Elderflower Chicken ‘Cecil’ Salad
This post first appeared on the Great Britsh Chefs blog.
Over the last few days, in a small dark corner of my kitchen, a bucket has been sitting innocuously on the side; the contents of which have been pleasantly bubbling and fizzing away to themselves. And every time I have gone to check on it, by way a lifting an old tea towel and poking my nose over the rim, I’ve walked away veritably bubbling and fizzing myself. For this year I am making elderflower champagne for the first time and the whole process has been pretty exciting. Call me a lush but the prospect of making something even mildly alcoholic always puts me in a spin. Knowing that in just over a week’s time, I will be able to pop a cork and send torrents of effervescent, sparkling wine tumbling downwards into flutes, cups and mugs is even more thrilling.
I say pop a cork, I mean unscrew a cap. We’ve been saving up plastic lemonade bottles to decant the fizz into for fear of stories of exploding glass. By all accounts, elderflower shampoo is volatile stuff.
But yes, the Elder trees are bursting again once more with flowers which is always exciting in itself. Some people turn their noses up at the thought of elderflower as an ingredient, citing the Tom cat smell that can linger in the kitchen. However, I love cooking with it and I am always on the lookout for different ways to use elderflower, especially beyond the usual sweet approach with sorbets and ice creams and panna cottas.
One recipe I came across recently was by food writer and chef Rosie Sykes, which couples elderflower with chicken. Found in her book The Kitchen Revolution (co-authored with Polly Russell and Zoe Heron) she shows how to create a light, fragrant meal using heads of elderflower and jointed chicken to be served with rich potatoes and cabbage. So I took the basic idea of poaching fowl in a flowery broth and came up with a recipe of my own. The simple yet very delicious ‘Elderflower Chicken ‘Cecil’ Salad’.
Why ‘Cecil’? Well, I sort of like to think of this is as a spin on a chicken Caesar salad really, given that I have thrown some croutons and some romaine lettuce into the mix. But with the introduction of elderflower as a principle ingredient, I felt that a name like ‘Cecil’ was more suitably British. Not that that makes any sense, the Elder tree grows all over the globe. Oh whatever, it sounds better than a chicken ‘Colin’ salad.
I have tried this recipe out a few times now and have altered the quantities of elderflower each time and as a preference, I like to go for 4 heads of elderflower but you can always up or lower the amounts according to your own taste.
Elderflower Chicken ‘Cecil’ Salad – serves four
1 whole chicken, jointed
4 large heads of elderflower, shaken gently to remove any bugs (do not wash), plus one extra head for a scattering of flowers at the end
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 celery stick, roughly chopped
1 leek, roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 glass of white wine
500ml of chicken stock
Scant squeeze of some lemon juice
Handful of parsley, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
Handful of croutons (shop bought or homemade)
Large selection of salad leaves, washed and sliced (romaine is obviously a good choice but I’ve got loads of different types of lettuce growing at home and have used them for this dish. Little Gem, plain green lettuce and lollo rosso are all good)
Take a large flat saucepan and place on a medium heat, add a splash of olive oil and then add the onion, celery and leek and sauté until soft. Then add the garlic and bay and stir through for another five minutes or so.
Whilst the vegetables are softening, season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and then fry off in another pan quickly to brown the skin and meat.
When the vegetables and herbs are soft and begin to caramelise, add the white wine and reduce right down. Then place the chicken pieces on top and nestle the elderflower in amongst them. Finally pour the chicken stock in and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and cover and leave to gently poach and simmer for half an hour or until the chicken is cooked through.
Once cooked, remove the chicken pieces and set to one side to cool. Take the elderflower and bay leaf out of the cooking liquor and blitz the sauce in a food processor or blender. Take a clean saucepan and using a sieve to strain, pour the liquor in. Place the saucepan back onto the heat and reduce by two-thirds or until the sauce has the consistency of cream. Season to taste and stir in that scant squeeze of lemon juice. Don’t use too much otherwise it will overpower the flavour of the elderflower. Leave to cool.
When ready to eat, shred the chicken and place into a bowl, along with the croutons and salad leaves. Drizzle in a good share of the elderflower sauce, about three tablespoons and mix together thoroughly. Serve into four deep bowls and finish off with an extra drizzle of sauce in each one, followed a scattering of parsley and remaining elderflowers over the top.