There’s an old world charm about the Barossa in South Australia. An area of lush green vineyards and heritage fruit and nut farms, nestled in the valley of the Mount Lofty Ranges. The sun bakes the fruit producing beautiful blushed apricots, peaches and rich dark olives. It’s a valley where everyone knows their neighbour and where most people are involved in what the land has to offer. Where people understand the reliance they have on each other for their way of life to survive.
Food is serious business here and nowhere more so than in the Farmer’s Market held in an old vintners shed once a week, If you’re Barossa you can have a stall inside, if you’re not, you set up outside and the distinction is very important to the locals. Julie Donnellan making artisan Barossa Valley Ice Cream, firmly ensconced inside, nodded towards the corrugated shed doorway and told me that her milk comes from Jersey Fresh, “Just there.” The honey “Is from them behind you and the rosemary from my back door. You can’t get much fresher than that.” The original honey and rosemary flavour ice cream was a revelation, fresh, not too sweet and with an earthy hint from the rosemary.
This is a place of oral histories, stories of the Farmer’s Market saving local farmers from going under and old Lutheran family recipes, handed down from one generation to another. One Barossa farmer, with a farm that had been passed through several generations, sold sweet purple, white and orange heritage carrots to the supermarkets. Gradually his farm was in trouble, the market offered him a stall at a reduced rent where he was able to sell his produce for its true value, in the first month he had made substantially more profit than he made from the supermarkets and over time it saved his farm.
The wonderful Robin Day with a scarlet beret and engaging smile, beckoned me over to try his vino cotto and began regaling me with stories and recipes. Both told with joyous good humour and a wink of his eye. He grew grapes for wine and some years previously he took them to the local wine press for processing and putting into barrels. In this instance the farm hand forgot to put the bung in the barrel and when the wine should have been ready with a heady bouquet, it was vinegar. Robin’s total crop was ruined. But how to recoup his money?
He bottled his vinegar with herbs, local to the Barossa and indigenous to Australia, as well as tarragon and thyme and took a stall at the Farmer’s Market. He shrugged his shoulders and smiled as he indicated his now expanded range of Vino Cotto, sticky, dark chocolatey, caramel vinegar, similar to Balsamic and Verjuice an acidic grape juice wonderful in cooking, as well as his vinegars. I’ve yet to try the recipe for chicken poached and steeped in Verjuice, which I scrabbled to write down as he moved on to his next story, but it sounded delicious.
Poached chicken was a bit of a theme amongst the people I spoke to and this recipe is a combination of a couple of them with the addition of traditional noodles at the end to create the warming, old world, hearty cure all chicken noodle soup. This recipe is so easy and relatively quick that I’m thinking I’ll have chicken noodle soup to hand for every eventuality.
Recipes often tell you that poached chicken needs an hour or more to cook. I’ve found that the chicken is often tough when it’s, essentially, boiled for that long. I use a method that involves a bit more attention but is much quicker on the heat and gentler to the meat, giving a soft juicy result. Don’t go expecting a golden crisp skinned bird, this is poached chicken. The skin, once it has imparted its flavour in the cooking, is a little flabby, I usually remove and dispose of it. But the meat is pale, delicious and very moist, even the breast. I use the broth as it is for soup or as a base for a fancier dish or sauce. The meat is perfect for pies, salads, sandwiches, tacos, wraps or a lasagne, really versatile.
Serves 4-6 as soup
- 1 large onion
- 1 large carrot
- 1 stick of celery
- 2 leeks
- 1 courgette
- 10 g butter
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic
- 75mls white wine, this can be left out if you prefer
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 sprigs thyme
- 3 sprigs tarragon, leaves removed and finely chopped
- Bunch of parsley, finely chopped
- 1tsp sea salt
- 1.5kg whole chicken
- 200g soup noodles or Orzo pasta
- Chop all the vegetables into a fine dice
- Melt the butter with the olive oil in a large pan over a moderate heat, remember you're adding a large volume of water to this as well as a whole chicken and it all needs to fit.
- Add the onions first and cook until translucent, don't let them brown, then add the remainder of the vegetables and the garlic.
- Keep stirring from time to time but allow to caramelise slightly.
- Now add the white wine stirring vigorously and allow the alcohol to cook off about 3 mins.
- Add the herbs, salt and 2½ litres of water to the pan, bring to the boil and simmer for 5 mins
- Reduce the heat to a simmer and place the chicken in the water breast side down and simmer with the lid on for 20 mins.
- Turn the chicken, breast side up and simmer for a further 10 mins with the lid on.
- Turn the chicken, breast side down again and replace the lid. Turn off the heat and leave in the poaching liquid until the liquid has cooled.
- Once cooled take the meat from the bones and use in a variety of ways. I always add some, shredded, to my chicken soup.
- Bring the liquid back to a boil and add the noodles or Orzo and cook according to the packet instructions.
- Place some shredded chicken in each bowl and pour over the soup and pasta, sprinkle with a little more parsley, if you want to and enjoy.
- There will be plenty of chicken left over to enjoy in another dish.
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