One of the incentives to walking in Provence is the prospect of finding goodies along the way, a handful of rocket leaves to jazz up a salad, say, or white mulberries from the trees whose leaves once provided sustenance to insatiable silk worms, the basis of many people’s livelihoods here in the late nineteenth century. With summer come more substantial pickings, wild pears and figs and, later on, plums.
A recent discovery was a stray damson tree which we re-visited two or three times. Some of the plums we ate as they were, some got popped into jam pots after fast boiling with sugar, and some got baked as follows, according to Elizabeth David’s recommendations in French Provincial Cooking.
The fruit doesn’t need to be ripe: the amount of sugar can be increased if necessary, along with the cooking time.
To have vanilla sugar to hand, simply keep some sugar in a jar with a vanilla pod. The latter will perform for years and provide a much more subtle perfume than vanilla essence.
Kirsch can apparently replace 2–3 tbsp of water quite successfully (any comments on this would be interesting).
• 1 kg plums of any type
• 4½–6 tbsp vanilla sugar or sugar + a vanilla pod
Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 3/170°C.
Wash the fruit and make an incision in each one along the natural divide.
Arrange in a pyramid in a baking dish, says Elizabeth David, but it works perfectly well with the fruit quite tightly packed in a single layer.
Sprinkle with up to 6 tbsp sugar, depending on the fruit, and up to 5 tbsp water (less if very ripe plums) or water and kirsch.
Bake until fruit is soft but has not lost it shape, 30 min – 1 h, and serve hot or at room temperature, in which case a sorbet goes well.
The quality of chicken can vary so much, from the delicious and succulent to the bland and dry, and the much-loved traditional roast can so easily fall into the latter category for want of a flavoursome chicken.
The beauty of this Kubab Chicken dish is that it can salvage even an inferior chicken – thanks to a potent spice mix and the use of the pot-roasting method, it will be neither bland nor dry. Elizabeth David actually used this spice mix for fish as well as chicken, and the exotic aromas of the spices complement the subtle flavours of each in different ways.
I like to serve this as an alternative to the ubiquitous Sunday roast (which my family has gradually phased out of its culinary routine), as it’s a dish that carries sufficient gravitas to warrant inclusion on a serious Sunday menu.
The recipe is simple and quick to make, but the chicken does require marinating, so make sure you allow time for this – the temptation is always to cut corners here, but it’s not worth it!
- 2 tsp coriander seeds
- 2.5 cm piece of ginger
- 6 cardamom pods
- 12 black peppercorns
- 1/4 – 1/2 tsp salt
- 4 cloves
- vegetable ghee or olive oil
- a roasting chicken, weighing 1 – 1.4 kg
- lemon quarters and fresh coriander for serving
Heat the coriander seeds gently in a small thick pan for 3 to 4 minutes. Peel the ginger and chop it coarsely, and shell the cardamon seeds. Grind these spices with the peppercorns, salt, and cloves, in a pestle and mortar until you have something approaching a rough blend. A little ghee or oil can be added to ease the process.
Now pull back the skin of the chicken from between the wings, without tearing if possible, and with a small sharp knife make incisions under the skin in the leg and the breast meat of the bird. Press the spice mix into these and spread it as evenly as possible wherever you can get to between the skin and the flesh. Put the skin back in place.
Leave for 1 – 2 hours.
Set the oven to gas mark 4/180°C about 10 minutes before you want to put the chicken in. On top of the stove, heat 1 – 2 tbsp ghee or oil in a casserole in which the chicken fits quite closely, and put it in on its side. Cover and bake in the oven, turning the bird over after 30 minutes. Remove the lid after 1 hour, turn the chicken breast upwards and cook for a further 10 minutes.
Serve with the juices poured over the chicken, lemon quarters around it, and a sprig or two of fresh coriander if you can get it. Accompaniments could include aromatic basmati rice, and a couple of colourful vegetable dishes to break up the off-white tones.