Reviewed by Hayley Anderton
Chicken is hard to avoid these days. When I was a child it was a once a week treat, now I feel I’m doing well if I only eat it once a day. At lunch time it features in a hefty percentage of the sandwiches, salads, ready meals, and cooked choices that feature in our staff canteen. On my walk home through town there is a fried chicken place every few hundred yards with a couple of Nando’s along the way for good measure and then every other restaurant or fast food place all of which feature something with chicken in it. At home there will inevitably by chicken bits of some sort in the freezer and if I have friends coming round and no particular inspiration for what to cook, chicken is an obvious thing to choose (unless they’re vegetarians) because it’s quick, versatile, and who doesn’t like it? If you are cooking for children, then chances are it’s one of the only things they will eat.
A couple of years ago I made a short lived effort to rebel against the ubiquity of chicken on the menu but quickly accepted defeat; at least I can still look for variety in the way I cook it, and Diana Henry is very much the writer to help with that. Her books reflect the way I like to cook and the way my kitchen works; there are things to potter over, that will impress, that can be thrown together after work with a minimum of fuss, that will use up leftovers, and perhaps most important in this case – things that satisfy a desire for variety.
As Henry admits, ‘cooking chicken is basically easy and there’s no reason to complicate it’, so whilst there is advice on braising and roasting it’s kept to a minimum, and she’s also made the decision to dispense with many of the obvious classics – they’re easy to find elsewhere. Instead what we have is a really useful compendium of chicken recipes taking inspiration from around the world and which should meet every occasion.
As well as the actual recipes – broken down into sections that cover suppers, spicy chicken, Sunday lunches and posh dinners, salads, feasts, barbecues, comfort food, and left overs – there are also short essays on how chicken loves fruit, cream, citrus, and herbs, all of which open up avenues for experiment without the need for specific instruction. This is the sort of cookbook that you pick up thinking ‘why would I need this’ and end up thinking ‘how can I do without this’.
Hayley Anderton blogs at Desperate Reader, and enjoys cooking even more than she enjoys collecting cook books. Which is a lot.
Diana Henry, A Bird In The Hand, (Mitchell Beazley: London, 2015). 9781845338961, 224 pp., hardback.