Shaftesbury-born private chef Philippa Davis is back on her travels, most recently in Ireland. She cooked some delicious food – and she explains why she strays occasionally from strictly following recipes.
MY latest job was a fast, furious and fun weekend. Having flown across the Irish sea I headed down to County Carlow. I was to cook for a mass clan gathering to celebrate their chief’s 70th birthday.
As soon as I entered the house I could tell this crowd was ready to party. Thoughtful touches of welcome packs for the guests sat waiting in each of the bedrooms, giant balloons floated around downstairs, bright banners had been strung up, big bunches of daffodils had been placed on every ledge, there were enough candles to light up the entire country and a bottle or two of wine sat ready waiting to be opened.
I had been told that they were a very foodie lot, would eat anything and were all very excited at having a chef! We decided to make the two nights very different by making one a more casual sharing platter feast and the other a formal three course meal, plus canapés, cocktails and cheese.
Having not cooked in this part of the country before, I was not entirely sure what shops would be available but was told there was an excellent fishmonger and butcher. There is lots of produce I love from Ireland and that generally stands out as excellent.
Delicious shellfish, smoked salmon (both of which were part of the formal dinner), meats (specially beef), cheeses and, dare I say it … potatoes. In the same way you enter a local shop in Provence and are offered a choice of 20 different tomatoes, in Ireland you will be offered a great variety of truly delicious potatoes.
The first more casual meal on the Friday included “Revithada,” a Greek-inspired dish which I spied on the olivetreelondon Instagram feed. You will note that I haven’t dared call it outright revithada, as there seems a current trend to pounce on any chef who dares to deviate from authentic methods and ingredients in a dish .
The Friday night menu read as follows: Canapés and cocktails – Moscow mules (but with rhubarb and mint), honey sausages, harissa chicken balls, smoked salmon and celeriac remoulade on blinis, anchovy bruschetta with labneh and lemon; Main dishes – for the kids, mild chicken curry, and a Middle Eastern feast, five-hour slow cooked chicken with chickpeas, herbs, garlic and white wine served with spicy red chilli sauce and a coriander, cumin sauce, whole side of roast salmon with ras al hanout, spinach, cheese and herb pastries, honey and caraway breads, parsnip, buttermilk, apricot, mint and date salad, couscous with toasted almonds, crispy onions, pistachios and pomegranates (pictured); Dessert – lemon tart with crème fraiche.
Recent incidents of chefs and cooks being pounced on include Mary Berry, for being so audacious as to put white wine and cream in her Bolognese, and Jamie Oliver, who nearly brought back the Spanish inquisition when he popped some chorizo in his paella. I will happily declare that my favourite paella to make is made with game stock and defiantly has chorizo in it . (And while I’m in confessional mode, I put peppers and sometimes even aubergines – yes, aubergines! – ) in my Bolognese as I find it’s a great way to quietly slip more vegetables to kids and I love the additional layers of flavour and texture. So there!).
I am totally in favour of ingredients having their authenticity stamps along with rules and regulations to keep standards high, but for recipes why not give a bit more slack? Over the years I am sure they have been tweaked and changed and I hate the idea of screaming at anyone who is trying to encourage and inspire people to cook from scratch in their own home. Purists can cook it their way and the rest of us should embrace being a little more relaxed, creative and fun loving in the kitchen.
So here is a kind of revithada with chicken and spicy sauces. So yes, technically not revithada ,which is chickpeas, onions and bay cooked for hours then finished with a squeeze of lemon, but it is very much inspired by it and for that Greece I truly thank you.
Kind of revithada with chicken
Feeds 10 – 12
500g dried chickpeas
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
4 white onions peeled and finely sliced
16 cloves of garlic , peeled
8 bay leaves
½ bottle white wine
2 sprigs rosemary
4 sprigs of thyme
100ml extra virgin olive oil
2 whole organic chickens
1 – 2 lemons
2 tbs finely chopped parsley
20g fresh Coriander
2 tsp dried cumin
2 tsp dried coriander
½ lemon juice only.
3 tbs Extra virgin olive oil.
Finely chop the coriander
4 red chillies , deseeded if heat needs reducing and finely chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
2 smashed garlic cloves garlic
splash of sherry vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
Chicken and chickpeas
Soak the chickpeas in plenty of cold water over night with 1 tsp of bicarbonate of soda (the bicarb increases the pH which helps decrease cooking times; it also helps to break down gas-causing sugars).
Drain and rinse the chickpeas well then place in a large lidded cooking pot (or split between two if needed). Add cold water to top the chickpeas by 5 cm and stir in the onions, garlic, bay, thyme and wine. Place the chickens on top, season them with salt and pepper. Pour over the olive oil.
Place a cartouche and tight lid on the pot and cook for 5 hours by which time the chicken should be amazingly tender and the chickpeas soft. Check halfway through that it doesn’t need a splash more water.
Once the chickpeas are soft, leave to cool slightly then carefully remove the chicken. Season the chickpeas ( they need quite a lot of salt) and stir in the juice from 1 – 2 lemons (add one first and taste to see if it needs more lift) .
Gently take the chicken from the bones in as large a chinks as possible (discarding the bones and skin) then place back the chicken back in the chickpeas. Sprinkle on a handful of chopped parsley.
To make the sauces
Green: Finely chop the coriander and stir in the spices some salt and pepper the olive oil and finally the lemon juice.
Red: Stir the cumin, garlic, chilli and vinegar together, season with salt and pepper then stir in the olive oil.
Serve the chicken and chickpeas warm with sauces on the side, people can spoon them onto their plates and lightly stir them in. Great served with bread and greens.
Follow Philippa’s travels on her blog, www.philippadavis.com