This chicken is stunning – but simple to make with so few ingredients. This is the kind of food I really love to make. And it just happens to be good for you!! It’s a recipe from the “Feel Good Food” cookbook by Valli Little, an icon in the Australian food industry, chef, cookbook author, and magazine editor.
It’s not every day that you get to meet a legend in the Australian cooking industry. Well, for me, it’s never. I live an ordinary life without sparkle and glamour. So when I was asked if I would be interested in checking out Valli Little’s new cookbook and not only that, if I would like to meet her….well! Let me tell you, it was like Christmas came early!!
I have to admit, I was a bit nervous. Valli graciously invited me to meet at her house and from the moment I stepped into her house, it was like meeting an old friend. You know how some people have the ability to put people at ease and make them feel welcome instantly? Valli Little has that. The thing that struck me so much about her was how humble and ordinary she is. With a streak of cheeky. She’s just like you and I, your neighbour, your friend, your mum, your work colleague.
Oh wait. She just happens to be one of the most well known professionals in the Australian food industry. Food Director of Delicious magazine, author of the Delicious series of cookbooks, professionally trained at Le Cordon Bleu in London, widely travelled. I see her recipes everywhere!
There’s something else that really struck me about Valli. Her passion for food. (Knowledge goes without saying). She really loves what she does. I mean really. You hear about how people’s eyes sparkle when they talk about something they are passionate about. And that’s what I saw when Valli and I chatted casually about her background, family, what it’s like to write cookbooks, her apparently not-so-schmancy life in the magazine world (she really burst my bubble there), and of course food.
When I am with my family, we are usually eating, cooking, planning our next meal, talking or arguing about food. Remove the arguing part, and my morning with Valli was like spending it with my family. It was that comfortable and I was right in my zone, chatting about what I love!
I was pretty intrigued to hear more about her latest cookbook, Feel Good Food. Firstly, Valli is most certainly not a trendy-health food chef. Just like me, she pooh-poohs food trends for the sake of it – think paleo, kale, chia seeds etc.
So I knew there was a backstory to this cookbook which – in all honesty – if you ignore the title you would not actually think is a “healthy” cookbook. Actually, it’s not – she is very quick to point that out. As she says in her words, it is just about being more aware of what you put into your body. For Valli, it was a health scare last year when she was diagnosed with bowel cancer. We didn’t chat about that – I forgot to ask her publisher if that was off bounds – but I did know about it.
She talked about her treatments and the scare it gave her and her family. It was the instigator for this cookbook which is just about being more careful about what you cook with to make it better for you, without running out to buy all sorts of fancy, expensive sugar substitutes and ingredients that I can’t even pronounce.
There are so many recipes from her cookbook that I wanted to share but I could only pick one. I’m going to ask Valli if I can share another one because there are a few more that I really, really love.
I think she’d be surprised to know how many of the recipes I’ve already made. But this pot roasted chicken is a stand out. About as far as it can be from the traditional pot roasted chicken, it’s modern, fresh tasting with an Asian spin with stellar flavours and it’s clean. That’s the part I keep forgetting – this is a clean recipe!
PS If you are already thinking that stuffing the herb mixture under the skin is too hard, don’t! I have a nifty tip to make it super easy – refer to the step by step photos in the recipe below. It will honestly take you 2 minutes. And you won’t tear the skin!! 😉
The broth is sensational, it really is. I made this chicken 4 times in 3 days just before I left for Mexico and I was drinking the broth out of a cup. The base is coconut milk which is lightened up with chicken broth/stock and it has the delicate earthy fragrance of lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves (I’ve provided subs for this!), freshness from lime, a touch of sweet and salty. When I first read the recipe, I thought “the flavours won’t be punchy enough for me”, but boy was I wrong!
You know, I was actually going to interview Valli properly, and I’m sorry if that’s what you were hoping for. I had a list of the usual questions – how she got started, what it’s like to write a cookbook, etc etc.
But all that went out the window when we started chatting because a) I didn’t want to stick my iPhone between us to record our conversation (talk about a mood killer!) b) to me, it was so much more meaningful to just “get to know her” and be able to share my experience with you than typing out answers to interview questions.
I only asked her one (very important) question that I jotted down the answer to.
If you had to go to deserted island for the rest of your life, what 3 foods would you take?
