Nigel Slater’s recipe for chicken and mushroom casserole, plus a mint and kefir ice | Food

Nigel Slater’s recipe for chicken and mushroom casserole, plus a mint and kefir ice | Food

The weather has been bitterly cold all week and the heating in this house is, to say the least, unpredictable. On the coldest day, with the wind howling down the chimneys, I made an old-fashioned chicken casserole, the mushroom-laden sauce deepened with sherry and pancetta. To swirl into the dark and aromatic juices on our plates, I made a purée of parsnips, the smooth and buttery kind rather than my usual rough mash. We thawed out a little more with each forkful.

I will purée any of the roots to go with a rich gravy: artichokes, swede, carrot or sweet potato, though not beetroot, which I find too thin and watery for the task. I threw everything at the chicken: whole, fat cloves of garlic, the aforementioned pancetta – a smoked version – as well as thyme, dried mushrooms and oloroso sherry. We ended up with a dark and bosky gravy and chicken that fell sweetly from its heavy bones. There was a good loaf to hand to mop our plates, but I also like a leafy salad with which to wipe up the last of the juices, preferably soft leaves, such as butterhead lettuce or watercress.

Such a dark, deeply flavoured and wintery dinner needs to finish with something sprightly and refreshing. I made a sorbet of sorts – a kind of frozen yoghurt – with knife-sharp mint and sour drinking kefir, clean tasting and bright as a button. It felt like eating freshly fallen snow, but while we were warm and toasty from eating dinner.

Chicken, mushrooms and parsnip purée

A purée of root vegetables works well here, especially when it merges with the sherry-enriched chicken gravy. I prefer a silky purée better than a roughly forked mash for this, but the latter will do fine if you prefer it. A crisp winter salad – tufts of watercress, thin slices of fennel and chicory perhaps – would be an excellent salad with which to mop the juices from your plate.
Serves 4

dried mushrooms 25g
smoked pancetta 125g
olive oil 3 tbsp
chicken pieces 8, thighs or drumsticks
onions 2, medium
garlic 6 cloves
chestnut mushrooms 250g
oloroso 200ml, or other medium-dry sherry
thyme 6 bushy sprigs
parsley a small bunch

For the parsnips:
parsnips 500g
butter 40g
lemon juice of half a small one

Put the dried mushrooms in a small bowl and cover with 100ml of warm water. Cut the pancetta into small dice, about 1cm cubes, then warm the oil in a heavy-based, deep-sided pan. Toss the pancetta in the oil and leave it to colour over a low to moderate heat. Using a draining spoon, lift the pancetta out on to a plate.

Season the chicken pieces lightly with salt, then brown them on both sides in the oil. If they leave a sticky deposit on the pan then all to the good. While they are browning, peel and roughly chop the onion, remove the chicken and put with the pancetta, then add the onions to the pan letting them soften. Peel the garlic cloves and, keeping them whole, add to the pan.

Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Halve the mushrooms, then stir into the onions and garlic and let them colour lightly. When they are glossy, add the dried mushrooms and their cooking liquor, pour in the sherry and let it bubble for 2 minutes, then return the pancetta and chicken to the pan. Scatter in the thyme sprigs, a generous seasoning of salt and black pepper, and cover with lid. Transfer the dish to the oven and bake for 40 minutes until the chicken can be easily prised from its bones. Turn off the chicken and leave the chicken be.

While the chicken is cooking, peel the parsnips and bring to the boil in deep, lightly salted water. Let them cook for about 15-20 minutes until tender, then drain. You can either put them in a blender and reduce to a very smooth cream or mash with a potato masher. Stir in the butter and let it melt. Season with black pepper and lemon juice to taste.

Roughly chop the parsley leaves and stir them into the chicken. Serve with the parsnip purée.

Mint and kefir ice

‘Like eating freshly fallen snow’: mint and kefir ice. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin/The Observer

You could use a natural, unstrained yoghurt if kefir evades you. The thinner drinking kefir or the thicker one are both good, though the latter tends to lack the refreshing sourness of the thinner version. Mint has a tendency to discolour in the heat. Keep the colour bright by cooling the syrup as quickly as possible. I fill a bowl with ice cubes and water, then plunge a smaller bowl or jug of syrup into it and the colour is better for it.
Serves 4

granulated white sugar 250g
mint leaves 20g
water 250ml
kefir 500ml
clementine slices to serve
fresh mint leaves to serve

Using a food processor, combine the sugar and mint to a moist, green powder. Transfer to a saucepan, pour in the water and turn on the heat. Once the sugar has dissolved, remove it from the heat – it doesn’t need to boil – and quickly cool the mixture. I do this either by putting the pan in a sink of cold water or by pouring the syrup into a bowl sitting in a larger one of ice cubes.

Stir the kefir into the cooled mint syrup and mix gently.

Pour the mixture through a fine sieve into a chilled plastic freezer box. Keep in the freezer for a couple of hours or until ice crystals start to form on the edges, then stir or whisk them into the liquid centre and return it to the freezer. Repeat once, an hour or so later, then leave until almost frozen. If you are using an ice-cream machine follow the manufacturer’s instructions, then freeze until you are ready to serve.

Serve the mint-ice in small bowls with a couple of slices of clementine per dish and a little fresh mint.

Follow Nigel on Instagram @NigelSlater