I’m as much a sucker for foodblogging trends as the next hermit, which means that a couple of weeks back there was a big to-do over Jamie Oliver’s milk chicken – in fact, if you Google “Jamie Oliver’s chicken in milk” (there, I did it for you) you get nothing but blog links as far as the eye can see.
Now, braising or poaching chicken in milk is no epiphany. Low slow cooking makes for moist, tender chicken, and vaguely exotic flavors (cinnamon) combined with comforting ones (lemon & sage) and you have a viral recipe. Oh, and it’s ‘dead easy’ as the crumpet-eater would say.
The first time I made it, I have to say that it wasn’t awesome. And it wasn’t the polarizing curdling of the milk that everyone nattered on about, it was that the flavor was a fence-sitter, neither beguiling nor familiar. Even worse was an attempt to use the leftovers the following day in a chicken-salad sandwich: the cinnamon flavor had amplified despite the removal of the stick to the extent that I felt like I was eating a mulled chicken cider sandwich. Actually, that sounds good. Scratch that. Hell, it just tasted too cinnamony. There.
But the recipe nagged at me for months now until I decided to remake it, and this time with a few changes.
First to go was the whole chicken. I’m getting to a stage of laziness in my life where the idea of removing meat from a chicken carcass just makes me want to take a nap. Isn’t this why we have grocery store butchers, to make the pieces smaller? Yes? No? And fuck browning a chicken in a hot pan and flipping it over. That’s for the younguns. And people with better tongs than me. And people who don’t have to clean the grease spatters off their chrome cooktops. So first thing’s first: replace whole chicken with parts, and if I’m going to be cooking parts down, it has to be thighs. Into that goes everything from the recipe minus the cinnamon stick, and with a few slight alterations. For starters, finely grated lemon peel, as I saw several places, is too much lemon. In fact, two lemons is too much lemon. The rind of one large lemon, sliced in wide, shallow cuts, made for the exact right taste I was looking for.
The other step I questioned was leaving the garlic in their skins – the skins protect the garlic from breaking down, but since my cook time was going to be reduced by a third (the pieces cook faster than the whole body), the protection wasn’t necessary. Also, it was a pain in the arse (hi Jamie!) to squeeze all the garlic out of their little skins while eating. Yes, I said that. I am so lazy I can’t be bothered to slow down and extract a fucking garlic clove from it’s paper. What. I’m an animal.
I also added sansho pepper, which is a Japanese seasoning made from the leaves of the Szechuan peppercorn plant. It’s not nearly as hot as the peppercorns, but still has a exotic, bright, hard flavor that tastes to me vaguely of Anaheim chilies. Despite my dislike of the original recipe, Jamie was onto something: without a new flavor, you’ve just got chicken in milk. Add a strange pepper flavor (or even another herb) and you’ve got something else, something interesting. And it may come out the other end looking like a breast-fed baby puked all over your chicken, but damn if it isn’t delicious. We ate every last bite.
Jamie Oliver’s Chicken in Milk
Here’s the original, if you’re into that kind of thing.
1 3½ lb organic chicken
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 stick of butter
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 good handful of fresh sage, leaves picked
zest of 2 lemons
10 cloves of garlic, skin left on
1 pint milk
- Preheat the oven to 375°F and find a snug-fitting pot for the chicken. Season it generously all over, and fry it in the butter and a little olive oil, turning the chicken to get an even colour all over, until golden. Remove from the heat, put the chicken on a plate, and throw away the oil and butter left in the pot. This will leave you with tasty sticky goodness at the bottom of the pan which will give you a lovely caramelly flavour later on.
- Put your chicken back in the pot with the rest of the ingredients, and cook in the preheated oven for 1½ hours. Baste with the cooking juice when you remember. The lemon zest will sort of split the milk, making a sauce which is absolutely fantastic.
- To serve, pull the meat off the bones and divide it on to your plates. Spoon over plenty of juice and the little curds. Serve with wilted spinach or greens and some mashed potato.
Sunday’s Chicken in Milk
And my version, if you’re into things that are better. Serves two.
1 package of chicken thighs (about 6) with skin and bones still intact
salt to taste
1 tsp. (or more to taste) of Japanese sansho pepper (also good: Grains of Paradise or Long Pepper)
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 of those plastic containers of sage, leaves picked
1 lemon’s peel
as many garlic cloves as you want¹, peeled
1 pint of whole milk
- Preheat oven to 350°.
- In a heavy saucepan that can go into the oven, add the olive oil over high heat and sear the chicken thighs on each side to, as Jamie says, get that “tasty sticky goodness”. But say it to yourself in a British lisp.
- Remove the thighs from the heat and allow to cool enough to pull the skin off them. Discard the skin or save it to cook it down and make schmaltz.
- While the thighs are cooling, pour out all the fat from the pan and return to low heat. Slowly pour in the milk, taking care to scrape up all the “tasty sticky goodness” from the bottom. When the thighs are ready, put them back into the milk along with the garlic cloves, lemon zest, sage and salt and pepper. Put lid on and stick in the oven for 30 minutes.
- After the 30 minutes are up, turn the thighs, make sure they’re getting cooked evenly. Cook for another 30 minutes.
- After the hour is up, pull the pot out of the oven and eat however you like. I like to get all the meat off the bones using tongs and a sharp knife so that I don’t have to struggle with the bones as I’m eating, but that’s probably being fussier than you are. Also take care to dig out all those garlic cloves that poached in hot milk for an hour, they’re the cherries on top.
¹ Don’t worry, as long as they are whole cloves they don’t really add garlic flavor to the dish, just a faint perfume. Really. You can use two or you can use twenty and the chicken will come out the other end tasting the same. However, if you used twenty then you now have twenty delicious cloves of slow-cooked, mild, milky garlic to eat with bread.November 6th, 2009 | Make It So