7 November 2014

Greek style gorgeousness - Chickaleekaka!

Well, what a thing of great beauty this recipe turned out to be!  I found it on Petit Chef, in a vegetarian version without the chicken (and other bits), here.  I really liked the combination of flavours and was intrigued by the use of the white wine.  However it didn't have enough "oomph" for my menfolk as a main course, yet seemed too heavy for a side dish.  So after a bit of mental juggling with a few protein sources such as ham (which I'm sure would be great, but good ham is hard to find for an affordable price), salmon, smoked haddock or sausage - I decided to continue the theme of delicate flavours and go with chicken.  After all, chicken and wine, chicken and leek, chicken and cheese, all go well together and it certainly isn't going to argue with eggs!

Just baked - and you can see the importance of the cheesy crust.
Yes, it takes a little bit of fiddling around as it's a three-stage dish where cooking and assembly is concerned, but if you start early and leave yourself a bit of time in which to give the ingredients the respect they deserve, it really isn't difficult at all.  I served mine with a tomato, spinach & red kidney bean salad (primarily for me!) and a few garlic butter doughballs (as a bit more carbohydrate for the menfolk).

Evaporating the wine.
This family all have a marked soft spot for a Greek recipe - there's something about the ingredients and the style of cooking that just hits the spot with us.  It must be the rich/healthy combination of a baked dish paired with a side salad, using indulgent ingredients like cheese and eggs, plus juicy tomatoes and healthy spinach.  Put it this way, not one person had an ounce of anything left on their plate, so it must have been good!

I was very interested to see how the wine infused itself into the chicken and suffused the leeks with a subtle but very much "there" flavour of sunshine and fruit which added the necessary acidity to cut through the richness of the Bechamel and cheese.  I added a small amount of thyme for an additional layer of flavour, which worked beautifully and didn't swamp the dill at all.

The additional mustard in the Bechamel was a great idea too, as it gave the mild, creamy sauce just that tiny edge which stopped it from becoming too much.

I can hear you wondering what cook's tips I might have for you about this one.  Well, as it happens, I do have a few!

Now you might wonder why I used skimmed milk, but added double cream.  Well, I wanted a richness through the sauce but not too much and considered that using semi-skimmed milk would mean I had to reduce the amount of cream I used.  Using the skimmed gave a perfect balance between milk and cream that didn't make the sauce too heavy.

However, the biggest tip I have for you is to make the Chickaleekaka (which, by the way, is a combination of "chicken", "leek" and "Moussaka-like-thing") in a dish which you've lined with non-stick silver foil, so that once cooked, you can lift it out of the dish and onto a chopping board.  From there, you can gently peel down the edges of the silver foil and the Chickaleekaka should stay, in one set piece, without collapse.  (The eggs are fundamental in this as they are what cause the lower layer to set).  You can then cut it into neat portions which helps to make it look that little bit more deliciously intriguing - and you don't lose those lovely crusty edges by leaving them in the dish!

A quick word about what size dish you choose might be in order, too.  You need to make the Chickaleekaka in a dish that is deep enough to give you a good 1-2cm of chicken & leek, with a nice deep layer of Bechamel on top.  Use too big a dish and it will be spread too sparsely.  Far better to go small - but deep - than too big and shallow.

My tomato/spinach/kidney bean/cress "hot plate" salad.
As for what would you serve alongside the Chickaleekaka, well I went for a "hot plate" salad, i.e. a salad that could be served on a hot plate.  This consists of items that can stand up to heat - so tomato, baby spinach, red kidney beans and cress were my choice on this occasion, but the possibilities are endless.  Just steer clear of things that wilt quickly like iceberg lettuce, if you're going to be serving it on a hot plate!

I know I'm going to be making this again very soon - and I'd really love to hear what you think of it, if you give it a go too.  So do leave me a message, if you try it!

CHICKALEEKAKA    (serves 4) 

Ingredients :

1-2 tbsp olive oil
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, sliced small
500g leeks, sliced small
half a tsp white pepper
a tiny pinch of sea salt
half a tsp of dried thyme
100ml (or thereabouts) dry white wine
20g fresh dill, finely chopped
3 large eggs
250g mature cheddar cheese, grated.

For the Bechamel :
3 tbsp of salted butter
4 tbsp of plain flour
a generous pinch of white pepper
a tiny pinch of sea salt 
350ml of skimmed milk
2 tbsp double cream
half a tsp Dijon mustard
half a tsp of fresh grated nutmeg
20g parmesan cheese, grated
50g mature cheddar cheese, grated.

Method :

1.  Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and once hot, add the chicken.  Spread the chicken across the pan to cook evenly, as it won't take long, being such small pieces.  Toss the chicken a few times to make sure every side is coloured - but don't allow it to turn golden.

2.  Once the chicken is coloured but not cooked through, add the leeks and seasoning.  Continue to fry until the leeks are softened.  You will need to toss and stir regularly to prevent the pan contents from colouring further.

3.  Add the wine and continue to toss and stir until the wine has all but evaporated and the pan is almost dry.

4.  Decant the chicken & leeks into a large pyrex bowl  and set aside to cool for 5 minutes or so.

5.  Once cooled, add the dill, crack the eggs in and add the grated cheese.  Mix and stir until everything is evenly distributed.  Set aside, while you make the Bechamel sauce.

6.  In a medium pan, set the butter to melt and add the flour, salt and pepper.  Allow the flour to cook out gently for 3 or 4 minutes, but don't allow it to brown.

7.  Add a little of the milk and stir it through.  The mix will set up quickly, so take if off the heat and keep adding a little milk, then stirring - you will probably need to swap to a hand whisk - until you have a saucy textured mix which is somewhat wetter than you would require.  Add the cream, mustard and nutmeg and whisk them through, then put the pan back on the heat and keep stirring or whisking as it heats through to simmering point.  If the mix becomes too thick, add a little more milk - but not too much, or it will quickly become too thin.  You're after a consistency reminiscent of thick custard.

8.  Take your baking dish (I used a small roasting dish that I lined with non stick silver foil) and decant the chicken & leek mixture into it, making sure to push it into the corners and level off the top surface.

9.  Pour the Bechamel over the top and again, encourage it to form a smooth layer.

10.  Sprinkle first the parmesan, then the cheddar, over the top so that the surface is entirely coated.  This will form the gorgeous cheesy crust - too little cheese and the crust will be patchy at best.

11.  Place into a pre-heated oven at 180degC/350degF/Gas4 for 30-35 minutes or until the top is a gorgeous golden brown.

12.  Remove from the oven and allow to settle for 5-10 minutes before serving with a side salad.

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