This meal wasn't intended to be what it turned out to be, at all. However, sometimes us cooks are just blessed with happy accidents like that. I can hear you all laughing hollowly and saying "maybe for some people!" and yes, it's true that more often than not, when you go off piste and start creating something from scratch, it can go appallingly wrong.
However (and you knew there was one of those coming, didn't you!), I have learned that where "home creations" are concerned, it is good to keep the list of ingredients down. The more flavours you throw at a dish, the more likely it is that at least two of those ingredients will clash. Which makes me wonder how on earth this recipe wound up with fifteen ingredients - and still worked. I guess we'll just call it luck.
Originally, it was supposed to be an easy recipe of pork and courgettes with a sauce made with Sainsbury's Speciality Ingredients' Porcini Mushroom Paste. The changes began to set in when hubby got to the butcher and discovered that the pork is no longer on special offer and the chicken breasts were cheaper. So, we swapped from pork to chicken - which was perfectly acceptable.
However, discovering that the lid of the Porcini Mushroom Paste was loose and the contents had obviously been tampered with, wasn't so acceptable. I sat there looking disconsolately (and slightly disbelievingly) into the paste jar, wondering what the heck I was going to do now. We, quite obviously, couldn't use the Porcini paste, which was a great shame. I expect it was simply a matter of someone back at base having got curious and opened the jar for a sniff rather than somebody maliciously opening the jar to include something dodgy in the paste (it happens!), but there were too many chances to warrant taking any of them with it.
So, into the bin it went and I was left with no base for my sauce. It occurred to me that this was rather like the Masterchef Box Challenge. Along the lines of "here are your ingredients, now make something edible!". Initially, I was a bit stuck - until I remembered a can of Campbell's Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup that had been lurking in the can cupboard. That was a start - but what other flavours to go with the creaminess of the sauce that would increase the flavour dimensions? Fill in the blank : " ........ and mushroom cream sauce". Sherry? Yes! "Chicken in a Mushroom & Sherry cream sauce" that made sense! A sort of fricasee.
I set off along those lines. The only thing I would do differently in the future, would be to not include quite so much smoked bacon as the saltiness was a bit intrusive amongst the flavours. Hence, I've adjusted the recipe down to three rashers from the six rashers I started off with. I want the bacon in there, as it adds a great base note from which to build the flavours and can increase the savoury quotient, when you've a lot of potentially sweet ingredients, like onion and sherry.
I had a few mushrooms lurking in the bottom of the fridge, so they went in to help with the mushroom effect of the soup.
The only sherry I had to hand was a cream sherry - which is a sweeter type. Hence, to offset some of that sweetness, I added a teaspoonful of white wine vinegar just to sharpen it all up a little - which worked perfectly.
I'm a very definite convert from using stock cubes, to using stock powder. I was sent six different flavours of stock powder from Essential Cuisine to try - and so far, have only used three of them. I made use of the chicken version in this dish and it is so great to be able to infuse stock flavour into something like a cream sauce, without having to introduce water that then needs to be reduced again. It keeps the intensity of the flavour, which in turn means you don't need to use as much of the powder. It blends in perfectly, without any hint of powderiness or lumps and has been a real godsend for several dishes I've made just recently.
I served the chicken mixture with some of Napolina's Mafalda Corta pasta, which is delightfully wiggly but comes in short pieces as opposed to something like tagliatelle - which always results in the majority of the sauce going down the front of my shirt. I joke with you not - you just ask my hubby about the Chinese noodle dish I only just ate, one day. Awesome.
Because of the mushrooms and courgettes included in the chicken mixture, I reckon this is a pretty darned versatile dish. You could serve it with pasta, as I did, or alternatively with anything from rice through to mashed potatoes. Yummy!
CREAMY CHICKEN & COURGETTES (serves 3-4)
3 rashers smoked streaky bacon, diced
1 medium onion, finely diced
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
2 medium courgettes, cut into 3-4mm slices
3-4 chestnut mushrooms, cut into 3-4mm slices
3 boneless & skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite size chunks
freshly ground black pepper
half a tsp of dried thyme
2 tbsp cream sherry plus a teaspoonful
1 tsp white wine vinegar
2 tbsp Campbells' condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 heaped tsp low salt chicken stock powder (or 1 low salt chicken stock cube, crumbled)
2 tbsp double cream
a handful of parsley, chopped finely.
1. Heat a deep frying pan or wok and add the bacon. Fry on a medium to hot heat until all the water has come out of the bacon and it is starting to fry in its own grease. Add the onion and keep the contents of the pan moving until the onion has softened. Remove and set aside.
2. Add one tbsp of the rapeseed oil, then the courgettes and mushroom. On the same heat as previously (hopefully, the pan is still hot), fry until the courgettes are softened and are showing some colour. Only let them sit for seconds at a time. It is best to keep them moving as in such a hot pan it would be easy to let them burn, when they become bitter and nasty. You don't want that! Once they are softened and coloured (the mushrooms are just along for the ride), remove and set aside.
3. Add the remaining tbsp of rapeseed oil and, while the pan is still hot, add the chicken. Fry quickly on a hot heat to colour and seal the outside of the chunks.
4. Add a good quantity of freshly ground black pepper and the thyme. Stir to combine.
5. Add the bacon & onion mixture to the pan and stir to combine.
6. Add the sherry and vinegar to the pan and allow it to bubble like mad to burn off the alcohol. When reduced by half, add the stock powder and water. Stir again.
7. Add the mushroom soup and stir well to ensure all the lumps are dispersed.
8. You can now turn the heat down to a simmer.
9. Add the courgettes and mushrooms and the cream. Stir gently and allow to simmer until the chicken is completely cooked. Stir through half of the parsley.
10. Serve with pasta ribbons and a sprinkling of the remainder of the parsley.