3 retro comfort food recipes that will help make life a little bit better

Posted by for Food and Drink

Because no one needs green juice and salad when there’s a pandemic raging outside.

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that when life gets tricky, sitting down to a degustation of finicky, high-concept food is not what the doctor ordered. Rather, when the sodden greyness of winter is looming, the world is riddled with a seemingly uncontrollable pandemic and we’re staring down the barrel of lockdown 2.0, it’s comfort food we want. What’s more, we want retro comfort food. The kind that’s akin to a hug on a plate, reminding you of childhood memories, happier times and when you’d yet to hear of a guy called Heston Blumenthal. 

Even The Great British Bake Off is harnessing the appeal of retro food, with this week’s episode themed around the 80s for the first time. And while the appeal of an ice cream cake as the showstopper may not translate when it’s sleeting outside, there are plenty of other retro recipes that tick all the essential boxes.

One person who’s well-versed in the art of (non-vegetarian) comfort food is Carl Clarke, owner and founder of London’s fried chicken mecca Chick’n Sours, which opened its doors in 2015 and now has three branches (plus a more casual spin-off, CHIK’N). His new cookbook The Whole Chicken: 100 Easy But Innovative Ways To Cook From Beak To Tail (£22, Hardie Grant) encompasses everything from elevated classics such as chicken, white miso and truffle pie to favourites from his past pop-ups, like the Original Disco Bistro fried chicken sandwich. 

What’s more, it is groaning with retro comfort food with a slight twist – chicken kiev is given a Thai reincarnation with the addition of shrimp paste and chillies to the garlic butter; fried rice takes on an American-Korean vibe with hot dogs and kimchi; and a classic club sandwich gets smothered in sriracha sour cream and gochujang mayonnaise for extra flavour. Find all three recipes below – bookmark them now for when life gets a bit too much and retro comfort food seems like the only answer. You’re welcome… 

  • Chicken, hotdog and kimchi fried rice

    Chicken, hot dog & kimchi fried rice

    Carl says: “This is a really fun recipe that I love and make time and time again. It’s got that American-Korean fusion going on as I have used smoked hotdog frankfurters. It’s basically breakfast fried rice with sausage, bacon and eggs and I love to make this for brunch on the weekend. The sauce is sticky, spicy and sweet and, yes, it does have MSG in it. If you prefer not to use MSG then just leave it out and it will still be as delicious.

    “The secret to good fried rice is all in the preparation of the rice itself. One trick I have learned over the years is to cook the rice the night before, drain it really well, then freeze it overnight. By doing this it separates out all the individual grains of rice, giving you a lighter, fluffier fried rice as opposed to a heavy stodgy fried rice. Make sure the wok or pan is really hot before adding the rice and let the rice sit at the bottom of the pan without moving it around for a few minutes, so you get nice crunchy bits.

    “I finish it with American cheese slices, which melt into a gooey cheesy wonder when placed on top of the hot rice. The kimchi adds a beautiful freshness with its funky acidity that works a treat.”

    Serves 4

    Ingredients

    • 150g dry cured streaky bacon, cut into 1 cm lardons (small cubes)
    • 1 large boneless chicken breast, cut into 2cm dice
    • ½ tablespoon vegetable oil
    • 100g onions, sliced into thin strips
    • 500g cooked rice (175g uncooked)
    • 75g shop-bought kimchi
    • 100g smoked frankfurters
    • 2 eggs
    • 2 American cheese slices
    • toasted nori seaweed strips, to garnish

    For the sauce:

    • 2 tablespoons gochujang (Korean red chilli paste)
    • 3 tablespoons sesame oil
    • 2 tablespoons ketchup
    • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
    • 1 teaspoon MSG (optional)
    • 1 teaspoon caster sugar
    • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

    Method

    To make the sauce, mix all the ingredients together in a bowl until combined. Set aside.

    Next, fry the bacon lardons in a large frying pan or wok over a medium high heat for 3–4 minutes until golden brown and crispy but not burned. Remove the bacon from the pan, add the chicken and cook for 4–5 minutes until cooked through. Remove from the pan, then add a little more oil, if needed, and fry the onions over a high heat for 2–3 minutes until slightly charred and golden brown.

    Add the rice to the very hot pan, mix with the onions and spread it out over the base. Do not move for 1–2 minutes so it becomes crispy on the bottom. Stir in the crispy bacon, chicken, kimchi and frankfurters and cook for another 1–2 minutes. Add the sauce and toss to combine.

    In a very hot separate large pan, fry the eggs over a high heat for 2–3 minutes until crispy on the bottom but still have soft yolks.

    Pile the rice onto plates and arrange the cheese slices on top, then place the fried eggs on top of the cheese and garnish with strips of toasted nori seaweed.

  • A reimagined club sandwich

    Chicken club sandwich recipe

    Carl says: “A club sandwich is my poolside go-to on holiday every time. There’s something decadent about the triple-layered toasted sandwich full of different flavours and textures that just feels luxurious and a treat.

    “However, it’s a difficult sandwich to get right for many reasons. The timing of putting it together is crucial as the toasted bread needs to remain crisp and not soggy when you eat it. I have added an Asian twist to my club using gochujang and sriracha (hot chilli sauce). I have also replaced the traditional hard boiled egg with an omelette that’s sliced beforehand, making the assembly much quicker. Traditionally made with sliced white bread, I prefer to use a buttery thickly sliced brioche to add some luxury. This is a great sandwich for breakfast, a snack or even dinner with chips.”

