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Coleraine chef passes Theresa May's taste test with signature chicken dish

 

By Ivan Little

An Ulster chef is tickling Theresa May's tastebuds, for the Prime Minister has revealed that one of her favourite meals comes from a recipe from a Coleraine-born cook and food writer.

The Conservative leader named Diana Henry's baked chicken with tarragon and Dijon mustard as one of her top three dishes.

Mrs May found the recipe in one of the chef's best-selling books, Cook Simple.

Diana, a food journalist with the Sunday Telegraph and a number of magazines, has won a raft of cookery writer of the year awards.

She has also published a series of critically acclaimed books, many of them including "quick and easy recipes for people who have little time to spare but still want to eat well".

Titles from Diana, who is also a broadcaster on BBC Radio 4, include Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons; Salt Sugar Smoke; and Roast Figs, Sugar Snow.

The author, whose father owned the now-closed Farm Fed chicken operation in Coleraine, was educated at Dalriada School in Ballymoney.

She has said in interviews that her "obsession" with food started as she grew up here, though her early ambition was to become an actor or a lawyer, not a food writer.

Her mother was a keen baker with a penchant for wheaten bread and making jam, which her daughter devoured.

"Food, for me, has always been associated with good times," Diana explained.

"Being described as a good cook in Northern Ireland when I was growing up meant that you were a good baker. And the women in my family were."

Diana's mother was constantly baking cakes for bring-and-buy sales. Her grandmother, whose surname was Miller, was always bringing family tins of "beautifully decorated" fairy cakes, while her granny made soda farls every morning.

"If I was staying with her, I crept downstairs to the smell of frying bacon and warm dough," Diana said.

"It was normal for women's hands to be always covered in flour."

Diana started baking peppermint creams and coconut ices at the age of six, and tried her hand at anything she saw being made on Blue Peter.

"I have never lost the thrill that making something bestows," she explained.

The writer's family holidays often involved visits to Dublin, but her love of cooking really grew after she went on an exchange trip to France.

Her first job after leaving university in Oxford was as a TV producer, working with award-winning chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

Soon after, she started to bake more and more at the weekends. After the birth of her second son, she came to the conclusion that writing about food was a better fit for her schedule than being a TV producer.

Mrs May's other top recipes for her and her husband, Philip, which were reported in the Mail on Sunday, were marinated rack of lamb with coriander and honey, from Israeli-born British chef Yotam Ottolenghi, and spice and salted squid, from British-Iranian chef Sabrina Ghayour.

Her favourite films were Casablanca, The Fugitive and You Only Live Twice.

The Prime Minister also named her top novels as Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L Sayers.

Baked chicken with herbs and djion mustard

1/2 cup Dijon mustard

chopped leaves from 6 springs of tarragon (or dill or chives or basil)

3 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

8 skinless, bone-in chicken thighs (I’ve also used boneless and it’s fine)

salt and pepper

1/4 cup breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Mash the Dijon mustard with the tarragon and butter until combined. Put the chicken into a roasting pan (or a baking dish) and brush or spoon the mustard mixture onto the chicken. Season, then press on the bread crumbs. Roast  in oven for 35 minutes until top is golden. Serve  with the cooking juices that have gathered around the chicken, some boiled new potatoes and a green salad or green snap beans.

* From A Bird in the Hand, by Diana Henry

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