A posh bird indeed

2009-04-16 00:00

Last week a picture of me and my partners appeared in this newspaper, looking as if Fleetwood Mac or a banjo trio from the American deep south were reforming in the midlands. The truth is that we are aging London chefs and restaurateurs wanting to be a part of the new South Africa by opening a new gaff (London slang for “premises”) in Howick. We are determined not to be expensive little show-offs, but rather to offer simple, good value grub sourced locally, supporting small producers and artisans in the immediate area.

Starting this column, I thought I’d kick off with chickens.

Now there is chicken and there is chicken. The battery budget bird versus the free-range fowl. How on earth did we manage to allow something so easy to get right to become so horribly wrong?

Of course our grandparents would know a good chicken when they see one, but today’s price-conscious consumer probably doesn’t. Supermarket birds are reared in those monumental sheds (factory farming — making them easier and cheaper to produce) that I imagine to be full of Orwellian horrors. Their joints bruised and unable to stand and support their own weight, they are flavourless or worse, tasting of the fish pellets they’re often fed.

I was lucky enough to be introduced by one of my latent chefs, Phumelele Khumalo, to a Merrivale woman, Thobile Manyoni, who produces a very posh bird indeed, brought up on a diet of mealies, sung to and probably massaged daily and nurtured like Japanese Kobe cattle.

Here is my recipe for Thobile’s wonderful chicken that we do at the Corner Post:

• Contact Thobile for her chickens at 073 311 2556.

• Dan Evans is head chef at the Corner Post Bar and Dining Room in Howick. Phone 033 330 7636 or see www.cornerpost.co.za

Grilled free-range chicken breast with garlic mayonnaise (aioli)

On a pre-heated cast-iron, ribbed grill or braai, lay the breasts skin side down and cook for a few minutes, then turn 45 degrees for a few more minutes, turn over and repeat until firm. Remove from heat and allow them to rest covered. Try hot places so they lightly “steam” and “relax”. Save the juices to pour over what ever you like later.

For the aioli (garlic mayonnaise): 4 garlic cloves

2 egg yolks

300ml olive oil

300ml sunflower oil

Salt and pepper

A little hot water

Juice of half a lemon

You can make the aioli in a food blender or with a pestle and mortar, which I prefer. Place garlic and room- temperature egg yolks in mortar, pound and add a steady stream of oil, followed by the lemon juice. A good aioli should be mounted slowly, rhythmically and regularly, the pestle turned always in the same direction — and when finished should be stiff and heavy with a sweaty surface. Lastly, stir in a tablespoon of boiling water to seal the aioli, then add salt and pepper to taste.

To serve:

Place “rested” chicken breast on a plate with simple boiled potatoes, parsley, and a dollop of this gorgeous mayonnaise and some lemon wedges. Eat with a cold beer or cider (better than wine).

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