The combination of succulent poached chicken with a tangy marinade is sublime. This is a classic Renaissance dish from Mantua in the Po Valley, with the sweet and sour flavours so popular in the Quattrocento. All it needs to make a perfect summer main course are some ripe tomatoes and fresh basil, or serve in smaller quantities as a starter. Since capons are hard to come by, you can use a large free-range chicken instead.
Ideally cook the chicken the day before, as described, to allow it time to cool completely.
At least 4 or 5 hours before you plan to eat, preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/gas6. Place the pine nuts on a lightly oiled tray and toast them in the oven for a few minutes, being careful not to burn them (they are very expensive).
Put the wine vinegar in a pan and bring to a simmer. Add the bay leaves, lemon and orange zest, sugar, salt and pepper. Simmer for 15 minutes. Taste for sweetness: if too sour, add
Pull off any fat and skin from the bird and discard. Roughly shred the flesh by pulling apart with your fingers. Put it into a serving bowl and pour over the warm dressing, mixing thoroughly. Leave to marinate at room temperature for 2-3 hours, then refrigerate overnight Remove at least 1 hour before you plan to eat.
Just before bringing to the table, dress with the olive oil and serve with sliced ripe plum tomatoes or Home-dried Tomatoes and tom basil leaves.
© 1993 Alastair Little and Richard Whittington estate. All rights reserved.