Rob’s Springtime Chicken

I've spent two bank holidays in a row in the garden. Sunshine and exercise had brought on the need to eat light, fresh flavours–but I'm not in the mood for a salad quite yet.

It's silly not to embrace the best of the season, though. English asparagus, the best in the world, and the first new potatoes will make for a great forkful. Some fish on the side? Maybe, but like I say, I've been busy in the garden. Man need meat.

Of course, the sun has also kicked the herb garden into high gear, which means it's time to start making my favourite green sauce–one that would make a fantastic marinade for the chicken thighs that just happen to be left over from feeding the weekend's workforce. I think we have a plan for dinner.

Start with the sauce. You want a honking great double handful of soft greenery. I have mint, parsley, fennel, and lovage (a celery-like leaf that's great in stocks, stews or anywhere you'd add celery) but you can add whatever's to hand. Basil's great in this, especially if you can snag a bunch of the big Meditteranean stuff. Stuff the whole lot in a food processor and start your engines. Once blitzing, pour in enough oil to form an emulsion–you're probably looking at 100ml or so, but again, don't stint. Think American bartender with yur wrist action. You want this sloppy. Plain olive oil is fine, although I've transitioned onto English rapeseed oil, which is just as good and doesn't have the air miles attached.

You'll probably want to scrape down the sides of your bowl now, then add the juice of a lemon and a palmful of capers, complete with either the brine or salt they came in. Blitz again. Now taste. You want a bright, zingy, herby flavour. At this stage, it'll probably need something. Probably a little more salt or lemon. You'll know when you've hit the sweet spot–it'll taste like someone's popped off a herb bomb in your mouth.

Once you're happy with the sauce, bung about half into a ziploc bag, add your chicken, seal, smoosh everything about and stick it in the fridge for a bit. A couple of hours is prime, but if you only have a half hour, so be it.

Now to the veg. Get a pan of water onto boil, and set up a steamer over the top. Add the spuds once you have a rolling bubble, give them ten minutes or so, then pop the asparagus into the steamer and let that cook through as the potatoes finish off. Another ten minutes. No more than that for the asparagus.

As you're boiling the water for the spuds, get a pan hot for the chicken. A ridged griddle is ideal for this. It'll be ready to go by the time you pop the asparagus on. Whack the chicken, complete with marinade, onto the hot grill. Five minutes a side, maybe a little longer if you're using thick chunks of breast meat. Boneless thighs won't take as long, and the extra fat content means they crisp up beautifully.

Now, if the god of timing has been kind, everything will be ready to plate at once. The veg should yield tenderly to the point of a knife and the chicken will be cooked through and have sizzling griddle lines scored on it. That's all the work done. Plate up and fill your face.

On the side, why not have a dollop more of the green sauce, perhaps mixed into a little yoghurt? It gives a fresher taste than your traditional hollandaise. Perhaps some aioli would be good.

You can tweak this, of course. I'm considering an Asian version with coriander instead of parsley (yes, I know I've said I don't like the stuff but it can work in the right setting) and lime juice in the sauce (perhaps a chilli and a shallot as well), with pak choi and noodles on the side. I may throw some toasted pine nuts into the leftover sauce, and slop the lot over some linguini for an emergency midweek dinner. Oh, and of course the green sauce will also work with fish, pork, a lamb chop, even a minute steak.

I have a lot of herbs in my garden. I need to make this stuff weekly to stop us from getting lost in the jungle.


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Writer. Film-maker. Cartoonist. Cook. Lover.

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