"Cream, mustard, thyme. This holy trinity is central to so many of the classic French-inspired chicken and rabbit dishes my grandmother cooked in her old wood-burning Aga. This version has all the deliciousness of the original but with the flavours amped up through the umami boost of shiitake mushrooms. Umami wasn't something that was discussed in my grandmother's day – perhaps because it was identified as a fifth taste in 1908 by a Japanese scientist, Kikunae Ikeda. It was another, Akira Kuninaka, who discovered in 1957 that shiitake mushrooms were loaded with the ribonucleotides that help give that umami savouriness. You see, my grandfather was a veteran of WWII in Burma and so the Japanese were never mentioned. On a lighter note, throwing in potatoes and peas with walnuts and Parmesan add another couple of chapters to the umami story of this dish." ~Matt Preston.
Butter and oil, for frying
700 g skinless chicken breasts, cut in 3 cm, equal-sized chunks
4 celery stalks, cut into 1 cm dice
1 red onion, finely diced
500 g mushrooms, sliced (any will do but ideally use darker mushrooms and at least 100 g of shiitake if you can find them)
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
250 ml (1 cup) sweet sherry
1 bunch thyme
500 ml (2 cups) chicken stock, simmering
500 g frozen peas
200 g walnut pieces
100 g Parmesan, finely grated
Salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs grapeseed oil
120 ml (1/2 cup) cream
12 small boiled potatoes, to serve
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and chopped
In a large pan over a medium heat melt a little butter in olive oil, then fry your
chicken breast chunks in two batches until golden edged. Add half the celery dice and all of the onion to the second batch. Remove each batch when the chook is still a little squidgy and undercooked in the middle. Tip out the veg, too, and keep everything warm.
Throw your mushrooms into the now empty chook pan and sauté them until they start to soften. Add the garlic and the Dijon mustard. Cook for 2 minutes. Whack up the heat and when the pan is very hot (after 2 minutes) pour in the sweet sherry and half the thyme, the leaves still attached to the branch. Everything will bubble furiously. Let the sherry reduce by half and add half the stock. Let this reduce by half again. Remove the thyme.
Drop the frozen peas into the remaining simmering chicken stock for about a minute, until they are just done. Drain the peas, reserving the stock. Crunch 50 g of the walnuts and toss in with the reserved peas in their pan.
Using a stick blender blitz the rest of the walnuts with the Parmesan; drizzle in the reserved chicken stock to lubricate this process. Season well – it should almost taste salty but not quite. Check the consistency – creamy is the word that should leap to mind. Now turn the stick blender back on and slowly drizzle in the grapeseed oil. The walnut dressing should fluff up a little.
Throw the chicken back in with the sweet, stocky mushrooms and add the rest of the uncooked celery. This will give the finished dish some fresh crunch. Pour in the cream and stir. Let the cream bubble, the sauce thicken and everything get nice and toasty. Taste and season if required; it usually is.
Dress the chook with the leaves picked from the rest of the bunch of thyme. Serve with boiled potatoes (buttered and tossed with chopped parsley) and the peas and walnuts draped with walnut ‘oli’ (that’s an ‘aioli’ without the ‘ai’!).
Those peas and walnuts with the rich walnut dressing are wonderful tossed through pasta with Parmesan and lemon.
Or, fry the chicken pieces in butter with 1/2 bunch chopped tarragon. When almost cooked, remove the chicken and keep warm. Throw in a handful of seedless grapes and, with the pan over the heat, give them a toss for a minute. Now deglaze the pan with 1/4 cup white wine vinegar. Leave the grapes in. When the gravy is reduced and you’ve scraped off all the tasty burnt bits, pour in 200 ml of cream and stir. Let it bubble away for a couple of minutes. Return the chook to the pan, plus another handful of small seedless grapes and the remaining tarragon. Stir to coat and warm. Serve on mash with a crisp salad.
Credits: Cookbook: 187 Recipes That Will Make You Incredibly Popular by Matt Preston is published by Plum, RRP $39.99’
Photo Credits: Cookbook: 187 Recipes That Will Make You Incredibly Popular by Matt Preston is published by Plum, RRP $39.99’