Si King and Dave Myers have long been fans of the humble chicken and egg. They tell Kate Whiting about the childhood inspirations behind their latest book and TV series
“Why did the chicken cross the road, roll in the mud, come back across the road, and then cross the road again and roll in the mud again?” asks one half of The Hairy Bikers, Dave Myers, eyes glinting.
“Cos he was a dirty double crosser!”
Spending time in the company of Myers and his good mate Si King is pure laughter-filled joy, particularly when they’re so enthused by their latest project. BBC Two’s Hairy Bikers – Chicken & Egg has seen the boys travel the world in search of the best recipes using, you guessed it, chicken or eggs, and now there’s a cookbook to accompany the series.
Puns abound, and today the boys are on great form, hence the chicken joke, which Myers follows up with, “One egg is never an oeuf!”
It’s a project that’s been incubating for 10 years.
“It’s always a book that’s been on the boil, really,” says Myers. “To a cook, they’re such useful ingredients. We’ve done some stand-alone cookbooks that have been very successful, like Great Curries, Perfect Pies, Meat Feasts, so why not Chicken & Egg?
“With Meat Feasts, we were a bit stuck for puddings, but this does tick all the boxes, from soups to starters, desserts, baking, you’ve got the lot with chicken and eggs.”
Filming the TV show took them to Israel, where they learned about the social history of chicken and visited the first place in the world it was eaten.
King explains: “We went on this archaeological dig in Jerusalem and down these caves where they’d found the first evidence of people eating chicken, you could see knife marks on the thigh bones of these chickens that were around before Christ.
“It was a massively important city for trade, for salt, silks and spices, so lots of people would come on their routes to take this stuff to market and they would have thought, ‘Hang on a minute, these birds aren’t just for eggs’.”
“Around 70% of Israelis apparently eat chicken once a day,” adds Myers. “When Israel was formed, they were struggling to feed people, so everyone was given 100 chicks. They reared them up, then had to give 90 back to the state when they were chickens and they were allowed to keep 10. That way you could keep some for eggs, kill some, and so it would go on.
“At this market in Tel Aviv, we put together a mezze platter and we had Syrian, Iraqi, Bulgarian, Venezuelan, Iranian, all doing something very different with chicken. All these different cultures had taken the same product and made this fantastic cuisine, it was very exciting.”
Myers and King both grew up eating lots of eggs – but in very different ways.
“One of my first ever food memories was sitting on my grandfather’s knee at the table and sharing two dippy eggs and soldiers,” says King, who turns 50 on October 20. “He died when I was four, and I think I was three. The fire was on, and that’s the only memory I have of my grandfather. I found a box of old photographs the other day and that memory is on a photograph. I was absolutely made up when I found it, because you think, ‘Have I invented that?’ It’s such a vivid memory and the two of us look so content, we’ve got this soldier that’s about three times the size of us, it was so lovely.”
As for the young Myers, he liked his eggs scrambled.
“I used to love scrambled eggs when I was a little boy,” says the 59-year-old. “I had a bright yellow jumper that my mother knitted me and I used to call it my scrambled egg jumper.”
While they both have fond childhood memories of chicken Sunday roasts, the meat really came into its own when they turned to healthy eating in 2012, followed by a slew of Hairy Dieters books.
“We used chicken a lot in the diet books,” says Myers. “You take the skin off and the whole chicken is between 700 and 900 calories, great if you’re on a diet. If I were making tandoori, you can get the spice mix and fat-free yoghurt, marinate half a chicken, cook it over charcoal or bake it in the oven. You could actually have salad and half a chicken for under 500 calories.”
With our interview drawing to an end, it’s time to tackle that age-old question: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
“The egg,” says Myers. “Everyone knows the bird came from the lizard, so I think there came a point when the DNA of the egg changed to be more chicken than lizard.”
“It was the chick,” counters King. “You can’t have an egg without a chicken. In evolutionary terms, the chicken is the closest relative to the Tyrannosaurus Rex. The T-Rex laid eggs, didn’t it? So at some point, it turned into the chicken. The scientists who think about these things go, ‘Nah, it was the chicken’.”
“Can you imagine the size of the oven if we ate T-Rex? ‘Anyone want a thigh? It’s the size of a front door!'” adds Myers, before King chimes in: “You’d be making the stuffing with a cement mixer.”
Whichever came first, why not get some on the table? Here are three Hairy Bikers recipes to crack on with…
:: PERUVIAN CHICKEN SOUP WITH QUINOA
1.5L chicken stock
4 chicken thighs or 2 chicken breasts, skin on, bone in
2tbsp olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 celery sticks, thinly sliced
1 red pepper, deseeded and sliced
100g quinoa, rinsed and soaked for 5 minutes
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1tbsp amarillo chilli sauce, or similar mild chilli sauce
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of fresh oregano
1 large sweet potato, diced
Large bunch of coriander, roughly chopped
Lime wedges, to serve
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pour the chicken stock into a large saucepan and bring to the boil, then add the chicken. Turn the heat down low and simmer gently for about 10 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. Skim off any foam that collects on the surface, then remove the chicken and set aside. Strain the broth through a sieve lined with a double layer of muslin or cheesecloth into a bowl, then pour back into the saucepan.
Heat the olive oil in the same pan and add the onion, celery and red pepper. Cook them over a medium heat for about five minutes, just to start the softening process, then add the quinoa. Continue to toast the quinoa until it starts to smell nutty, then add the garlic and chilli sauce. Cook for another minute or so.
