Irish Country Cooking
Watercress, while peppery when eaten raw, becomes sweet and aromatic when lightly cooked. If you go foraging for wild watercress, it is essential to ensure you have found a clean source. The top leaf on sprigs of watercress is always the biggest, whereas the top leaf on wild celery, which often grows beside it in the wild, is the smallest. After removing the tender leaves from the watercress, save the tough stalks and stuff them into the chicken cavity. Watercress is delicious eaten raw, but it really releases its sweet, peppery and pungent flavour when heated.
Preheat oven to 180°C/ 350°F/ gas 4.
Heat a heavy casserole on a gentle heat. Rub the breasts of the chicken dry with kitchen paper and smear them with the soft butter. Place the chicken, breast side down, in the heated casserole. The butter should sizzle a bit and that tells you the casserole is hot enough. If it doesn’t sizzle, whip out the chicken immediately and allow the casserole to get hotter. Allow the chicken breasts to become golden brown, making sure the casserole doesn’t get so hot that it actually burns the butter. This will involve a bit of manoeuvring, perhaps sitting the chicken on its side and so on. Season the coloured chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Stuff any watercress stalks in to the cavity of the chicken and sit it, breast side up, in the casserole. Add the peeled cloves of garlic and cover with a sheet of greaseproof paper and a tight-fitting lid. Place in the oven and cook for 90 minutes.
Remove the chicken from the casserole and check that it is fully cooked. Place on a dish and cover it with greaseproof paper. Reduce the oven temperature to 110°C/225°F/gas ¼ and put the chicken back in to keep warm for 15 minutes.
Chop the watercress leaves. Strain all the cooking juices from the casserole in to a bowl. Place the empty casserole back on a medium heat and add the chopped watercress and the garlic that has been cooked with the chicken. Crush the garlic, which by now will be soft, into a paste and add pinch of salt. Cook until the watercress starts to wilt and you smell it starting to release its sweet aroma. This only takes about 3 minutes. Remove the fat from the chicken juices with a spoon and add the juices to the watercress. Allow to come to a simmer, then add the cream. Allow to come to a simmer again and let the sauce thicken slightly, just enough to lightly coat the back of a spoon. If you prefer a sauce with a smoother consistency, you can give the sauce a quick purée with a hand-held blender. Taste and correct the seasoning.
Carve the chicken and serve with the hot sauce. Accompany with boiled new potatoes with mint and glazed carrots.
About Rory O’Connell
Rory O’Connell is a co-founder of the Ballymaloe Cookery School and one of the world’s most acclaimed cookery teachers, revered by internationally celebrated food writers and cooks. In his thirty years of teaching, Rory has taught many of the current stars of the British and Irish cooking scene.
In Master It, Rory O’Connell will teach you simple but essential skills to make you a truly good cook. At the heart of his approach are good ingredients, carefully prepared, and used in recipes that are tried, tested, carefully measured, and full of the essential tips and details that will make your dishes a success.
Each chapter will teach you a particular technique – like preparing a soup, roasting meat, making biscuits – and include a collection of fresh, seasonal recipes to use it in, such as wild garlic soup, roast pork with fennel seeds, chilli and garlic or caramel and almond thins.
After training at Ballymaloe House with Myrtle Allen, the grand-dame of Irish country house cooking, Rory O’Connell left east Cork for Paris, where he worked as part of the team charged with establishing Ballymaloe, La Ferme Irlandaise. In 1985 Rory founded Ballymaloe Cookery School with his sister Darina Allen. The success of the school soon saw Rory influence the style of various cookery books, TV shows and international food publications. Also during this period, Rory worked with Nico Ladenis at Chez Nico, London and Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons in Oxford.
Rory currently teaches at the Ballymaloe Cookery School while consulting for other restaurants throughout the country.
The first Ballymaloe Lit Fest of Food and Wine will launch this year: May 3rd – 6th – http://litfest.ie/ and includes an international programme of the very best food and drink experts.
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