“A Bird in the Hand: Chicken Recipes for Every Day and Every Mood.” By Diana Henry. Mitchell Beazley Publishing. $29.99

On average I make two roast chickens a month and usually two other dishes involving pieces and parts of the bird. My go-to dishes reign supreme: Marcella Hazan’s simple roast chicken, the one stuffed with a lemon; a tarragon, shallot, tomatoes and vinegar dish from Patricia Wells; and a little something I call Breaded Chicken alla Mother Too Tired for a Dispute on Dinner Content.

In short, I didn’t think I needed British food writer and columnist Diana Henry’s “A Bird in the Hand: Chicken Recipes for Every Day and Every Mood.” But the book was pretty, with a layout that manages to be both sumptuous and simple, so I took it home and resolved to experiment with it. Break the habits. Go beyond my basics.

As soon as I hit the section titled “Chicken loves booze,” I got lost in Henry’s authorial voice – friendly but firm, charming but not gooey. Bridget Jones with self-respect.

You know the scenario. You’re home late. You’re tired and worn out. You could murder a bag of potato chips and a gin and tonic (and consider pouring yourself a glass, even though the tonic has gone flat). This is the kind of night when you need a treat. Self control has no place here. The key thing, though, is to give yourself a treat worth having, a slightly luxurious meal, but one you can make quickly.

I reached for the closest thing I could find, a stack of my son’s baseball cards, and started bookmarking the dishes I wanted to try. Henry made me want to run out and buy 12-packs of chicken thighs to start experimenting. The last time that happened was never.


After my son complained that I was depleting his collection of cards, I settled on my test recipe, an Indian spin on a roast chicken that Henry describes as one of her favorite dishes in the book. She got it from her friend Roopa Gulati, whose mother used to make it.

Its official name is “Roopa’s lemongrass and turmeric chicken with potato salad and date and tarmarind chutney.” I’m on my third day of eating leftovers and I am completely excited to turn the rest of it into a soup for the freezer. It was also the perfect dish to slip past my son, who declines all my entreaties to go out for Indian food. He savaged a drumstick, ignoring the potatoes, and then a pile of perfectly tender, flavorful breast meat. He almost tried the chutney, thinking it was barbecue sauce but then pulled back. Next time I’ll lie.

A proviso: This recipe contains ingredients I consider an utter pain to even attempt to acquire. And I used to be that dork you spot in the supermarket with three lists spilling out of her bag and a cookbook propped open in the front of the cart, quizzing the store manager about why there is no this or that available and then going to two obscure ethnic markets to find some necessary gnarled root. Now I just roll with it and look up substitutions that seem reasonable.

Case in point, this dish called for fresh turmeric. Are you thinking, “That’s a thing?” I was. Good luck finding it at Hannaford. (Maybe British supermarkets are better supplied for Indian cooking.) I used ground turmeric. Henry offered ginger as a substitute for galangal and I happily took it. Ditto for the mint instead of Thai basil.

As for tamarind paste; is there tamarind paste in Maine? Probably somewhere. But not anywhere I could find. I made my own concoction (see recipe).

Henry’s book is exactly what I want as summer fades away. After the success I had with this first recipe, I believe her “Bird in Hand” is going to amount to many, many more birds in my oven and on my stovetop.


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