We are a nation of breast lovers. Not the Page 3 variety. The chicken variety. Around 750 million of these birds are slaughtered every year to sate our hunger. But mostly it is the bland breasts we crave. The tastier thighs barely get a look it unless they are attached to a whole roast. And let’s not mention the livers….
You can probably gather from the start of this post that I am not the biggest fan of chicken. That is to say I’m not a fan of the mass produced birds that can be sold in supermarkets for as little as two for a fiver. It’s the cottonwool like pappiness as you chew it I can’t abide. It’s hardly surprising that supermarket chicken is so tasteless when you consider the average bird only ‘enjoys’ 56 days of life before it is dispatched. This is a shame because chicken can be a succulent and tasty meat, providing the creature it came from has been given the opportunity live beyond puberty before it dies. These chooks will cost a bit more but are worth the extra expense. You can usually find them at a decent butcher or through online retailers like Pipers Farm. For tastier options I find less intensively reared birds like duck and guinea fowl offer more flavour for your money.
If you want some inspiration for how to cook your birds you may find this book useful.
What is the essence of the book?
Chicken & Other Birds is a collection of recipes based around different methods of cooking various fowl and poultry. These include chapters on roasting, oven baking, barbecuing, braising and smoking as well as a few extras such as recipes for stuffings and sauces.
About the author
Paul Gayler is a renowned chef who spent 22 years at The Lanesborough Hotel as their Executive Chef. He has also written numerous recipe books on everything from vegetarianism to sausages.
Who will like it?
If you like chicken but fancy stepping over to the darker side of poultry (in terms of the meat colour rather than quality) then you’ll like this book. It’s also great for anyone who likes entertaining as it contains plenty of interesting ways to present your feathered friends at the dinner table.
Who won’t like it?
Vegetarians or anyone who is happier buying their Murgh Makhna (a.k.a. Indian Butter Chicken) from the local take-away rather than making it themselves from scratch.
What do I like about the book?
The book begins with a chapter on Getting to know your birds which includes step by step instructions and photographs on how to joint a bird. For me this is probably the most useful part of the book. So often recipes advise you to ‘ask your butcher to joint the chicken’ which is fine if you are buying said bird from a butcher. The reality is that most people buy their chicken from the supermarket. If we forget (for the moment) about the way these chickens are reared, it is still far more economical to buy a whole chicken and joint it ourselves than paying for somebody else to do it for us. Think about all the wastage there must be to keep the supermarket’s stocked up with those flabby breasts, for which the consumer will pay a premium. Fortunately, Gayler provides plenty of delicious recipes for the other, less choice, cuts from birds such as Chicken Thighs with Feta, Lemon and Oregano. There are also plenty of recipes for duck, quail and guinea fowl as well as ‘World Classics’ like Chicken Chasseur.
What aspects am I not so keen on?
As you would expect from a chef of his stature the recipes are inventive and are beautifully photographed. However, I can’t help feeling that these images are a little too cheffy and as a consequence would put a less confident cook off or mean that the book is only referenced when a dinner party is in the offing.
Would I cook from it?
Probably. It would be easy to say there is no place for it in my recipe book collection as I have so many already but there are some lovely recipes in here and I love the fact it extends beyond the overrated chicken.
Where can you buy it?