Occasionally, you're struck by an idea that's so off-the-wall that you have to try it to assure yourself that it really won't work. Sometimes, just sometimes, you surprise yourself, and your crazy-sounding idea turns out to be not-so-crazy after all. That's what happened with lavender chicken.
English gardens are awash with lavender in June and July: gentle purple flowers swaying elegantly in the breeze, bees enjoying nectar, and the distinctive fragrance filling the air after the inevitable summer downpour. It's a quintessential ingredient for an English country garden, and it's better known for its cosmetic and herbal properties, rather than its culinary uses, but it blends beautifully with honey in ice cream and makes deliciously delicate cakes. So when she wandered by a well-established lavender bush in full-bloom, DEB was — obviously — overcome by an urge to use it in a savoury dish.
The what and the how of this recipe took a little mental exertion; we travelled via different meats, explored the idea of roasting, considered giving honey a lift, but finally arrived at chicken — or Quorn for vegetarians — braised in white wine. Choosing the wine was just as demanding. Nothing citrussy, which would clash with lavender’s herbal flavour, so no Sauvignon Blancs or Muscadets; no Chardonnay, just because, really; if we could’ve found a honey-toned Colombard/Semillon that would’ve been ideal, but we couldn’t. So we chose an orchard-y Pinot Grigio. It worked just fine.
The length of time it takes to prepare this dish depends entirely on how quickly you are able to slice an onion. Literally. We contemplated sealing the chicken, frying off the onions in the fat, returning the chicken to the pan, adding the other ingredients, and cooking on the hob. I say contemplated, but that would suggest a careful consideration of the costs and benefits and lengthy a discussion, rather we looked at each other and decided 'oven'. This is a super-elegant supper, prepared super-quick.
Ingrediments for two meat-eaters and two vegetarians
- The base (this is for both versions, so add half to each dish: an onion in each, four sprigs of lavender in each dish &c)
- 2 medium-sized onions, sliced in half moons
- 8 sprigs of flowering lavender
- 2 glasses white wine
- salt and pepper
- For the meat-eaters
- 2 chicken quarters
- Chicken stock
- For the vegetarians
- 4 Quorn fillets
- Vegetable stock
Layer the onions in the bottom of two oven dishes, one for the meat, one for the Quorn, and then throw on the lavender sprigs.
Place the chicken or Quorn on top of the onions and lavender, and pour over the wine. Add stock if you need to, although the chicken or chicken substitute doesn’t need to be covered, more like paddling. Season with salt and pepper.
Cover both dishes, either with their lids or foil, and place in an oven for an hour at 200°Celsius, or until the juices of the chicken are running clear. If you want a crispy skin for the chicken, remove the lid after 45 minutes.
We served this with roasted new potatoes and garlic, braised leeks, and some baby gem squash grown by StrawberryFrog. Summer on a plate.