Tag Archives: casserole

Chicken Lasagne – No boundaries, no borders

There are two schools of thought when it comes to regionalized food.

One school of thought is that you should preserve the recipes and techniques that are synonymous with all of the various regions and cultures found around the world.  That the dish “Spaghetti Bolognese” or “Pot au feu” should be recreated faithfully to the time honoured practices that have made the dish the signature dish of the area in which it was created.  These traditionalists argue that preserving the dish in it’s original form is preserving culture, and that changing it whilst maintaining the name is perpetuating a lie that will ultimately dilute the truth bring about it’s eventual demise.

Pot au feu - photo courtesy of Wikipedia

The other school of thought is that food culture evolves, and through exposure to new ingredients and techniques, tastes and recipes develop to maximize the environment of the day.  Culinary preservation is important to document, as history teaches us a lot about why we are what we are today, but preserving recipes for preservation’s sake is to risk losing potentially new and great dishes solely for stubbornness.

I actually take a very uncontroversial view, and believe that there is room for both.  I think that we should preserve dishes exactly as they have been created for centuries, and the food world should work together to ensure that proprietors and restauranteurs worldwide who carry out these traditions are supported and encouraged to continue through future generations…almost as living museums.  Whilst others use these creations as inspiration to take the dish elsewhere, in new and exciting directions.  All dishes, even the classics above, owe their creation to a single departure from some other dish, so you never know when the new gun Chef is actually creating the classic dish of tomorrow.  Even Lasagne, a dish that can evoke many arguments about how to create the best version, is an evolution of French and Greek recipes, with the catalyst change being the hottest new ingredient in the market place, the tomato (courtesy of Christopher Columbus).

A traditional Lasagne - Photo courtesy of Dee Catering & Logistic Services (Western Australia)

This version of Lasagne was inspired by a meal I had in a Restaurant that actually disappointed me.  I saw “Chicken Lasagne” on the menu, and ordered it, but felt the intensity of the tomato based sauce totally killed the chicken in the dish.  Two days later I created this recipe, or something very much like it (as I did not write the original recipe down, it was more the concept that I am replicating here).  In essence, it’s a blending of a creamy chicken Alfredo or Carbonara, using Lasagne techniques and pasta.  It’s one of those dishes that I make that seems to be an instant hit, yet no one seems to have joined the dots and made a version commercially yet…at least I have never seen one in any Restaurant or cookbook.

Chicken Lasagne with cream, bacon & mushrooms.

I hope you get inspired by it and give it a try.  Again, don’t pay too much attention to the recipe itself, just the idea…and make it your own.  Let me know what you do, and how it turns out.

The ingredients to make the magic happen...

Ingredients

  • 1kg Chicken Thighs (boneless & skinless)
  • 200g Mushrooms (Sliced)
  • 200g Rindless Bacon (Julienned)
  • 1 1/2 Red Onions (finely diced)
  • 2 Tbsp Garlic
  • 1 Tablespoons Olive oil
  • 3/4 Cup White Wine (good enough to drink)
  • Zest from 1/2 Lemon
  • Juice from 1 lemon
  • 2 Tablespoons Butter (3 Tbsp if using fresh or pre-cooked pasta)
  • 2 Tablespoons Flour (3 Tbsp if using fresh or pre-cooked pasta)
  • 1 1/2 Cups Milk or Cream (or blend)
  • 1 1/2 Cups Chicken Stock
  • 1 Cup Sour Cream
  • 1/2 Cup fresh Parsley (finely chopped)
  • 150g Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 2 Cups grated Mozzarella Cheese
  • Salt/Pepper (freshly ground) to taste
  • Lasagne Sheets (fresh or dried)

Cut the chicken thighs into large cubes and add half to a food processor.  Pulse for 10 x 1-second pulses, then 1 x 4-second pulse (full seconds…one-one thousand, two-one thousand, etc).  Turn out into a bowl, and repeat with the other half.  You can use chicken mince instead, if you want, the result will be more consistent.  You can also use breasts, which will actually whiten up the dish a lot, as thighs tend to be a bit grey.  I like the flavour of thighs though, so I tend to use them a lot.

Add oil to a large frying pan and add the bacon.  Cook until almost crispy over a medium heat, stirring often.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the bacon to a bowl, and reserve.

Delicious rendered bacon

Add a quarter of the chicken to the bacon grease, and cook until almost done, trying not to brown the chicken at all.  Clear the centre of the pan by moving the cooked chicken to the sides, and add the next quarter.  Repeat until all of the chicken is cooked.  Using the slotted spoon, remove the cooked chicken to the bacon bowl, and reserve.

Move the cooked chicken to the edge, and add the next batch in the centre.

Add the onions and mushrooms and garlic, with a pinch of salt, and cook slowly until the onions are just translucent.  You don’t want any browning as it will colour the dish.

