Lemon-poached chicken on Manchego polenta with Sichuan pepper, spinach, pine nuts, peas & beans

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Appears in

Fusion: A Culinary Journey


By Peter Gordon

Published 2010

  • About

I’m a real fan of chicken. A simple roast chicken and potatoes with peas and broccoli is a perfect meal as far as I’m concerned. However, my second favourite way of eating the humble chook would be to have it poached. It becomes incredibly moist and plump and you then have the added benefit of having masses of delicious stock to play around with as well. I like to serve the chicken at room temperature, which obviously suits summertime, but if you want to eat this piping hot, then once it has sat in its stock for the required time you’d need to turn the heat up and bring to a simmer. In China, the chicken is placed into the pot whole, but I prefer to separate the legs and thigh from the crown as legs do need that extra cooking time. However, in this recipe I brown the meat a little which gives a deeper flavour to the stock. Soft polenta is one of the culinary world’s great things - you can whip it up really quickly, flavour it with whatever you feel like, from shredded blanched spinach through to blue cheese, toasted cumin or roast garlic. It wasn’t until I went to China in 2005 that I realised how often pine nuts are used in Cantonese cuisine - I’d always thought of them as peculiarly Italian, So in this dish I’ve linked the cuisines of Italy and China together though the pine nut. Or at least tried to. Keep the poaching stock from this, strain it, then boil it to reduce to just 500 ml and freeze it for later use.


  • 1 chicken (around 2 kg)
  • 45 ml (3 Tbsp) olive oil
  • 1 head garlic, unpeeled, cut in half horizontally
  • 2 banana shallots, peeled and thickly sliced, or 1 white onion or 6 round shallots
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into 4
  • 1 lemongrass stem, bash it with the back of a knife or with a pestle to bruise it
  • a small handful of thyme and rosemary
  • 2 tsp flaky or coarse smoked salt (use regular salt if you can’t find it smoked)
  • 125 g instant polenta (sieved through a coarse sieve to remove lumps)
  • 30 g Manchego, grated (or use Parmesan or pecorino)
  • a handful of green beans, topped and halved lengthways
  • a handful of peas
  • 2 tsp sesame seeds
  • ½ tsp coarsely ground Sichuan peppercorns
  • 3 Tbsp pine nuts
  • 200 g spinach, washed and drained - if using large leaves, shred them coarsely


Cut the legs and thighs off the chicken carcass, then cut them in half at the knee joint. Heat up a large saucepan (it will need to be around 5-6 litres - big enough to hold the chicken comfortably), add half the olive oil and then the chicken thighs and legs and cook over medium heat until the chicken has browned all over. Remove the chicken but keep the pot on the heat. Add the garlic, shallots, carrots and lemongrass and fry until the shallots are coloured, stirring frequently. Return the legs and thighs to the pan along with the herbs, a few teaspoons of salt and the crown of the carcass (the body with the two breasts attached). Pour on enough cold water to cover the chicken by a few centimetres then bring to the boil. Turn to a simmer and cook with the lid on for 8 minutes. Remove the carcass using a pair of tongs, or two forks, and place it in a bowl. Turn the heat up to a gentle boil and continue to cook the legs and thighs for another 6 minutes. Return the carcass to the pan, put the lid on and turn the heat off. The chicken will continue to cook in the latent heat in the pot, and it will be cooked all the way through in 20-30 minutes.

To make the polenta, remove 650 ml of the stock and pass it through a sieve into a 2-litre pan along with the smoked salt, and bring to a rapid simmer. Put the sieved polenta into a jug (it makes it easier) then slowly pour it into the simmering stock, whisking gently but continuously until it has all been added. Turn the heat up to moderate and swap your whisk for a spoon or spatula, then cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent lumps forming, then mix in the Manchego. Taste for seasoning, adding extra salt or Manchego if needed.

Bring a pan of lightly salted water to the boil, add the beans and peas and cook for 2 minutes or so, until just cooked, then drain. In a wide frying-pan or pot, place the sesame seeds, Sichuan pepper and pine nuts along with the remaining olive oil and cook over a moderate heat until the pine nuts are golden - stirring constantly. Once they’ve coloured, add the spinach and cook it until it wilts. Add the beans and peas to the pan and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, give it a good toss and stir, then cook for a minute to warm it all through.

To Serve

Remove the chicken carcass, legs and thighs from the stock - tongs are best for this. Cut the breasts from the carcass using a thin sharp knife and slice into 4-5 pieces. You can either leave the bones in the legs and thighs, or remove them. Spoon the polenta onto your plates and sit the spinach mixture on top, along with the chicken meat. Drizzle with the poaching stock as you would a gravy.