As I write it’s another rain soaked Irish summer’s day with a bit of a gust thrown in. I wonder if I have the will to believe it will turn around before the children return to school. Now the upturned hourglass is well and truly running out of sand and my wishful anticipation of a hot day on the coast with sand in the sandwiches is turning to a wistful philosophical thought that “well there’s always next year”. I have to admit that this summer has tired me somewhat; perhaps it was all that hoping for good weather; I’m exhausted. This won’t be the first time I’ve said it, but is there anything more uninspiring than a damp, wet August? And before we go any further I am fully aware that August is not technically summer, but with everyone still out of routine and people on holidays I always lump it in there in the hope of some late sunshine.
This year my idyllic thoughts of suppers on picnic blankets on the grass with the kids running around until late into the balmy evenings belong in another country altogether and not on the soggy, damp sod of my back garden. Even the more Irish feel of the barbeque on the patio and sticky wings on plastic outdoor tables and disposable plates have also been beaten back into the ‘summer’ box where they reside with the lid firmly screwed down. One of the things I most enjoy about the changing seasons is ‘how’ we cook as much as ‘what’ we cook. In the winter I love the wafts of meaty casseroles slow cooking for hours in the oven while the wind blusters outside, but the warmer months are meant for the smell of cut grass mingling with aromas of grilled meats coming in the opposite direction and light, peppery salad leaves. Stoking up the barbeque with tongs in one hand and an umbrella in the other to eventually eat the food indoors doesn’t cut it.
So before you chalk me down as Negative Norman, I’m here to spread a little sunshine in your grub. Before we move on to picking blackberries and creating autumnal pies, let’s enjoy what’s left of the season even of the rain is still pelting nosily of the pane. Chicken has to be one of the most universal and versatile meats on the planet and works well in summer and winter, in hot and cold climates alike. I know the rows and debates that surround our feathered friend, but we can break it down to this; the flavour of chicken depends largely on just two things. The first is what they eat and a good and proper diet will lead to a healthy tasty bird. The second is how they are reared in that if they have had space to move around stress free as God intended them to move, then they will develop normally. I personally and often visit the farms where all James Whelan chicken is reared and assure you those boxes are ticked. If you are buying chicken anywhere else they are the two questions you need to ask. Indeed the same goes for eggs; happy hens lay happy eggs.
Traditionally before we had all year round production, chickens born in the spring and ready for the table by summer were good for roasting and grilling. By the winter months they were obviously bigger and the meat was tougher and so casseroles, pies and soups came into their own. Notice how these dishes matched the seasons they were meant for. We really have distorted the food landscape with our progress and technology. Chicken definitely gets my vote for versatility. It can be eaten hot or cold, it’s good for kids and adults alike, it adapts to the seasons, it can be grilled, boiled or roasted, it is usually good value, you can buy it as a whole or in part, you could even rear your own! However if you decide to ‘grow your own’ I warn you now of the dangers of attachment and tell you, from experience, it is not good to kill the perceived family pet (even if it was for a short time) place it plucked and trussed in the oven and present it for dinner. Such action has the potential to scar children for life if not handled correctly! I suggest using the eggs only and enjoy your new pet should you press ahead
So how can we cook chicken differently in order to put the spark back into our fowl love affair if it has gone foul? (Okay, I’ll stop now.) Once again it is about thinking outside the norm. Take a traditional method and mix it up a little or marry two things together. For example I recently came across a lovely recipe in an American cook book called ‘Bite Me’. It suggested stuffing a chicken breast with a mix of cream cheese, goats’ cheese, fresh basil and thyme and then breading it with a little Dijon mustard as part of the process. The result was fantastic; creamy, cheesy, crunchy, plump mouthfuls with a lovely subtle herby warm kick. I served this with a leafy salad and some garlic bread. (Yes the garlic bread and the breaded chicken was a little bit bread over load, but I wanted to use it up and it was great). I will definitely keep this recipe for the winter and just serve it with hearty roast vegetables.
Citrus flavours such as orange and lemon also give a nice summery feel to chicken and a simple orange sauce can be made using good quality orange juice and a little cornflour. Talking of sweet orange other sweet flavours complement chicken also; sweet peppers, honey, or a little raisin and brown sugar. You could try a simple breaded breast of gingery chicken with a sweet salad for a little sweet and sour slant. Chicken also works well with nuts; peanuts, cashew and pecan but the usual nut allergy warnings apply here.
We’ve got some great offers on chicken right now and some good ideas on both our website and in store. Drop by before the end of the ‘summer’, I promise you’ll be inspired.
This post was written by me, Pat Whelan, owner of James Whelan Butchers and a passionate advocate of local artisan food. My family have been producing quality Irish Angus beef for generations using a traditional dry aging process. This tradition is one that I continue to practice at our abattoir on our family farm in Garrentemple, Clonmel. These posts aim to impart some of the wisdom to readers and help them get the best out of the meat they eat! Our meat is available online here! I welcome your feedback to Pat@jwb.ie
We hope you enjoyed reading this post by Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers. Pat is a 5th generation butcher, cook book author and the director of James Whelan Butchers . Sign up to our newsletter for more updates from James Whelan Butchers