De-glaze the pan with the white wine and lemon juice, and cook until almost evaporated.

Notice the base of the pan where I moved a spoon through the mix. When the liquid takes a while to fill the path made by the spoon, you've reduced enough.

Add the chicken and bacon mix, and stir to combine, then set aside.

Combine the chicken stock and milk in a microwave proof container, and cook on high for 3 minutes.  If it is not yet steaming, cook for 1 minute bursts until it is.  Careful not to boil the liquid, however.  Add the butter to a sauce-pan and cook until fragrant.

Liquid gold

Add the flour to the butter, and stir until all lumps are gone.  Cook for 1 minute and then add the hot milk/stock mix, stirring constantly until thickened (about the consistency of cream).  Remove from heat and add the Parmesan cheese.  Stir until all of the cheese is melted, the add the sour cream and stir until is well combined.

Added the Parmesan Cheese to the sauce...

Add the cream sauce to the chicken mix, and stir to combine.  Taste, and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Stir in the chopped parsley, and set aside.

Everyone in the pool! Now just the layers...

In a bowl, mix the Mozzarella cheese with the lemon zest.

Preheat the oven to 180C (350f).

At this point, we consider the pasta.  I just use bought dry pasta sheets, and place layer them as is.  I do not pre-cook them, and I try not to buy “Instant” either, as they are usually thinner.  If you are using fresh, or precooked, get them ready now, and hopefully you used the higher quantity of flour and butter (for a thicker sauce).

In a high sided baking dish, spread a thin layer of the chicken mixture, just enough so that you cant see the bottom of the baking dish.  Top with a sprinkling of the Mozzarella.  Layer the pasta sheets on top, without overlapping them.  Repeat this layering until you reach the top of the pan, at which point you do not add a layer of pasta on top of the cheese.

Just to show the layering of the sauce and cheese with the pasta.

Cover the lasagne with foil, and bake for 45 minutes (30 minutes for fresh or pre-cooked pasta sheets).  Then uncover, and bake for 15 minutes more.

Just out of the oven...now the wait.

It is important that you let the Lasagne cool before you cut into it.  You really want to let it sit, covered loosely with foil, for 90 minutes before serving…if you can.  Good luck with that.

Serve with a side of steamed broccoli, and maybe a nice bruschetta. Oh, and a glass of the white wine you used in the dish.

Again, let me know if this dish inspires you, and share with us all where you take it in your kitchen.

Enjoy the meal!

Advertisements

Stew Weather – Winter with 26C (79F) temperatures

It’s funny how climate affects food.  Summer time meals are lighter, and usually involve the BBQ and a few cleansing ales.  Winter meals tend to be more slow cooked braises and stews, and the soul warming soup.  But what happens when you live in place that is warm all year round?

Good weather for Stew

Being a fairly recent transplant to Tropical Australia, one of the things we found that we missed from the colder climates were the stews and braised roasts.  It just never sounded like a good idea while the sun was shining outside, and the temps were hovering in the high 20’s (low 80’s Fahrenheit).  The last thing you wanted to do was heat up the house more by cooking something for 4 hours.

Not so good weather for a stew...
The boys enjoying a nice winters day in Tropical Queensland

This year seems different, however, and I think it’s because we have acclimated.  I used to laugh at all the “Queenslanders” because they were so damned temperature sensitive.  27C was great, 26C a bit nippy, whilst 28C was a heat wave…but now I am not far off the same punchline.  It’s been 10 days since we have seen temperatures over 26 (79F) and I feel like a stew! Admittedly none of those 10 days were below 26 except 1…which was 25.1.

So, bargain shopping again, the wife found some lovely lamb leg chops…just the ticket for a warming stew.  The key to any stew is to chose a nice tough cut, with plenty of connective tissue.  As my post “Take back the Burger” tries to explain, the tough cuts closer to the hoof and the horn usually reward you with the richest flavour, and hours of cooking in a liquid require a robust flavoured cut to stand up to the punishment.  Jut like a good stock, however, bones are also critical.  You need the gelatin to form from the bones so that you get the nice unctuous mouth-feel that a good stew gives.  Bone in leg chops tick the boxes, almost as well as a nice ox-tail.

Now, I love stews…I mean really love them.  And everyone knows that a stew is good day 1, but great day 2 (and beyond), but do we know why?  Well, let’s see if I can explain it.

Gelatin is a substance that is formed when you cook collagen, which is found inside the bones and skin of animals.  It’s a building block.  Long cooking methods hydrolise the collagen, turning into something amazing…Gelatin.

Gelatin has a viscous mouthfeel that is not dissimilar to fat, and we are programmed genetically to like it…and we do.

The interesting thing about Gelatin, is that once it cools and shifts into it’s solid state (relatively solid, given it’s jiggliness) it’s melting point raises.  So when reheated the meat which has the gelatin throughout will be less stringy and more solid.  This translates to a better food experience, and a better dish after the meal has cooled.

