There are few things in life that are as comforting as food; at least that is the case for me. Ever since I was a child, the sights, aromas and colours of food would always draw me in. When I finally got to put that first bite into my mouth, well I was hooked, and kept coming back for more.
It’s really quite magical, to be able to take a handful of ingredients and to combine them in just the right way so that the flavours explode and dance on your tongue. And with every bite, memories are triggered. Aromas that make you remember laughing with your best friend on a summer’s day, the loving hug from your grandfather, or feeling the spray of cool water on your face while riding the waves on a small boat. Food is truly about every single sense, from the simple bite of a crisp apple to the delicate taste of a pan-seared piece of salmon. Food is something that brings people together. Families become stronger, friends become closer and people who were once strangers become friends, even if it’s just for that one meal.
My earliest memories are of being in the kitchen with my grandmother. I was given tasks to do like shelling peas or cleaning rice. I may or may not have eaten more peas than I actually shelled, but that will be our little secret. One of the most important things I learnt from my grandmother is how to love someone through the food you prepare. She never cooked for herself, it was always for the people in her life. She would cook for the smiles and laughter that surrounded our dinner table. The look of contentment with every single bite was all the satisfaction she needed.
I want to share one of her recipes with you. Simple food with spectacular results.It was one of the first dishes I did all on my own. Well, with my grandmother hovering over me to make sure I didn’t burn the dinner or the house down. I am happy to report that neither happened.
A simple but absolutely delicious roast chicken with a velvety gravy.
Serves 4-6 People
~ 1 large Chicken (about 2kg) giblets removed
~ 1 small bunch of fresh rosemary
~ 200g of butter, at room temperature
~ 3 heads of garlic, cut in half horizontally
~ 1 large lemon, cut in half horizontally
~ Juice of 1 large lemon
~ 1 large carrot cut into 2 inch pieces
~ 2 onions cut into large chunks
~ 1 large stick of celery cut into large chunks
~ 2 tablespoons flour
~ 2 cups water
~ olive oil for drizzling
~ salt and pepper
Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C. In a bowl add the softened butter, lemon juice and the rosemary leaves. Be sure to mix it thoroughly until everything is combined well. It will take some time but trust me, it’s worth it. Season with salt and pepper.
Season the inside of the chicken with salt and pepper. Now using your fingers loosen the skin of both chicken breasts by gently pushing underneath it. Be careful not to poke any holes in the skin. Now using your hands push the butter under the loosened skin so that it covers the whole crown. Make sure to fill in any gaps that you can find.
In the main cavity put in one half of the garlic and a few rosemary stalks. Cap it with one of the lemon halves to hold everything in. Next, using some kitchen string, tie the legs together to hold the lemon in place. Rub the outside of the chicken with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
In the base of your roasting pan create a bed for your chicken with the chopped carrots, onions, celery, the remaining garlic heads (cut side down) and lemon wedges. Drizzle some olive oil on the vegetables to help with the cooking.
Place the chicken on top of the vegetables breast side up. Roast for 10-15 minutes until it turns golden brown and starts to crisp up. Reduce the heat to 180degrees C and continue roasting for 1½ hours until cooked through and golden all over.
Remove from the oven and untie the legs. Remove the chicken from the roasting tray and place it on a rack covered with foil to rest.
Carefully drain all but two tablespoons of excess fat from the roasting pan. Put the pan onto a high heat on the stove. Cook until the drippings are golden brown. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly for about one minute. Stir in water and simmer, stirring and scraping up brown bits, until thickened – about 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper only after you have tasted the gravy. Strain through a fine mesh sieve.
You can choose at this point to keep or discard the vegetables. I tend to discard them because they have given me all the flavour that I know I can get out of them into my gravy.This roast chicken can be served on its own with just the gravy or with a side of roasted vegetables or potatoes. A beautiful tossed salad also goes quite well with it.
After any meal it’s almost an instant reaction for me to look for something to sweeten my mouth. There a few things that I can never say no to and a good panna cotta is one of them. This is one of my favourites
Coconut Panna Cotta
~ 140gm shredded coconut
~ 400 ml milk
~ 400 ml cream
~ 150ml coconut cream
~ zest of one lime
~ 110gm castor sugar
~ 4 leaves of gelatine, softened in cold water for 5 minutes
Preheat oven to 180C. Spread coconut over an oven tray and toast until golden (4-5 minutes). Transfer to a large saucepan, add milk, cream and zest, and bring to the boil over medium-high heat. Remove from heat and allow it to infuse for at least one hour.
Bring coconut mixture back to the simmer over medium-high heat, add in the sugar and stir to dissolve. Squeeze as much excess water from gelatine as you can then add it to the coconut mixture, mixing well to dissolve.Strain into a bowl through a sieve. Be sure to press all the solids left behind well to get out as much liquid as you can, discard the leftover solids.
Stir in coconut cream and then pour into any moulds that you would like to use. I normally use small 1 cup jelly moulds. Refrigerate until set, usually at least 3-4 hours. You can also make this the night before. To serve, dip the moulds in hot water, then gently pull edges of jelly away from sides with your fingertip (this helps break the vacuum and release the jelly). Place a plate on top, turn it over and then carefully remove the mould. Serve with some fresh passionfruit spooned on top.
Remember good food is not just to recall good memories, it’s also to create new ones.
By Chef Irene Fernandez