|chicken with chilli, lemon and mint|
The first thing I prepared was some grilled chicken. This is one of my favourite barbecue dishes. But it is equally easy to do under the grill and while it is infinitely nicer served warm, but it also works well at ambient temperature; the flavours are strong yet subtle enough to fill your mouth with glorious Moroccan flavours.
This is actually a Nigel Slater recipe from Real Food. He says that "On the grill the smell reminds me of the open-air food stalls of Marrakech that reek of mint, lemon and smoke." This is a recipe that can be either fried or grilled. If you've fried it, it will stay moist. But grilled on the barbecue or even in your oven, you will get a more intense flavour; it will be smokier if cooked on the barbecue.
This is also a recipe that I make to top the salads I take in to work, whether couscous, noodle or crunchy vegetables. Either way, it is aromatic and just delicious.
I do however, have one proviso. You may not have realised this, but I am slightly prone to accidents. You know the sort, - falling off my platform shoes or burning myself on the oven door. In fact, I had made a New Year's Resolution this year to pay more attention and have less kitchen accidents. Well it's nearly the end of April and frankly my first quarter report is a little dismal. I have failed miserably! Which is why this recipe comes with a tiny health warning for those of us who are clumsy numpties.
With hindsight, I should have worn goggles and perhaps a wetsuit. I'm not suggesting that you should and I would add that this is purely for protective reasons rather than some bizarre kitchen fetish. While making the marinade, a small gobbet of partially processed chilli and lemon flew out of the mixing jug and unerringly as if it were some kind of organic ballistic missile, landed in my eyes.
After I had stopped swearing, I remembered that it would be probably best to bathe my eyes in some kind of eye bath. I managed to struggle over to the sink (clinging onto surfaces by touch, since both my eyes were tightly scrunched up, and lurching crablike until I had managed to find the cold water tap).
I quickly filled a washing-up bowl with cold water and stuck my entire head into it. This was not very dignified at all but the only was the only way to ensure that there weren’t any stray chilli bombs lurking to sabotage my eyesight.
By that evening and the party I was cooking for, I had largely recovered, although some kindly friends commented that I looked as if I had been crying. When I explained what had happened, they thought I was exaggerating as usual; (I am occasionally a mistress of hyperbole).
Later that night, as I was transferring the cooked chicken from the grill I was bumped by one of my merry guests, my arm shook slightly and a large glug of the cooking sauce slopped out of the cooking tray and onto my flip-flop clad feet. It wasn't the heat of the liquid that was the problem, I'm afraid it was the chillies again. (I am most definitely allergic to them!) While the howls probably weren't heard in south London, they were carried away into the night by the slight breeze, probably to the consternation of some of my neighbours.
I give you this anecdote so that I may serve as a warning to others. And should you see a big bird, with Medusa-like red hair, one eye scrunched up; with a loping limp in north London . . . it may well be me. Although there are quite a lot of us female Popeye impersonators in my neck of Kentish Town!
Skill level: Easy
400g chicken breast (or other chicken off-the-bone, such as thigh meat) marinade:
1 x medium-sized hot red chilli (or 2 bird's eye chillies), roughly chopped
1x heaped tsp crushed dried chillies
2 x garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 x pinches of saffron stamens
a small handful of fresh mint leaves (about 20 or so, depending on taste)
4 tbsp olive oil
juice of 1 x large or 2 x small lemons
lemon wedges to serve
- Cut the chicken into thick chunks about the size about 2 to 3 centimetres long. Place in either a glass Pyrex bowl or a china one. (Don't use a metal one as you are using lemon juice which will react with the metal!)
- Either in a liquidiser or using a hand-held blender, whizz up the olive oil, lemon juice, chillies (fresh and dried), garlic, saffron and the mint, until thick but not completely blended. Your light orange-coloured marinade should still be slightly flecked with the red of the chillies and the green of the mint.
- Pour the marinade over the chicken and make sure that each piece is coated.
- The chicken needs to marinade of at least an hour (although benefits by a night in the fridge) in order that all the flavours can get to know each other.
- You can either fry this on a ridged grill pan or in a standard flat-based frying pan, or you can grill the chicken. Either way, it will take about 3 to 4 minutes on each side until they are partially lightly browned.
- I tend to grill them and when turning, add the rest of the marinade. The chicken is ready when it is firm and sticky.
- Season with a little salt and serve with the lemon wedges.