Super-simple chicken pasta salad for lunch

This may seem a little industrious for Soulsubsistence, but while waiting for the snow-sleet-hailstone nightmare to stop (perhaps stupidly, this is Cumbria) before the dog gets her daily gallop, I thought I would share this rocking chickeny salady thing.

chicken pasta salad

Quick twine about ingredients

Chicken doesn’t have to be breast. It really, really doesn’t. Anyone who read the 13 banned foods post from last night should have been thoroughly put off all artificially-reared chicken anyway, and breast doesn’t just contain all those yummy growth hormones, it also gets the added delight of injected water. That’s to make it look fat and lucious. Because of course, size is all that matters. (You can tell men run the world, can’t you?! (sorreeee, guys …)

There’s better flavour in on-the-bone meat anyway, so picking up the cheaper thigh and drumsticks is a great way to get organic and free range chicken without having to save for them.
The other bugbear that gets me wrapped up in a rant is people who think about what they would like to eat, and then go out to buy it, leaving a refrigerator stocked high with all kinds of perfectly servicable ingredients. The best (and most economic) way to cook is to stick your head in the fridge and see what you’ve got. That’s what happened here, but it mainly occurs every night in this house.

I was told recently that it’s more of a skill than I realise; that ‘normal’ people don’t always have the ability to concoct what they want to eat from an array of leftovers and vegetables, but I think it’s more about practice than anything else. It’s a mindset, and it can be broken to great effect.

Rant over.

Chicken, chorizo and anything-goes-with-pasta salad

Take a couple of cooked chicken drummers, strip the meat and throw in a suitably-sized bowl. Thinly slice a generous handful of spinach, and mix with the chicken.

Get the pasta on to cook – I picked orzo as a shape; little rice-shaped pieces, but really, any shape will do. Quantity? How hungry are you?

Slice up or dice a small onion, chop some sun-dried tomatoes, a piece of red pepper, and cut up a handful of black olives into halves.

Slice – super-thin – about an inch of chorizo. More if you’ve made enough pasta for the 5,000.

Wang the well-drained pasta into the chicken and spinach while it’s still hot, because it will wilt the spinach ever-so-slightly.

Add in the rest of the chopped ingredients (and remember that other additions will work beautifully too) and mix until it’s all looking pretty even.

The Dressing

I love vinaigrette dressings to a fault. I’m sure a creamy, mayonnaisy dressing would be lovely with this, but since I’ve eaten almost a kilo of mayo in the past month (oh, glorious King Edward potato salad, how do I love you, let me count the ways …), I decided to go with vinaigrette.

Using the almost empty jar of English mustard, I tipped in a few tablespoons of red wine vinegar, a teaspoon of sugar, a couple of teaspoons of balsamic vinegar, a hefty pinch of dried basil, about a clove of grated garlic, a large pinch of Maldon salt, and added EVOO at the rate of approximately three-times the quantity of red wine vinegar (the balsamic is more ‘to taste’).

Give it a good shake so it emulsifies, taste it, adjust if necessary (good luck with that, I don’t have any tips for dressings, they’re my nightmare) and add cautiously to the salad, tossing it as you go.


Prawns in Heaven

Eating in Mum’s home has mainly been great. Of course, there have been a few odd disasters, here and there, but none that really stick in the craw. Cooking in the Murdock household has always been about flavour and quality, even when we were teenagers and ate tonnes of plastic bread and margarine on the side. If flavour means that a few bones or stones get left in, so be it; mum hasn’t got the patience to fish them out (poor dad, how he has suffered) and she’s sure it improves everything.

The guaranteed meal to cause fights over the last few droplets of sauce; the one which is devoured in mere morsels of time is my mum’s Prawn Sauce. Magpie has to admit with shame that she has no definitive idea as to how mum makes it. It appears to be a roux and we know most of the liquid comes from fish stock bouillon but whenever she’s eaten it made by Magpie, Mother has declared that it’s not quite right.

Whatever the method, the recipe below is as close to the real thing as Magpie’s imagination can take us. Since we only ate it at Mum’s house under a week ago, we can both testify that this one tasted the same, at least to our uncouth tastebuds.

Prawn Sauce with Pasta

Serves: seriously, this serves 2. If there are more of you, you need more of everything.

Make up about 450ml fish bouillon, using a fish stock cube.

Saute some onion and garlic until soft. You can either leave them in the pan or reserve them for later.

Gently melt about 1oz butter and stir in just under 1oz plain flour to make a paste. Stir in a couple of teaspoons of tomato puree and heat gently, scraping the wooden spoon or curly whisk across the bottom of the pan. Stir, stir, stir; the flour and puree must cook.

