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The perfect TV dinner

Chicken in Martini, with mashed potatoes. Quick, cheap, easy - and the ultimate comfort food.

Jason Smith

Topics Politics

Cooking has become a weekend hobby requiring guests, entire Saturdays pottering around the kitchen making a mess, and visits to the local wine merchant. Weekday meals, by contrast, are wolfed down in front of the TV or over the paper, and require only the defrost and power-level five buttons as preparation.

Does it have to be this way? I am well aware of the need to collapse in a heap with a vodka intravenous and the temptation of pressing Sky’s little yellow button for a delivery pizza. But weekday cooking doesn’t require anything other than interest, and interest will not be developed by fussing over the forest of coffee-table cookbooks that publishers seem determined to produce, or by worrying about recipes with ingredients requiring a two-hour shopping trip.

This is a cheap and easy recipe that you can still produce on a Wednesday evening, when all hope that the weekend will ever come around again has been dismissed as naive.

Chicken in Martini, with mashed potatoes.

This delicious dish takes no longer than 30 minutes to make. Martini is a tasty alcohol to cook with, and costs about £3.50 a bottle; chicken is available everywhere; and the mashed potato (when cooked properly, as a buttery, creamy ambrosia and not as a watery mush) makes this one of the most comforting meals ever.

The potatoes

For four people you will need about 5lbs of nice large spuds cut into pieces the size of roast potatoes (don’t bother peeling them, life is too short), 1/2lb butter, and a touch of cream or milk.

Put the potatoes in a large saucepan that holds them all easily and cover with water and a large pinch of salt (a heaped dessertspoon). Boil them until they are soft, falling off a knife when pierced. Drain the potatoes in a colander, reserving the liquid for another day. Put the cooked potatoes back into the saucepan and the saucepan back on to the stove over a low heat, so any residue water left clinging to the potatoes will evaporate.

When no more water remains, add the butter, and mash until there are no lumps left. Add enough cream or milk to gain the desired consistency (this depends on the type of potatoes used, but as a general rule mashed potatoes should not be too smooth). Check the seasoning – as a personal preference, I think mash should be very peppery, and so would add two dessertspoons of freshly ground black pepper and one of salt. Cover the saucepan with a lid; the mash will keep warm for a good 45 minutes.

The chicken

Once the potatoes are chopped and put on to boil, you can start the chicken. One chicken breast per person should be enough. If using a whole chicken, it needs to be cut into eight pieces and will take a little longer to cook, as it will include bones.

Cut the chicken breasts in half, or the whole chicken into eight pieces (a butcher will do this, if you have one). Melt 3oz butter in a frying pan over a medium heat and add the chicken pieces; season with a good pinch of salt and pepper, and turn them until they are golden on each side.

Remove the chicken pieces. Into the pan add a wineglass full of clear, sweet Martini; raise the heat to high and set it alight so as to burn off the alcohol. (If using a gas stove simply tip the side of the frying pan so the flames from the cooker can touch the Martini. When the flame goes out the alcohol has gone. If using an electric stove set fire to the Martini with a lighter or kitchen spill).

When the flame has gone out, add a heaped tablespoon of tomato puree, and good pinch of both ground cinnamon and cayenne pepper. Return the heat to medium and stir so all the sediment on the bottom of the pan is mixed into the sauce. Put the cooked chicken back in the pan; coat well with the sauce, and cover and simmer for a further 5 minutes (if using chopped whole chicken pieces you need to leave it to simmer for 15 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked).

In my mind, there is nothing more appetising than seeing the food served in the pots and pans in which it was cooked, brought straight to the table for everybody to help themselves. This is the perfect TV dinner, and should be ready in time for Buffy.

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Topics Politics

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