a finely chopped onion, oil, Parmesan cheese (advisable but not essential).
Note on risotto rice: arborio is the most common but I urge you to buy carnaroli, which is firmer and has better texture.
Cook the mushrooms in 20g of butter and a little oil. Cook covered for five minutes and uncovered for five more until soft.
Fry the rice in a dry pan for three minutes to harden the grains. Add some oil and coat each grain, add the finely chopped onion and saute gently with the rice until translucent.
Add the chopped mushrooms and the chopped chicken from the stock pot from the day before. Begin adding the stock, a ladle at a time, stirring every couple of minutes. When all the stock is absorbed (about 20 minutes), taste a kernel. Each grain should be creamy but with a small bite in the centre. Add a little water until you have the correct texture.
Finish with some butter and lots of grated fresh Parmesan (if using).
Serve immediately with some toasted crusty bread rubbed with a cut garlic clove. Add some chopped tomatoes and olive oil to make a simple bruschetta.
Day three - Noodle soup
Light clean tasting soups like this are served throughout China and South East Asia.
1.5l stock (add water if needed), 2 chicken legs (from day 1), 200g egg noodles, fresh ginger root, 1 red chilli, Thai fish sauce (or use soy sauce for a very different but acceptable flavour).
Add the skinned chicken legs to the stock (no need to defrost) and bring to a gentle simmer for two hours (longer if possible) until the chicken is very tender.
Add thin slices of fresh ginger, and sliced red chillis (three to four is enough depending on the chilli strength) and about six splashes of fish sauce (or soy sauce) and cook for a further 20 minutes.
Remove the meat from the legs and replace in the pot. Adjust the flavour with more fish sauce, ginger or salt. A squeeze of lemon or lime juice may also help.
Add the noodles to a saucepan of justboiled water and remove from the heat. After three minutes, strain the noodles and add to the soup.
While not traditional, feel free to serve the soup with some crusty bread.