Take it off the heat for a moment and begin to incorporate the stock, a little, then more, then still more, vigorous stirring is the name of the game. Keeping the heat at medium, stir until the sauce thickens. Add the onions et al to the sauce if you reserved them earlier and let them cook in the unctuous, orange sauce.

Cook the pasta – big shells are best because they hold the most sauce and whole prawns.

Take the sauce off the heat and add about 180g bag frozen, cooked, coldwater prawns (shrimps in the States) and a handful of parsley. For the first five minutes that the pasta is cooking, just let the shrimps defrost in the sauce.
As the pasta reaches the halfway cooked point, put the sauce back on a gentle heat and allow it to go as far as boiling for a few seconds. Stir it around as it begins to bubble quietly.

A Short Rant About Should and Shouldn’t When Cooking Prawns

The prawns require protection from being boiled. Their short existence before death gives them the right to expect freedom from being overcooked. What a waste of a death is an overcooked food, whether it’s steak, a dry turkey or bacon burnt to a cinder.
Prawns shouldn’t be rubbery or chewy. They aren’t Haribo sweets; they were living creatures before and they deserve a better destiny. They shouldn’t be curled up tight, with the texture of a power ball. Their flesh should have bite, with malleable resistance between the teeth. Inscisors should be able to slice straight through them – they shouldn’t need grinding and scraping through molars. Okay, we’re done with the lecture.

Treat the prawns in this sauce with respect. They just need heating through, not boiling to double death.

Get the pasta into the bottom of a couple of deep dishes and ladle the green speckled, orangey sauce over the shells.

Mackerel Days

Fish is fabulous food, easy to digest, full of flavour and simple to incorporate into everyday cooking. Because we’ve somehow become a nation of fish haters, suspicious fears of bones and skin creeping into our everyday psyche, we’ve forgotten how good it can taste when it isn’t battered within an inch of its life.

The good news is that tinned fish is about as nutritious as fresh. Mackerel is wonderful out of a tin. Mix the spicy tomato sauce type with mushrooms, onion, garlic and chilli and eat with pasta for a cheap and sapiditous meal. (About 88p a tin in some supermarkets).

Plain mackerel is also good.

Break up one portion of tinned mackerel fillets (in sunflower oil is better, but brine is fine) in a bowl. Dice a small piece of onion, as much as to taste and add to the bowl with a few pieces of finely chopped chilli, a squeeze of lime, a scraping of lime zest and a pinch of salt. Mix together, not too thoroughly; it isn’t mackerel mush on the menu.

Toast half a tablespoon of fennel seeds in a small dry frying pan until they begin to pop (keep shaking the pan until they do, burning is NOT your friend). Pound the toasted seeds in your mortar, smelling the warm, heady licquorice from the forming powder. A teaspoon of this is all you need in your mackerel salad to give it a different flavour. It enhances the smoky quality of tinned mackerel and evokes warm open campfires and incense.  (Alternatively, add a teaspoon of ready powdered fennel, but it doesn’t do the same job.)

It’s best scooped into the cavities of Cos lettuce leaves (and in the case below, accompanied by a bit of caulislaw).

You (we) Are What You (we) eat

We don’t just feed our bodies with fuel from the earth’s great bounty. We also feed them with man made rubbish, full of chemicals and pain. If not pain now, then pain in our futures. If not pain in our personal prospects, then pain for our world: the earth and her invisible inhabitants we don’t look to see.

If it isn’t covered in plastic, carried on a black polystyrene board and well-travelled, heat-treated and utterly divest of any natural bacteria, we don’t feel safe. But it is a paradox. We are the safest if what we eat is unmade and simple.

We don’t just feed our bodies. We feed our souls. If we feed our souls the brightly coloured, cellophaned hellbits*, they become addicted to the manufacturers’ dreams. One slice of freezedried, battered, frozen devilfood coming right up. There is only one way to go if your appetite takes your soul this way and down is a big part of that.

Heaven is the only way to go; and with that, hedonism. Glorious cream dishes, with bulghur on the side. Anchovies melted into garlicky, mushy onion, adorning pasta shells, followed by simple, stewed blueberries, glistening in the scant teaspoons of dissolved sugar. Life can be so much sweeter than anything an international chemical company can invent.

Don’t just subsist. Sustain your soul.

*Glossary: Hellbits: that which if we knew what went into them, we wouldn’t feed the cat. Not even a mangy, stray ginger tom. Like kitbits but without the cute kitten commercials and added vitamins. Now with NEW freezedried chicken brains!