So, the secret to making your stews great day 1 is quite simple.  Serve them on Day 2 for the first time.  That’s right, cook them the day before and reheat them!

The only problem with that thinking, is you end up with horribly over-cooked vegetables.  I still want some bite in my veg, and whilst the stew is delicious on subsequent days, the carrots and potatoes (etc) are not.

Well, here is my solution:

  • Day 1, cook the meat (lamb in this case) and build the flavour base
  • Day 2, reheat the meat with a new batch of veg

Day 1:

Lamb Stew Ingredients

Ingredients:

  • 1.8kg Bone-in Lamb Leg Chops (about 7 or 8)
  • 1/4 cup light olive oil

Dredge:

  • 1 Cup Flour
  • 2 Tbsp Salt

Flavour Base:

  • 250g Diced Carrots (about 4 medium)
  • 250g Diced Celery (about 4 ribs)
  • 150g Diced Onion (about 2 smallish)
  • 1 Tbsp Salt (Kosher or Cooking)
  • 4 Anchovies
  • 2 Tbsp Crushed Garlic
  • 1/2 Cup Tomato Paste
  • 1 Cup Red Wine
  • 1 385ml Bottle Dark Ale
  • 1 Cup Chicken Stock
  • 1 Tbsp Peppercorns
  • Bay leaves (4 small, 2 large)

Mix the dredge ingredients, and…well…dredge the lamb.  Leave it whole, no point wasting time and cutting up meat that’s just going to fall apart itself later.

In a heavy ovenproof pot (one which has a heavy tight fitting lid), add the oil and begin to fry the dredged lamb.  Do not crowd the pot.  Just cook as much as the pot can hold whilst keeping a good gap between the pieces, and to the edge.  I do 2 at a time, no more.  Remember our culinary friend, the Maillard reaction?  Once browned on both sides, evacuate the pot and put the lamb chops on a plate.  Repeat with all of the lamb.

Nice crusty exterior thanks to our friend the Maillard reaction

Add the anchovies, and stir quickly to melt them.  Add the garlic and the mirepoix (carrots, celery, and onion), and sprinkle the salt over the top.  Cook until just starting to become tender, then add the tomato paste and pepper corns.  Cook, stirring, for 3 minutes.

Add the wine, ale (I used a nice home brew dark ale), stock, and the bay leaves.  Stir to combine and bring to the boil.

Add the lamb chops back in, including any liquid that has come out of the chops, and make sure the meat is buried by the sauce and veg.  Lid, and place in a low oven (about 130 degrees Celsius or 260f) for 3 hours.  Remove from the heat.

Packed with flavour, here is the heart of the dish.

Once cooled, remove the meat to a dish and break it up a bit.  Cover with foil or wrap and place in the fridge.  Strain the liquid from the pot, and put it into another container (or jug).  Once cooled enough, cover with wrap and put it in the fridge to cool.  Discard the remaining veggies and herbs/spices (or use it, as I did, to make you favourite pooch a very tasty dog food).

Day 2:

Stew Ingredients:

  • Cooked lamb and liquid from previous method
  • 4 Potatoes
  • 6 Carrots
  • 2 Onions
  • Any other vegetables you like (even mushrooms)
  • 1 cup barley
  • 2 cups Chicken stock
  • Sour Cream or Yoghurt

Remove the liquid from the fridge.  The fat will have solidified on top, and should be removed in one big piece.  I love lamb fat to cook with, so I’d tend to keep it.  At the very least, use it to make dog treats.

Quarter the potatoes, chunk up the carrots, and french the onions (ok, cut them up however you’re happy to eat them).

Put half of the “liquid”, which should actually be a jelly, into the pot.  Layer in the lamb and veggies, mixed with the barley.  Top with the rest of the “liquid” and lid.  Put back into the oven, and cook for 2 hours, or until the barley is tender.

Serve in a bowl with a dollop of sour cream or yoghurt on top.  Goes great with a nice crusty loaf of bread, or some Yorkshire pudding.

A lovely lamb stew...but not exactly MY lamb stew

OK, so I have to be totally honest here.  Not everything went as planned…well not with the blog anyway.  The stew was amazing, however the day of final assembly did not happen until a couple days after I expected.  It’s one of the great things about the stew, is that you can hold it in suspended animation for a while, before finishing it.

Anyway, I did not finish it, that pleasure fell to my wife to do.  Unfortunately, I did not get any photo’s of the finished result.  Sometimes the reality of food and meals does not cooperate with the reality of blogging!  So above is a beautiful picture I lifted from a fellow blogger.  Her site can be found by clicking on the photo above.  I encourage you to read her site as well, she writes lovely recipes and the photo’s (as you can see) are just amazing.

Anyway, enjoy the stew, and send me a photo of yours…i’ll replace the one I lifted with yours!

Enjoy the meal.