Thyme Risotto with Poached Lemon Chicken

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
1 lemon
A big handful of fresh thyme
200g risotto rice
A glass of cider
A couple of pints of chicken stock
1 onion
2 sticks of celery
1 fat clove of garlic
Olive oil
Salt & black pepper
A little grated cheddar
Shaved Parmesan, to serve

Serves 2

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 properly absorbed.

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.