The appearance of smoked oysters, Red Tulip After Dinner Mints or a roasted chicken signalled only one thing in my early years – a special occasion. An odd combination you may observe, but the common denominator was price tag. By economic necessity, these expensive indulgences had to be restricted to events involving guests or calendar holidays. Today, the oyster packets are tossed into the trolley without hesitation and sadly, the individually enveloped mints are no longer. The chicken, however, once a precious commodity, due to modern farming techniques is now regarded as one of our affordable protein options and a regular inclusion in the weekly shop.
In my mother’s rural growing years, my grandfather would ‘harvest’ one of his birds for the celebration table. By the time I was growing up in the suburbs, backyard chook houses had become redundant, so to secure a bird, there was financial outlay to be considered. Today, my children witness me unwrapping white paper deli parcels of select chicken joints with neither an axe nor king’s ransom to be had.
While on the subject of economy, chicken performs beautifully in our kitchens. As practised cooks we come to learn, it is the bone centred cuts of the bird that give biggest flavour – and require smallest outlay. Some slow gentle cooking is all that is required to produce succulent tender meat playing an excellent host to all of the vegetables in its surrounding sauce. Every culture and region has its method for ‘hot-potting’ its chicken and vegetables, but it is the Italians I turn to in these circumstances. Chicken cacciatore has been served from my kitchen on occasions too numerous to contemplate, but the result is always delicious and cost effective.
8 chicken drumsticks
1 medium onion, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 green capsicum, sliced
1 red capsicum, sliced
200g button mushrooms, thickly sliced
a small handful of black olives, pitted
440g can whole peeled tomatoes
250ml chicken stock
salt and pepper
fresh or dried oregano
2 bay leaves
Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees celsius. Heat the oil in a heavy-based, oven proof pan and brown chicken well. Remove chicken and set aside. Add some extra oil to the pan and sauté the onion and garlic until soft. Add the capsicums, and mushrooms and cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Add the olives and pour over the tomatoes and stock. Mix well and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and season well with salt and pepper. Add the oregano and bay leaves and cover pan. Place pan in the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes. Serve over steamed rice.
If you don’t have an oven-proof frying pan, simply transfer into a casserole dish for baking.
Postscript: Some may consider that today’s cook has the advantage with access and affordability. I think otherwise. With limits on supply comes resourcefulness, prudence and conservation – not to mention, my grandfather’s completely natural product.