Lemon chicken is the dish I always want to teleport my mother to my kitchen to cook. This is a partly because it’s a supper that always makes me feel as if I’m looking after myself (or being looked after), and it’s perfect after a run of existing on toasted sandwiches and bags of crisps – or, conversely, too many over-rich dinners. Chicken and rice has a restorative quality, and in the recipe below the flavours of the sweet carrots and leeks don’t just meld beautifully, they are nourishing too, and the sauce peps-up the whole thing.
All these gentle flavours require is a simple, inexpensive wine. Even if I were on an unlimited budget I probably wouldn’t spend much – it just wouldn’t feel right. The soft curves of chardonnay work well, but the swagger of a white burgundy is not needed here. Go instead for a humbler incarnation of the grape with only a little oak or none at all.
If you want to match your wine with the sauce, choose one that is bright with little stabs of citrus. A gavi (made from cortese) will do, as will arneis, which also hails from the Piedmont region of Italy. Otherwise, this is a good time for delicate whites made from grüner veltliner, under-rated white blends from the Rhône, or even pinot grigio, a grape I rarely recommend, but it’s perfect here.
Four bottles that are great with chicken
Chardonnay Pays d’Oc 2013 France, 13% (Aldi). Stylish and simple, a third of the wine in this wine is from Limoux, a region that’s acquiring a reputation for smart chardonnay.
Frunza Pinot Grigio 2013 Romania, 12.5% (Oddbins). Who’d have guessed a Romanian pinot grigio could be so drinkable? Clear and pretty.
Araldica Gavi 2013 Italy, 11.5% (Majestic Wine). Made from the cortese grape in north-west Italy, this is a typically crisp, lemony white that tastes as if it’s studded with shards of lemon and grapefruit pith.
Reserve du Boulas Laudun Cotes du Rhone Villages 2013 France, 14% (M&S). White Côtes du Rhône is another underrated style, but this is a lovely wine – very together, quite discreet, made with grenache blanc and pretty clairette blanche.
Lemon chicken with carrots and leeks
2 hours 30 minutes, serves 4, easy
onion 1 medium, finely chopped
chicken (approx 1.5kg)
thyme 2 sprigs
chicken stock 1 litre (or more)
carrots 750g, peeled and cut into 3cm chunks
leeks 5-6 medium, washed and sliced
basmati rice 350g
lemon 1, juiced
egg yolks 2
chicken stock ½ cube, crumbled (optional)
Heat the oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6. Fry the onion in butter or oil until soft, then transfer to a roasting tin. Season the chicken and stuff with the thyme, then put on top of the onion. Pour 1 litre of hot stock around the chicken, then cover with foil. (The amount of liquid you need will depend on your size of tin). Cook for 50 minutes.
Baste the chicken and add the carrots to the tin. There should be enough liquid to almost cover the carrots. Cover again and cook the chicken for 30-40 minutes until the carrots are just cooked and the chicken juices run clear. Remove the carrots, cover with foil and leave in a warm place.
Remove and reserve 300ml of stock from the tin, then add the leeks. Ensure the leeks are covered in stock. Increase the oven temperature to 220C/fan 200C/gas 7, return the tin to the oven, uncovered, and allow the chicken to brown, about 10 mins.
Lift the chicken out, cover with foil and leave in a warm place to rest. Add the rice to the roasting tin and stir into the leeks, ensuring everything is covered in stock. Cover with more foil and cook for 20 minutes or until the rice and leeks are cooked, and most of liquid has been absorbed.
Meanwhile add half the lemon juice, the ½ stock cube (if your stock isn’t very strong) and two egg yolks to the reserved stock and gently cook on a very low heat until it slightly thickens. Stir constantly and keep the temperature low as the egg will scramble if allowed to overheat. When cooked, remove the pan from the heat and keep warm, add more lemon juice, if needed.
Transfer the rice and leeks to a serving dish and pop the carrots back into the oven while you carve the chicken. Serve with the rice and leeks, carrots and lemon sauce.
PER SERVING 878 kcals, fat 27.6g, saturates 7.5g, carbs 89.1g, fibre 12.9g, protein 61.9g, salt 0.7g