Though I say it myself, this is a really gorgeous dish. I’d
never tried poaching chicken before, but I had the idea that it would turn out
beautifully tender and juicy, making it perfect to serve with a rich and gooey
risotto. The use of fresh thyme to scent the whole dish is the finishing touch –
it’s one of my favourite herbs.
2 chicken breasts, cut into strips lengthways
A big handful of fresh thyme
A couple of pints of chicken stock
Shaved Parmesan, to serve
The starting point for a risotto is always making a soffrito – cooking the finely diced
onion and celery, and crushed garlic, very slowly in plenty of melted butter
and olive oil. Set the temperature so that the vegetables are sizzling a little
but not gaining any colour, and stir gently until they are completely softened.
In the meantime, fill the kettle and put it on to boil.
Next, add the risotto rice and stir through, to coat with
the melted butter. Then turn the heat up to medium and pour in the cider – it’s
more usual to add white wine to a risotto, but I happened to have a nice bottle
of Aspall Suffolk cider in the fridge so I popped that in instead, and I
actually found that the crisp fruity flavour worked really well. Keep stirring
the rice and vegetables over the higher heat until most of the liquid has
sizzled away or been absorbed, then take off the heat and put to one side for a
moment while you sort out the chicken.
Fill a small saucepan with boiling water from the kettle
and put on a high heat (you might want to refill the kettle and put it on
again, for the chicken stock). Cut a couple of fine slices of lemon and pop in
the water with half of the fresh thyme and a good sprinkling of salt and
pepper. When the water comes to the boil, carefully add the chicken (cutting it
up will make sure it cooks all the way through). Boil for three minutes, then
take off the heat, put a lid on the pan, and set a timer for nine minutes.
Now you can put the rice back on the heat. Use the
boiling water from the kettle to make up a few pints of chicken stock in a jug,
then start adding it to the pan a bit at a time, stirring well in between to
stop the rice sticking. Don’t add more stock until the last bit has been
When the timer for the chicken goes, use tongs to turn
the pieces over, then set the timer for another nine minutes. By the time the chicken is done, the rice should be fully
cooked – have a little taste to make sure. Take it off the heat and season
well, then add a bit of butter and a handful of cheddar and stir through to
make it really oozy and delicious. Finally, serve up a couple of spoonfuls of
risotto with the chicken on top, then sprinkle with fresh thyme leaves and the
shaved Parmesan – gorgeous.