I do like fresh apricots, but I confess to having bought these yesterday with a view to making this image. The weather forecast for today was poor, and I thought they’d give me an easy, quick photo even if I had to rush out in the rain to take it, but in the event the day was very changeable, and during the five minutes I was standing on one of the garden benches pointing the camera down at the fruit I had every type of light, from dim and flat through to vivid directional sunshine. R has chosen this frame, from the flatter end of the spectrum, because he likes the way the colours have rendered.
While I’m on apricots, please let me share with you one of my favourite casserole dishes, in which they play a key role. It’s a recipe by the great Philippa Davenport, which I copied out of Country Living magazine probably about twenty five years ago, and I’ve been making it regularly ever since.
You start with a free-range chicken, which you poach in a large pan of simmering water for forty minutes, more or less, until the thighs are cooked through and the juices run clear when you pierce them with something sharp. Take the pan off the heat and cool it quickly – the easiest way is to plunge it into a sink of cold water, making sure that the cold water doesn’t get into the pan and dilute the beginnings of your stock.
When the bird is cool enough to handle, remove the skin and discard it, and then pull the flesh off the carcase and put it in a bowl in the fridge. Put the bones back in the poaching water, put it back on a gentle heat, part-covered, and simmer it for an hour or two until you have about a pint of good stock. Pour this into a jug or bowl, cover and refrigerate it, and discard the chicken bones. Within a few hours (I always wait till the following day) your stock will have set, and there will likely be a layer of fat on the top of it that you can easily skim off and discard.
Now take a couple of teaspoons of cumin seed, toast them gently and carefully in a dry pan, and then powder them in a coffee grinder, or by hand in a pestle and mortar. Take the cold chicken and cut it into bite-sized pieces (I favour quill-shaped bits), and then coat them in the powdered cumin – the easiest way is to throw the whole lot in a bowl and get your hands in there, to work the spice onto the surface of the chicken.
Now make a roux – you’ve got a pint of stock, so you’ll need an ounce of butter and a good tablespoon of plain flour to kick it off. If you heat the stock back up before adding it to your cooked butter and flour, you’re less likely to get lumps. When the sauce is thickened and simmering, season with salt and pepper to taste, and add a quarter pint of double cream and the juice of half a lemon. Add in the spiced chicken and bring back to a simmer.
Now the apricots: stone them and cut lengthways into 8-12 wedges each, then, when the chicken is thoroughly heated through, add to the sauce and simmer for about 5 minutes. Finally throw in a good handful of chopped fresh mint, give it all one more minute on the heat, and serve.
These apricots are now resting sedately in the fridge, and one day next week I’ll be buying a chicken and making this again. It already seems far too long since we last ate it, but it needs fresh apricots to be available – don’t even think, as I once foolishly did, of making it with dried fruit.