Richard Fox focuses on getting the most out of three more basic ingredients
Chicken, mushroom and a tasty sauce to bind the two is a pub classic in itself, and therefore well worth considering as an ingredient combo to stretch across the full range of menu options.
Our first - and usually only - thought is for chicken and mushroom pie, and yet a trio as tasty as this deserves to be available for more eating occasions than just a hot, main meal. The great thing about this combo is that once you've made your base mixture, you're free to utilise it in any manner that comes to mind, without any further additions or adaptations.
As far as the chicken element of the trio is concerned, plump for succulent thigh meat. Not only is it cheaper than the breast, but it packs more flavour and is less prone to drying out through overcooking. It should be skin-free and cut into small cubes about 1cm square. Season it well with salt and pepper and sauté for a few minutes until lightly browned and cooked through.
On the mushroom front you have the option of going with the gastropub vibe and the distinctive woody flavour of the oyster mushroom, or the plain old white button variety. As with the chicken, just fry until lightly browned. Obviously, if you're going that extra mile on flavour and, therefore, cost, you need to adjust your price accordingly.
The sauce that brings these two pub stalwarts together in such style is the classic Béchamel. Don't be put off by the name or fancy French reputation. If you follow a very basic procedure to the letter, you will end up with a silky-smooth, tasty sauce, which is prepared in minutes, and will have you dipping into the pan again and again - "just to check it's OK".
For a pint of sauce, melt half a block of butter (125g); add an equal amount of plain flour, stir and cook for a few minutes until it achieves a sandy texture. Meanwhile, gently heat a pint of milk flavoured with half an onion. For even greater flavour, stud the onion with three or four cloves, chuck in a bay leaf and a sprig of thyme or parsley. When the milk comes to the simmer, remove it from the heat; strain and add a little at a time to the flour and butter. Stir to a smooth consistency before adding more milk. Season with salt and pepper and then mix it with the chicken and mushroom, using just enough to coat.
It's now ready to use as a fabulous filling for a toasted ciabatta sandwich for a tasty
mid-morning or afternoon snack.
Alternatively, a delicious and novel way to serve up our three amigos for a lighter lunch than a traditional pie, is in a baked bread parcel. Simply cut the crusts off some regular, thin-sliced white bread, and make it as thin as you can with a rolling pin.
Take a single portion pie dish, butter it and then line the dish with the flattened bread; brush with melted butter, fill with the chicken and mushroom mixture; top with a final slice and bake in a pre-heated oven for about 20 minutes. Remove the parcel from the pie dish, and simply re-heat for service - serve it with a dressed side-salad garnish.
For a luxury evening meal, butterfly a chicken breast, and stuff with the chicken and mushroom mixture before rolling back up and securing with a couple of cocktail sticks soaked in water. You will find this much easier to do when the mixture has been refrigerated and, therefore, has a firm consistency. Bake in the oven and serve with your traditional vegetable offering for a real taste of fine dining.
The bottom line is that the sauce-bound chicken and mushroom combination is always a firm favourite with the punters, and so maximising its usage makes good financial sense - and guarantees a healthy turnover of stock. Also, by coming up with new and original ways to serve it, your menu will retain a fresh, vibrant and innovative feel.