This was initially drafted for consideration for the book. You might be relieved to discover it’s not making the cut. It might be because the introduction refers to a dog with a skin disease, which is probably the last thing you want to read in an escapist tome about food and travel. It might be because the rest of the book is so crammed with gleaming recipes that this one fell off the bottom rung (the fish that John West rejects, if you like). It might be because my editor has good taste. And it might be because it’s a little…dark.
But there’s something that peeked its head up when I was creating it. It’s something that finds a voice on this blog more than other places. And it’s the understanding that life isn’t always sunshine and roses. It’s not always dinners in Michelin starred restaurants and long walks on the beach. It’s not always glossy facebook albums of sunsets on safari in Madikwe, or over Santorini.
Sometimes it’s about needing to coin a word for times when things are equal parts stressful and skull numbingly boring (they usually involve sitting waiting for news somewhere). For those in need of the word; it’s bressful.
Sometimes it’s about being unwell for longer than you’re content to swallow. Sometimes it’s about sourcing forensic cleaners. Other times it’s about disappointing people, and yourself. Occasionally it’s about being stuck in a place which makes you a little uncomfortable.
And the best you can do when that happens is suck it up and try and make the best of the situation.
These days when I need to be reminded of that, I make this for dinner.
Peekskill, New York
It was my first trip away from home overseas. It was band tour. We were billeted out with families across America. We were supposed to be kept in pairs. But on this leg of the trip, I was on my own with a single mother and her two young boys, both sporting some anger management issues.
The first three sentences the youngest child uttered to me were: “”We’ve got a dog. He’s got a skin disease. He likes to sleep in your room”.
As I put my bag in the dank basement, the ulcerated black mutt padded onto my bed. I shrank a little inside my shirt. Dinner was chicken with sweet corn. The second boy spilled his 7 UP over my plate, looked at me sourly and picked a fight with his brother. I mopped a little of the liquid up with an undersized piece of paper towel before puddling the rest of the sticky beverage into the corn. I quickly finished my dinner. I thought I could beat the dog to my room and shut the door. I was wrong.
That night I didn’t sleep much. While the dog snored at the foot of my bed and scratched his sores, I looked out onto the snow covered streets of upstate New York and wondered how to make the situation better. Years later, I collared onto one way.
Chicken, corn and sweet lemon is actually a sound combination of flavours. Instead of spilling soda over your plate, braise the chicken in 7UP to add some tang and sweetness, not unlike the lemon chicken you ate in a local Chinese restaurant when you were eight. Mint and chilli contribute a much needed lift. It’s a little trashy, but it’s also a lesson on a plate. When life gives you lemons, the very least you can do is try to make something nice with lemonade.
7 Up Chicken
1 stick blender. 1 dutch oven. 1 zester/microplane.
450 grams of chicken thighs, skin on
1 tablespoons of plain flour
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of pepper
1 tablespoon of olive oil
7 spring onions, sliced thinly
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped or grated
1 red chilli, diced
1 330 ml can of 7 up
175 grams of baby corn, roughly chopped
2 cups of sweet corn kernels, puréed
1 handful of fresh mint leaves
2 teaspoons of Sriracha chilli sauce or other hot chilli sauce
Here’s how we roll
1. Coat chicken in a mixture of the zest of half the lemon, 1 tablespoon of plain flour, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper.
2. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil to high in a heavy bottom dutch oven. Brown the chicken skin down until it is crisp and bronzed, then flip and seal the other side.
3. Turn the heat down to medium and add the spring onion bases, lemon halves, garlic and diced chilli (start with just ¼- add the seeds and the rest if you like things hotter). Sauté them for two minutes.
5. Reduce heat down to medium and simmer with the lid off for an hour, shifting the chicken occasionally to stop it catching. After an hour add the diced baby corn to the pan. Simmer for another 10 minutes. Check the flavour and season with salt. Don’t be shy with the salt. It will be quite sweet.
6. Purée the 2 cups of corn kernels and warm them. Place the sweet corn purée on the plate. Add the chicken and baby corn, mint leaves and spring onion tops to the plate and spoon over some of the lemonade, chilli and spring onion sauce.
7. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze over the top. Dot the plate with mint leaves and Sriracha chilli sauce for a bit of extra kick.