Creamy chicken casserole with bacon and thyme

1 Jun

Chicken casserole with bacon and thyme

Yes, I’m still basking in the meagre winter sun! That means I’m also still dreaming of the great food that comes with cosy weather like this. This time I am going back to a very special time in my life: the first few weeks after I moved in with my boyfriend in 2002, who has since become my husband in 2004, and father of our beautiful 6 month old daughter. The years have just swooshed by…

When I first moved in with Schalk, I was barely 24 years old. It was the most magical time of my life! On the other hand, it was also a bit controversial from my parents’ perspective. They were conservative and very religious, and according to their viewpoint, our decision was not the best one. I’ll never forget my dad’s response when I told him that I was moving in with Schalk. He paused for a long time. Then he said: “You know, sometimes in life, you’ll have to make decisions that won’t please everyone. In these moments, you have to be convinced that the decision you are making is the best one for YOU. And if that means that others disagree, you have to believe in yourself enough to see it through.” I knew he didn’t agree with my decision, but it was a very important lesson in self-belief. And also a very valuable lesson in learning how much my Dad loved me and trusted me.

So Schalk and I moved in together. And from day one I knew I had made the right decision for ME. On the first morning that we woke up in our double-garage-sized apartment, we enjoyed a breakfast of freshly brewed coffee and muffins. I will never forget the smell of the small apartment filled with our own freshly brewed coffee, the morning sunlight shining into our bay window. From that moment, my journey began as a woman cooking for her man in their house. I loved every second!

One of the dishes that still stands out from those first few months, is my chicken casserole. I must confess, I didn’t necessarily use the greatest ingredients back then, but my husband still speaks about those casseroles like they were Michelin star winners. These days I still make chicken casseroles, but I now simplify the flavours, and use only the best ingredients I can find. This way I know that my husband will always be reminded of those first magical weeks of me and him in our small apartment, loving every second of our new life together.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 12 mixed chicken pieces, preferably organic
  • salt and pepper for seasoning
  • 250 g smoked streaky bacon
  • 2 brown onions, sliced into thick wedges
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped (or 1 teaspoon garlic purée)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (remove hard stalks)
  • 300 ml dry white wine
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 125 ml cream
  • 1 teaspoon corn starch (optional)

Method:

  1. On the stove top using a wide heavy based saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat and brown chicken pieces one batch at a time, seasoning each batch as you go. Don’t overcrowd the pan, rather do more batches. Make sure that the chicken skins get a good golden brown colour without actually cooking the meat.
  2. Remove chicken pieces from pan. Now add bacon, onion wedges and garlic, frying untill the onions are translucent and you start to get a golden brown residue in the bottom of the pan. Add thyme leaves, frying for a further 30 seconds to 1 minute, and quickly add white wine before the bottom of the pan turns too dark. Deglaze for a minute or so untill all the lovely flavoursome brown bits have dissolved into the wine.
  3. Return chicken pieces to the pan, stir to cover with the sauce, and cover to simmer on low heat for about 30-40 minutes.
  4. Now add mustard & cream, and stir through untill again at simmering point. Taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary.
  5. If you like your casserole to have a slightly thicker sauce, dissolve 1 teaspoon of corn starch (Maizena) in 2 tablespoons of water, and add to the simmering sauce. Stir through. It will thicken instantly.
  6. Remove from heat and serve with soft basmati rice.
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