Chook in Clay
Sorry, not the best photo but this one was taken late in the evening at A's house.
My boyfriend is half Dutch and has spent a lot of time studying German both here and in Germany; consequently he has an interest in traditional Germanic-style foods. This is a good thing, as I really love those foods as well, and between us we get lots of bratwurst, sauerkraut, stroopwafels and honey cake. Last year, while at a friend's house we saw a pile of odds and ends destined for a garage sale, and amongst them was a Romertopf. We pounced on it and offered money, but our friend said he would be glad to donate it to us for worthy food causes. A Romertopf is a classic Germanic unglazed clay cooking vessel, of Roman origin, that you soak in water before use, then fill with various things that you want to eat, before putting on the clay lid and baking it in the oven. The clay will not absorb the cooking juices but instead let off a bit of humidity during the roasting process and keep the meat nice and moist. It's a healthy and simple way to cook, that was very popular here in Australia during the 70s/80s. I think it should be more popular, because it really is so easy and tasty. How difficult can it be to chuck some meat, vegies and liquid in the oven when you come home from work?; after you've faffed around a bit your dinner is cooked for you!
So, I was sitting at work on Friday when I received an email from him announcing that he was going to cook dinner that night - did 'roce ching' (say it in a lazy Aussie accent) in the Romertopf sound good? You betcha! And you know, to know that somebody is making a nice dinner for you after a long day at work is the most lovely feeling. I smiled each time I thought about it.
Evidentally, fuelled by our discussion about Nigel Slater and his cooking-by-instinct rather than strictly-by-recipe ideas, A read up on cooking times and proportions, and then decided to create his own meal. He stuffed the chicken with lemon and thyme and chopped carrots, parsnip and onion to place around it. He then poured in about 1/2 cup of white wine, which we later realised was a bit too much; combined with the chicken and lemon juices, the vegetables and bottom half of the chicken poached in broth, rather than baked. But I tell you, whoa - carrots poached in wine taste bloody awesome! He added more fresh thyme and parsley over the chicken and cooked it for about 1.5 hours. I turned up just as he making a big pot of creamy mashed potatoes and cooking some green beans. His choice to then make a mustard sauce concerned me; it was really late and I was famished. I could have eaten the Romertopf itself at that point, but sometimes you have to indulge... He had made a special trip to the European supermarket to buy a real crock of Pommery mustard, and added a few spoons to a roux he made of flour, butter and milk. I tasted it and thought it was far too strong for the chicken, but had to eat my words when I realised how perfectly it complemented the sweet, tender meat and vegetables. Yes, sometimes I can be wrong! Doesn't happen often, though! ;-)
The smell when he took the lid off was just incredible - fragrant chickeny, winey, herby steam....mmmm. Nothing says winter is coming like an oven-cooked meal.
Sorry - no photos of his plating of chicken, veggies and mash. We were far too hungry and tucked right in. But if you or your mum has a Romertopf hanging around the kitchen as a folorn derelict of the 70s, I recommend you pull it out and give it a try. There's a great recipe on Johanna's site, that I'm keen to make next.