My love of chicken began at my parents' kitchen table, where the Sunday roast was a reliable end to the week and became an important family tradition. I'd often get in trouble for sneaking the crispy bits from under the tinfoil as it rested on the board.
I grew up in the golden age of food TV. Much to my parents' bemusement, I was happy to sit quietly and watch Jilly Goolden and Oz Clarke as they flirted over the bubblegum notes in their latest wine discovery on BBC's Food & Drink. Delia's shows were another favourite, with her home-ec style, no-nonsense approach to cookery, while closer to home on RTÉ, Darina Allen and her giant retro glasses cooked her way through the Ballymaloe repertoire.
Perhaps you may remember a fairly iconic scene in one of Nigel Slater's early TV shows, Real Food. He and a 'pre-Nigella' Nigella Lawson went about roasting the perfect bird. It was a simple recipe - lemon, thyme, salt and pepper and plenty of soft butter, hand squelched over the whole chicken. However, it was the conversation as they devoured the bird (there was much talk of swollen breasts and juicy thighs) as they tore the thighs with their hands, which became a talking point. It was that very moment, as Nigel and Nigella licked their lips over a bird well roasted, that cemented my love of chicken - and them.
There are endless ways to enjoy this versatile ingredient. Two of the recipes I've shared here are inspired by my travels in Asia.
Introduced to Japan over 100 years ago by way of Britain, a katsu curry is served with crispy panko-breaded cutlets and a sweet curry sauce alongside rice, and is often cited as one of Japan's most favourite comfort-food dishes.
Another recipe for chicken thighs - they are the best bit of the bird - is inspired by the key components of Vietnam's diverse cuisine resulting in sweet unctuous chicken best enjoyed with a crunchy vegetable slaw dressed with lime juice and fish sauce.
The final recipe is more of a mid-week ode to the flavours and best bits of a Sunday roast, pan-fried thighs sticky with honey and wholegrain mustard are served simply with a shaved fennel salad layered with crumbly and salty Parmesan cheese.
3 tbsp dark brown sugar
8 small chicken thighs, skin on, bone in, trimmed of excess fat
6 garlic cloves, finely sliced
1 red chilli, finely sliced
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, julienned
3 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
Coriander leaves and thinly sliced spring onion
For the salad:
Juice of 1 lime
3 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp dark brown sugar
½ head savoy cabbage, thinly sliced on mandolin
100g bean sprouts
6 spring onions, finely sliced
1 red chilli
Small bunch each of coriander, Thai basil & mint, leaves picked
100g of roasted peanuts, crushed in a pestle and mortar
1. Preheat the oven to 160˚C.
2. Place a large high-sided, oven-proof frying pan (snug enough to fit all the thighs without too much space) over a medium-high heat. Add in the sugar and 3 tablespoons of water and cook for just a minute or so, swirling the pan occasionally until you are left with a dark caramel. Add in the chicken thighs (skin side down), garlic, chilli and ginger, turning to coat completely in the mixture.
3. Pour in 3 tablespoons more of water alongside fish sauce and apple cider vinegar. Bring to a steady simmer. Place the pan in the oven to cook for 35-45 minutes or until the chicken is completely cooked through. Turn the chicken halfway through the cooking time to ensure it doesn't stick. Remove from the heat and garnish with coriander and spring onion.
4. While the chicken cooks, prepare the salad. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the lime juice, fish sauce and sugar until the sugar is dissolved.
5. Add the remaining ingredients and toss through until well combined.
6. Serve the chicken and salad to the table and devour!
1 tbsp olive oil
4 small free-range chicken breasts
A good handful of thyme sprigs
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
2 tbsp honey
1 heaped tsp whole grain mustard
Sea salt and ground black pepper
For the fennel salad:
2 bulbs of fennel, finely sliced on a mandolin
Extra virgin olive oil
Juice of ½ lemon
50g Parmesan cheese
50g pine nuts, toasted
1. For the fennel salad, add the thin fennel slices to a high-sided serving dish, drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice and toss to combine. Season generously to taste before using a vegetable peeler to shave the Parmesan cheese over the top. Toss it altogether with the pine nuts and set aside.
2. Place a large frying pan on a high heat and add the oil. Season the chicken breasts generously with sea salt and ground black pepper and place on the pan to fry. Lower the heat to medium high and continue to cook until the chicken is thoroughly browned and almost half cooked through (approx 4 minutes).
3. Flip the chicken and add the butter and thyme to the pan and using a tablespoon, continue to baste the chicken until cooked almost fully.
4. Just before the chicken is cooked, add the white wine vinegar and allow to bubble for 30 seconds or so before adding the honey and whole grain mustard. Shuffle the pan to bring the sauce together and to allow the chicken to get completely coated in the sauce that forms. Once the sauce has come to a simmer and becomes slightly thickened, remove from the heat and slice the chicken into 2cm pieces on the diagonal.
5. Serve to the table on a platter with the remaining pan juices spooned over the top. Enjoy alongside the fennel salad.
4 chicken breasts
150ml sunflower oil
1 large free-range egg, beaten
1 tbsp soy sauce
100g Japanese panko breadcrumbs
25g flour, seasoned
300g sticky rice, cooked, to serve
6 spring onions, thinly sliced, to serve
For the curry sauce:
1 tbsp sunflower oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, very finely chopped
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp ground turmeric
¼ tsp chilli powder
1 tbsp tomato purée
500ml chicken stock
2 tsp rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp soy sauce
1. First make the sauce, by heating 1 tbsp of the oil in a pan over a medium heat, add the onion and fry for 6 minutes before stirring in the garlic and ginger; fry for 1-2 minutes. Sprinkle in the curry powder, turmeric, chilli powder and tomato purée and stir to coat the vegetables.
2. Pour in the chicken stock and bring to a steady simmer. Cook for 8 minutes and then add rice wine vinegar, honey and soy sauce. Cook for a further 3 minutes until the sauce has thickened and then blitz until smooth with a hand-held stick blender.
3. Put the chicken breasts on a chopping board, place a piece of parchment paper on top and, using a rolling pin, bash the breasts to thin them to a thickness of about 2-3cm.
4. Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium-high heat. Whisk together the egg and soy sauce in a wide bowl and put the breadcrumbs in a separate bowl. Remove the parchment paper and dip each breast in the seasoned flour, then in the egg mixture and finally, the panko breadcrumbs.
5. Fry the crumbed chicken in the oil for 5-6 minutes until golden brown and cooked all the way through. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to a plate lined with kitchen paper.
6. Slice the chicken and serve with the cooked sticky rice, spring onions and a generous amount of curry sauce.