Like apples, plums are an ingredient that people can find themselves with a significant, unexpected, somewhat reluctantly received glut of. Maybe an old tree at the bottom of a new garden suddenly kicks into gear and produces a carpet of sweet, sticky, wasp-attracting fruits; maybe your neighbour or colleague is coming down with plastic bags of bruised windfalls and needs you to take some before their wife orders them to cut the tree down altogether; or maybe you pass an unloved & unnoticed tree on your way to work and decide that its efforts should be recognised, sheepishly shaking it next time you’re passing with shopping bags. You didn’t plant the tree, you didn’t set out to get them, but you have them now, so you need to do something with them.
The window for using plums is short (watch them rot in real time as you try to decide what to do with them) and unless they’re at their peak moment of perfection, they’re often a little underwhelming eaten straight from the tree. Some are too tart, some are too sweet, some are pulpily bland. To add insult to injury, lots of people are convinced that they hate plums and scoff meanly about them.
Reader, up until recently this was me. But I have discovered that just like apricots, plums are calling out to be cooked in some way, because once cooked, they have a lot more to bring to the table. In the last week, I’ve made plum pancakes, plum frangipane tart and this delicious plum, herb & rosé chicken tray bake, which went down a treat at dinner with friends. I also toyed with making some kind of plum syrup for adding to sparkling rosé at that meal but decided I had to draw the line somewhere, given that we were already having plums in two courses.
But there’s one proviso: while apricots need only the caress of heat to become seductively flavoursome, a suddenly beautiful solo performer that no one can help but fall in love with, plums can only be coaxed to sing by being surrounded by strong, dominating flavours. They need a choir of pungent, woody herbs; aromatic, Eastern spices and punchy additions like red onion, lemon zest or chilli cloaking them for their sweet, rich alto to emerge.
Hence my inspiration for this fuss-free traybake dinner, which combines jointed chicken pieces with plums, herbs and rosé wine and lots of other additions like chorizo, red onion and fennel seed to deliciously flavoursome effect. Serve it for a simple August Sunday dinner or prepare and marinade the ingredients in advance some evening when you have friends popping over for a relaxed midweek meal.
CHICKEN ROASTED WITH PLUMS, HERBS & ROSÉ
1 kilo of jointed free range chicken pieces, ie, thighs, drumsticks etc.
8 plums, halved & destoned
3 cloves of garlic, peeled & diced
2 red onions, peeled & cut into wedges
125g chorizo, cubed
Handful of rosemary, sage & thyme
Zest of half a lemon, cut into strips
1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
200ml rosé wine
1 tablespoon of fennel seed
1 tablespoon of dried herbs like herbes de provence or oregano (or the dubiously named ‘Italian Mix’)
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Pinch of salt
Lots of black pepper
Excluding the rosé, mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl. Cover, refrigerate and leave to marinade for at least a few hours if possible; up to 8 if you’re preparing ahead or 40 minutes at a bare minimum if you’re pressed for time. When you’re ready to cook, preheat your oven to 180°c. Transfer the mix to a large baking dish – everything should have room to sit in a single layer. Roast with no cover for an hour, mixing around occasionally. Remove from the oven, pour the rosé over the chicken pieces, cover the dish with tin foil and cook for another 30 minutes. To serve, remove the chicken pieces from the tray and divide out between the plates. Add a spoonful of the chorizo, onions and plums beside the chicken pieces and serve with creamy mashed potato and green beans tossed with lemon zest and toasted almonds.