    Serves 1

    Ingredients

    • 2 eggs
    • 2 spring onions, sliced
    • 2 tablespoons rapeseed oil
    • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
    • 1 poached or pre-cooked chicken breast, diced
    • 1 tablespoon sour cream mixed with ½ tablespoon sriracha sauce
    • 1 tablespoon chopped chives
    • salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 3 slices of thick-sliced brioche
    • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise mixed with ½ teaspoon gochujang
    • 1 large tomato, sliced
    • 3 American cheese slices
    • 3 leaves of butter lettuce
    • 1 quantity of Pink Pickled Onions (recipe below)
    • 6 slices of streaky bacon, cooked

    Method

    To make the omelette, whisk the eggs together in a bowl. Add the sliced spring onions, then add a little of the rapeseed and all of the sesame oil. Heat the remaining rapeseed oil in a small frying pan, pour in the omelette mixture and cook for 2 minutes on each side, until firm. Roll and leave to chill in the refrigerator until cool, then cut into thick slices and set aside.

    To make the chicken salad, mix the diced chicken with the sriracha sour cream in a bowl, then add the chives, season and set aside.

    Toast the brioche, then spread liberally with the mayonnaise. Arrange the tomatoes in a single layer on top, then arrange the cheese slices on top of the tomatoes. Lay the sliced omelette on top of the tomatoes, then the lettuce.

    Add another piece of brioche, then arrange the diced chicken salad mix on top, then lay the pickled onions on and arrange the bacon on top of the onions. Finally, add another layer of lettuce on top of the bacon, spread with more mayonnaise and top with another brioche slice.

    Cut the sandwich into quarters and secure with fancy cocktail sticks.

    Pink Pickled Onions

    Makes 1 jar

    Carl says: “I have made and used this recipe for years in all my restaurants in some form or another. In Mexico, they serve them with everything from quesadillas to tacos. If done right, the colour is a beautifully vibrant pink that always adds a smile to the dish you are serving them with. Do try to use Mexican oregano if you can, which is available online. It is more robust in flavour and closer to lemon verbena than ordinary oregano.”

    Ingredients

    • 3 large red onions, very thinly sliced

    For the pickle liquor:

    • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
    • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
    • 1 teaspoon dried oregano (Mexican, if you can get it)
    • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 1 teaspoon Maldon sea salt
    • 150 ml (5 fl oz/scant 2⁄3 cup) cider vinegar
    • 150 g (5 oz/2/3 cup) caster (superfine) sugar
    • 150 ml (5 fl oz/scant 2⁄3 cup) mineral water

    Bring all the pickle liquor ingredients to the boil in a large saucepan. Place the sliced onions in a separate heatproof container large enough to hold all the liquid. As soon as the pickle liquid boils to pour it straight over the onions. Weigh them down with something heavy, such as a small plate, and leave to cool to room temperature. Once cooled, chill in the refrigerator overnight. They should be a vibrant pink within a few hours. They will keep for at least 3 months.

  • Reimagined chicken kiev

    Chicken kiev with a twist

    Carl says: “I love chicken kiev, an absolute classic dish, which is a beautiful thing when done right. It’s simple in its components but you need to have some skills to keep the garlic butter inside while it’s cooking. The best moment is when you slice into one and the molten garlic butter sprays out in all directions. The trick is to seal the chicken breasts well after stuffing them with the flavoured butter, then put the breasts back in the refrigerator to chill right down and to keep the butter nice and cold before cooking.

    “I wanted to have some fun in this book and put my own spin on a couple of classic dishes. Not that there’s anything wrong with the original recipe, it’s just the way my mind works when looking at food. My imagination runs wild and a million ‘what ifs’ pop into my head. 

    “Here, I’ve given it a kind of Thai twist, adding shrimp paste, palm sugar, lime juice and chillies to the butter for some heat. If the butter is soft it will escape during the cooking process and there’s nothing worse than an empty kiev! This dish is great served with a green salad dressed with lemon oil or – as I like it – with fries.”

    Serves 4

    Ingredients

    • 2 eggs
    • 200g plain flour
    • 200g panko breadcrumbs
    • 1 litre rapeseed oil

    For the garlic butter:

    • 1 teaspoon shrimp paste, roasted
    • 1 bird’s eye chilli, deseeded (optional)
    • 1 garlic clove
    • 1 large banana shallot, finely diced
    • 1 teaspoon coconut palm sugar
    • 2 tablespoons lime juice
    • 250g good-quality unsalted butter
    • 2 tablespoons chopped coriander
    • 4 large boneless chicken breasts, skin on

    To serve:

    • Crunchy green salad
    • Fries

    Method

    To make the garlic butter, blend all the ingredients, except the coriander, together in a food processor until smooth, then mix in the chopped coriander. Set aside.

    Using a sharp knife, make an incision in the side of the chicken breasts without going all the way through to the other side. Divide the garlic butter into 4 portions and pack each portion into the chicken pockets. Pull the flesh over the butter to seal and chill in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour to set.

    Preheat the oven to 180°C (gas 4).

    Beat the eggs in a bowl, then place the flour in a second bowl and add the panko breadcrumbs to a third bowl. Dip each chicken breast first into the flour, shaking off excess, then dip into the egg and finally dip into the breadcrumbs until the chicken is evenly coated on both sides. Return to the refrigerator to set for 30 minutes.

    Heat the oil in a wok or deep saucepan to 160°C, or until a cube of bread dropped in sizzles in 30 seconds. Deep-fry the chicken in pairs for 3–4 minutes on each side, or until golden brown. Remove and place the chicken kievs on a baking tray and bake for 8–10 minutes until cooked through.

    Serve with a crunchy green salad or fries.

    The Whole Chicken: 100 Easy But Innovative Ways To Cook From Beak To Tail by Carl Clarke (£22, Hardie Grant) is out now

Photography: © Robert Billington

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