Here’s Valli’s answer:
Raspberries, oysters and french champagne
Just in case you are curious, here is my answer:
Fresh homemade bread and butter*, cheese** and french champagne
* Every time I play this game, people try to tell me that bread and butter and 2 separate food items. However, I say it really fast and it’s my game so I deem that they are one food item.
** This is all the cheeses in the world. Every single type.
Who wants to come live on a deserted island with Valli and me? It will be a parteeeeee!!!! 😉 – Nagi x
PS Ugh. Seriously. This coconut broth. It is a ripper. Absolutely sensational. You will want to drink it out of a cup too.
- 2 long red chilies (Note 1)
- 1 tsp freshly grated ginger
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 tbsp coconut oil (or substitute with olive oil)
- ½ tsp salt
- Black pepper
- 1 cup finely chopped cilantro/coriander leaves
- 3lb/1.6kg whole chicken, preferably organic/free range
- 2 cups chicken broth/stock (preferably reduced salt)
- 1 lemongrass, white part only, bruised (Note 2)
- 2 kaffir lime leaves (Note 3)
- 14oz/400ml light coconut milk (1 can)
- 0.8lb / 400g baby potatoes, scrubbed clean
- 1 lime
- 2 tsp coconut sugar (or substitute with brown sugar)
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- Preheat oven to 390F/200C.
- Finely mince ONE red chili (~1 tbsp). Combine chili, ginger, garlic, oil, ½ cup cilantro/coriander, salt and pepper in a small bowl and set aside.
- Rinse and pat the chicken dry (inside and out) with paper towels. Starting from the neck end of the chicken, use a teaspoon upside down to loosen the skin from the meat across the surface of the chicken (i.e. not the legs or wings). Just go as far as you can.
- Spoon the cilantro/mixture between the meat and the skin near neck. Use the spoon to spread it a bit, then to finish it off, use your finger/hands ON the skin to spread the mixture as far and evenly as you can. Doesn't need to be perfect! :)
- Place the chicken stock/broth, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and the whole red chili into a dutch oven or baking tray. (Note 4)
- Place the chicken in the broth, cover with a lid and roast for 45 minutes. Remove the lid, add the coconut milk and potatoes then roast for a further 30 minutes, or until juices run clear when pierced.
- Remove the chicken from the broth and cover loosely with foil to rest for 5 minutes.
- Skim excess fat off the surface of the broth - I usually get about 5 tbsp of fat off.
- Add the juice from the lime, sugar and fish sauce. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add remaining cilantro/coriander.
- Serve the chicken with the broth in a pouring jug, or cut up the chicken and serve it in the broth.
2. Lemongrass: Peel the tough outer pale green layers to reveal the white part inside. Chop the reedy end off so you end up with the white and pale green parts. Use the side of your knife to bash it to break it open a bit - it helps release flavour.
3. Kaffir Lime Leaves smell like lime with an earthy tone. There is no substitute that I think comes close. They don't cost much to buy from Asian grocery stores and some green grocers and even supermarkets have them nowadays (Sydney - Harris Farms, Coles, Woolworths). And they freeze really well! Brilliant for Asian cooking - it's like the bay leaf of Asian food. Plonk it in with plain cooked rice to take it to the next level, and into any coconut based Asian soups, sauces and curries.
If you really can't find it, then grate the zest of the lime into the broth. The broth will still be lovely!
4. If your pot is not deep enough so the lid touches the chicken or you are using foil to cover the chicken, spray the top of the chicken with oil so the skin doesn't stick and break when you take the lid off (so sad when that happens).
Nutrition per serving, assuming 5 servings with 5 tbsp of fat scooped off the surface of the broth after cooking.
PS This is a post sponsored by Harper Collins, the publisher of Feel Good Food. I feel incredibly blessed that I get to work for and meet such talented people as my job!
PPPS I mentioned that I made this 4 times in 3 days, and that’s because whenever I share a recipe on my blog that is not my own and/or I have not made before, I want to be sure it works and also so I can explain some of the trickier/”risk” areas better in the recipe.
The downside of rushing to make this so many times before I left to go overseas is that I made mounds and mounds of chicken that I couldn’t consume myself. So I was handing it out to everyone I saw! And do you know what the homeless guy said to me when I delivered my last lot of food to him? He said “It’s a good thing you’re away for a month because I need to lose some weight!”.
Hmph! Apparently I’m making him fat! 😉