Pour the chicken stock back into the saucepan, then add the herbs and season with salt and pepper. Bring the soup to the boil, then turn the heat down and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the sweet potato and simmer for a further five minutes.
Remove the skin and bone from the chicken and cut the flesh into slices. Add them to the soup and simmer for a few minutes to warm through. Taste for seasoning and add more if necessary. Remove the bay leaf and oregano, then stir in the chopped coriander. Serve in bowls with lime wedges on the side.
:: POSH CHICKEN FRICASSEE WITH ARTICHOKES
4 boneless chicken breasts, skin on or off
4 globe artichokes
2 lemons, juiced
2tbsp olive oil
1 shallot, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
200g mushrooms, wiped and sliced
200ml dry white wine
Zest of 1 lemon
Torn basil leaves or chopped parsley or both
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
If you have time, brine the chicken breasts to keep them plump and moist. Meanwhile, tackle your artichokes. This is our special method. Cut off the stalk about 1cm from the globe. Peel off the outer leaves, rubbing on lemon juice as you go to stop the artichoke going black. When you reach the heart, cut off the top about a third of the way up from the base and discard the top two-thirds.
Take a melon baller or a spoon and dig out the choke – the fuzzy hairy centre. With a small knife, carve off the outer skin of the heart, then rub it with lemon juice. Prepare the rest of the artichokes in the same way and cut each one into about six slices.
Bring a shallow pan of water to a simmer and add a good squeeze of lemon juice. Add the artichoke slices and simmer them for about five minutes, then cover the pan and set aside.
Blot the chicken breasts dry on kitchen paper, place them between a couple of pieces of cling film and beat them out briefly. Spread the flour out on a plate, season it, then coat the chicken in the flour.
Heat half the butter and a tablespoon of oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan with a lid. Add the chicken and cook for a minute or so until golden, then turn it over, put the lid on the pan and cook gently for 10 minutes.
Remove the chicken, wrap it all in foil and leave it to rest for 10 minutes. Heat the rest of the butter and oil in the pan and gently cook the shallot for about five minutes until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another minute, then add the artichokes and mushrooms and cook until they start to colour. Pour in the wine and a tablespoon of lemon juice and cook until the liquid has reduced by half.
Remove the pan from the heat and gently stir in the grated zest of one lemon and the herbs. Divide the artichokes and mushrooms between four plates, top with a chicken breast and drizzle over the resting juices.
:: CHOCOLATE AND ORANGE SOUFFLES WITH GRAND MARNIER SAUCE
25g butter, softened, for greasing
1tbsp caster sugar, for dusting
150ml whole milk
100ml double cream
150g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
Grated zest of 1 orange
3 large eggs, separated
75g caster sugar
15g plain flour
For the Grand Marnier sauce:
300ml orange juice
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2tbsp Grand Marnier
First prepare the ramekins. Rub softened butter over the insides of the ramekins, then use a pastry brush to go over it with upward strokes; this helps the souffles rise. Dust the insides with the sugar until well coated. Leave the ramekins in the freezer until you need them.
Put the milk in a saucepan and warm it almost to boiling point. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside. In a separate pan, heat the cream and when it is blood temperature (about 37C), remove the pan from the heat and add the chocolate. Let the chocolate melt completely, then beat until thick and glossy. Stir in the orange zest and set the mixture aside to cool.
Whisk the yolks with 50g of the sugar until creamy. Sieve the cornflour, plain flour and cocoa into a bowl, then sprinkle this mixture over the egg yolks and sugar and beat until smooth. Pour the milk over the egg and sugar mixture, stirring constantly, then tip it all back into the saucepan. Stir over a low heat until the mixture has thickened to a custard, then remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool, whisking regularly to make sure it doesn’t develop a skin. Beat in the chocolate and cream mixture.
Preheat the oven to 190C/Fan 170C/Gas 5 and put a baking tray in the oven to heat up. Whisk the egg whites to the soft peak stage, then start beating in the remaining sugar a teaspoon at a time until the mixture is stiff and glossy.
Add the egg whites to the chocolate mixture a third at a time, folding it in with a metal spoon as carefully as you can so you don’t lose too much volume and incorporating it fully before adding the next lot.
Divide the mixture between the ramekins, making sure each is filled to the top, then scrape a palette knife over the top to make it perfectly flat. Run your finger around the rim of each ramekin to create a small groove round the top. This will help the souffles to rise evenly.
Put the ramekins on the preheated baking tray and bake for 16-18 minutes (depending on the size of your ramekins) until well risen with a slight wobble in the middle. You should get a good rise of at least 3-4cm.
For the sauce, put the orange juice, lemon juice and sugar into a saucepan. Heat gently, stirring constantly until the sugar has dissolved, then turn up the heat a little and simmer for a few minutes until it is syrupy – it will thicken a little more as it cools. Stir in the Grand Marnier, a tablespoon at a time. Serve the souffles immediately with the sauce on the side to pour into the centre.
:: Chicken & Egg by The Hairy Bikers is published by Orion Books, priced £22. Available now
THREE OF THE BEST… Egg cups
:: 4 Egg Cup Buckets, £5.99 (www.lakeland.co.uk)
These colourful little pails are a cute way to serve boiled eggs to all the family, each featuring a different chicken design.
:: Intergalactic Egg Cup Set, £12.99 (www.gettingpersonal.co.uk)
Your little egg-splorers will love these ceramic egg cups, which come in a two-piece spaceship and intergalactic ‘eggbot’ set
:: Polka Dot Egg Cup, £8.95 (www.emmabridgewater.co.uk)
This classic spotty design is the perfect cup for large eggs – which means more soldiers. Yum!