The Ginger Pig, butchers and farmers of distinction, offered me (along with a few other bloggers) a free chicken the other week. Not just any chicken mind, but a two kilogram, 100 day old, mother of a chicken (apparently your average commercially bred free-range chicken is slaughtered at around 65 days here in the UK). Their largesse was part of a promotional launch for their very own range of poultry. Here's their description of said bird:
'Reared for The Ginger Pig by Gerald & Richard Botterill on Ling View Farm, Belvoir Estate, Lincolnshire. Bred from a traditional Cornish game cockerel crossed with the Sussex or Dorking hen. Dry-plucked, free-ranging over fresh grass and herbage, fed a cereal diet then hung for one week to bring out the flavour'.
I had absolutely no qualms in accepting, firstly because I'm a mentalist, not an idiot - free fucking chicken! - and secondly, I've championed the Ginger Pig since this blog began. As I wrote in the shopping section: 'This is about as good as it’s possible for a butcher to get. If you’re a meat lover, here’s where you should come to worship'.
Prior to developing their own poultry they had been popping over to France for poulet de Bresse, poulet noir and corn fed Landes chickens to sell in their shops, and it is the flavour of these that they are aiming to equal, if not surpass. The birds - either cockerels or pullets - are retailing at £8.50 per kilogram. This pricing puts them below the cost of a poulet de Bresse in this country and at about the same as what is, I would suggest, their strongest British competitor, Label Anglais.
Unfortunately, if you want to know how the taste compares, I'm really not the chap to ask as it's been years since I've been able to afford a Label Anglais or Bresse chicken - the last bird I bought cost £2.99. What I can say is that having been let loose to shake its booty around the farm for 100 days and then, through no fault of its own, hung for a week, this pullet was extremely tasty.
I would have loved to have simply roasted this chicken (and for great ideas on roasting see the note at the bottom of this post), but being on my lonesome that wasn't very practical. So firstly I jointed it:
then used the carcass to make a stock:
and that evening I braised a thigh, drumstick and wing:
The next day, with one of the (250g!) breast portions, I made the filling for chicken and mushroom pasties, which I froze for later use:
With the braise I found that, although the meat was as succulent as you could hope for, the skin was too substantial to be really enjoyable (and I love chicken skin) - so I've kept back the remaining thigh, drumstick and wing in the freezer to roast or fry in some manner at a later date - I reckon that when crispy the skin will be gorgeous.
But it was expected (quite rightly) that, in exchange for seventeen quid's worth of free chicken, the least I could do was come up with a recipe. As the Ginger Pig are aiming for their cockerels and pullets to compete in flavour with the best France has to offer, I came up with an English version of a French classic - poulet à la savoyarde - replacing the gruyère (or beaufort or comté) cheese with Doddington, the white wine with Thatchers vintage cider and the Dijon mustard with Colman's. I didn't replace the tarragon mainly because it has such a unique flavour, but also, as it's been used in this country since the 16th century, I thought we could let it pass.
The result tasted absolutely gorgeous. I'll be making this again soon and regularly - just (I'm sorry to say) with a cheaper and much inferior chicken and a supermarket cider. But the Doddington stays.
ginger pig chicken breast, doddington cheese + thatchers vintage cider
250g chicken breast
250ml chicken stock
250ml medium dry cider
1 dsp butter
1 dsp plain flour
40g grated doddington cheese
4 tbsps double cream
½ tsp colman's mustard powder
1 tsp dried tarragon
10g sourdough breadcrumbs
10g grated doddington cheese
salt and black pepper
In a small pan, bring the stock and cider to a simmer and poach the chicken breast for about 15-20 minutes, until cooked through. Remove and cut into small, bite-sized pieces.
Reduce the stock/cider down to 200ml and reserve.
In a separate pan, make a roux with the butter and flour, then gradually add the reduced stock/cider, stirring all the time. Add the 40g of cheese, the cream, the mustard powder and tarragon, stir until the cheese has melted and let simmer, bubbling away gently, for about 15 minutes. Taste and season (it will need little if any salt). Add the chicken pieces and stir to coat.
Spoon the the chicken and sauce into a gratin dish and top with a mixture of the breadcrumbs and the remaining cheese. Bake at 220C/200C fan for about 20 minutes, or until the top is golden and the sauce is bubbling out at the edges.
For three fabulously inventive ways to roast a Ginger Pig chicken, check out what Food Stories, Hollow Legs and Leluu did with their gifts; for a Burmese curry and how to make scratchings with the skin visit MiMi's blog.