Cosy Chicken Casserole with Herby Scones

Cosy chicken casserole with a herby scone, served with sautéed courgettes

I love the rustic, vaguely French vibe of this meal – and just wait until you taste it. My husband and I both agreed it was one of the nicest chicken dishes we’ve ever had, proving one needn’t reinvent the wheel in order to cook something truly amazing.

The slightly radical element here is the scones. Steaming dumplings on top of a finished stew has never really worked for me, invariably producing dense, gummy balls that are difficult to time properly. Instead I bake savoury scones which are both crisp and fluffy, and much more reliable to cook.

This meal makes a perfect Sunday dinner, but it would also work really well for a casual dinner party. Either way, everyone will be in rapturous gratitude.

If you can’t get a whole chicken jointed for you and you don’t fancy doing it yourself, four bone-in, skin-on chicken legs (that’s thigh and drumstick attached) will work beautifully. The main thing is the skin is on, and the bones are in. That’s where all the flavour comes from.

Feeds 4

Ingredients

For the chicken casserole:

1 whole chicken, jointed into four pieces (two breasts with wing attached and two legs), bones in, skin-on
Salt and pepper
1 – 2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp butter
½ tbsp olive oil
2 medium onions (or one very large one), diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
2 – 3 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 bay leaf
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
½ cup dry white wine (Chardonnay is nice here)
300ml low-sodium chicken stock
To serve: 4 tbsp chopped parsley

For the herby scones:

2 cups self-raising flour (see Tip below for how to make your own self-raising flour)
30g butter, chilled and cut into small cubes
2 spring onions, whites and greens sliced
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
¾ cup milk
Flaked sea salt (such as Maldon)

Method:

Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Season the chicken on both sides with salt and pepper. Add a glug of vegetable oil to the pot, then add half the chicken pieces, skin-side down. Cook until you have a dark golden brown crust, then flip over and brown the other side. Remove to a plate, then repeat with the remaining chicken pieces.

Tip: Be patient with the chicken and aim for a lovely golden colour. Don’t rush this process. The dark brown crust gives amazing flavour and this is your opportunity to render out a lot of the fat.

Once you’ve finished browning the meat, pour away all the fat in the pot but don’t wash it out. Return the pot to a medium heat then add the butter and olive oil. Add the onions, celery and carrots with a pinch of salt and pepper and cook for about 10 minutes, until the onion and celery have softened. Add the sliced garlic, bay leaf and thyme and cook for another minute or two. Add the wine and let it bubble up and reduce by about half. Then add the chicken pieces back in, skin-side up. Pour in the chicken stock and pop the lid on. Transfer to the oven and cook for an hour and a half, after which time the cooking liquid will have reduced slightly and the chicken will be falling away from the bone. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning if required – including the option to add a splash of water if it’s too salty.

Serve the chicken, carrots and the broth in shallow bowls or plates with a lip, sprinkling over some chopped parsley at the end. Don’t forget to pass around a plate of herby scones to mop up the gorgeous broth. (Recipe follows.)

Ready for the oven: cosy chicken casserole

To make the scones, preheat the oven to 475F / 240C / 220C Fan and place the rack in the bottom third of the oven. Place a baking tray in the oven to get hot. Sift the flour (or flour and baking powder – see Tip, below) into a bowl, then add the cubed butter. Use your hands to rub the butter into the flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the thyme and chopped spring onions. Add the milk and use a cutlery knife to stir until just combined. Turn out onto the countertop and gently knead twice (literally twice – no more or they will be tough) until you have a dough, then pat out so it’s about two fingers thick. Use a 3-inch cutter to cut out the scones (I get five from this recipe). Remove the baking tray from the oven and quickly transfer the scones to the hot tray. Sprinkle each scone generously with flaked sea salt, then bake for about 20 minutes or until the tops (and bottoms) are a dark golden brown. You have to hold your nerve here – large scones need to get quite dark on the outside to be cooked and fluffy in the middle. Transfer to a rack and let cool.

Tip: If you can’t get self-raising flour, use two cups of plain or all-purpose flour and four teaspoons of baking powder. Sift a second time to ensure it’s evenly combined and lump-free.

Tip: Don’t bother with a pastry cutter to combine the flour and butter (and this is coming from a diehard fan of the pastry cutter), as I find there is so little butter in this recipe it seems to get lost with a pastry cutter. Speed up the process and simply use your hands.

Tip: Scones of any nature are always best the day they’re made. Fortunately, they’re so quick to make there’s no need to do too much ahead planning. Bake the scones anytime from late morning onwards for best results.

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