Chicken with Griddled Leeks, Roast Peppers and Salbitxada

Salbitxada is a Catalan sauce. It most often ends up fairly finely ground – like a purée, or pesto – but I like to find chunks of tomato in it, it’s much fresher. You can, if you prefer, make it in the food processor, but a mortar and pestle gives a good chunky result.

The chicken doesn’t have to be breasts, this is just as good with a roast chicken (in fact it makes a fabulous big feast when served with loads of roast peppers and griddled leeks). Don’t feel restricted to leeks and peppers either; you can serve griddled artichoke hearts or asparagus as well. Want to make it simpler? Just go with the chicken, the sauce, one vegetable and sprigs of watercress.

SERVES 6

INGREDIENTS

FOR THE CHICKEN

  • 6 skinless boneless chicken breasts
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • finely grated zest and juice of 1 unwaxed lemon
  • 3 red peppers
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 18–24 baby leeks, trimmed
  • pea shoots, to serve

FOR THE SALBITXADA

  • 250g (9oz) tomatoes
  • 2 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
  • sea salt flakes
  • 3 tbsp blanched almonds, lightly toasted
  • 1 red chilli, halved, deseeded and chopped
  • 4 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • ½ tbsp sherry vinegar, or to taste
  • 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (ideally Spanish), or to taste

DIRECTIONS

  • Put the chicken between two sheets of greaseproof paper and bash with a rolling pin (a couple of bashes is enough). Put in a dish with the virgin oil, lemon zest and juice. Cover and leave for 30 minutes (more if you have time) in the fridge. Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/gas mark 5. Put the peppers in a roasting tin, drizzle with regular oil and season. Cook them in the oven for 40 minutes, until soft and scorched in places.
  • Meanwhile, make the sauce. Drop the tomatoes into boiling water for 20 seconds or so, then run cold water over them and peel off the skins (I sometimes can’t be bothered). Halve the tomatoes, scoop out the seeds and core and chop the flesh.
  • Put the garlic and salt into a mortar and pound to a paste. Add the almonds and chilli and pound these. Now add the parsley and tomatoes and pound, but mix with a fork too, so the ingredients are combined but don’t form a purée. Stir in the vinegar, virgin oil and pepper. Taste to check if you need more oil or vinegar. It should be assertive but balanced.
  • Cut the peppers into slices, lengthways. I don’t remove the skin – I like the taste – but if it comes off naturally, discard it. Try to time things so the leeks and chicken are ready at the same time. Brush the leeks with regular oil and season. Heat a griddle pan and cook the leeks for about five minutes, turning, until nicely coloured. Reduce the heat and cook until tender.
  • Heat a frying or griddle pan, season the chicken and cook for about four minutes on each side. It should be cooked through. Serve on a platter with the leeks, peppers and pea shoots, with some of the sauce spooned over the top and the rest on the side.




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