I have a friend called Patrick who I think my girlfriend might be a little jealous of. Patrick and I have developed a tendency to go on man-dates during which we eat, drink and ultimately end up dancing in Soho attics or East End basements. The most recent of these escalating soirees took in a criminally unregarded Georgian restaurant on the Caledonian Road called Iberia.
The first time he pointed out Iberia to me, the restaurant’s streetside smoking area was clogged with corpulent men in ill-fitting silk waistcoats from whose arms stick insect blondes hung like so many limp washcloths. The sight didn’t fill me with hope, but Patrick assured me that the food was worth any number of second rate mafiosi.
He was right. The starters were perfect, satisfying ravening stomachs and whetting the palate for the main event. Mine was a cheesy teaser of filled flatbread, whilst his was the inspiration for the side I’m serving up here. The mains were packed tight in terracotta dishes, a reminder that this is village food intended to comfort freezing bodies in the long Georgian winters.
Alongside the village food came village wine by the bottle and perfect little baby potatoes fried crisp on the outside and fondant-soft inside. The meal itself was ultimately rather overshadowed by the events that followed, but at such reasonable prices and with such friendly but not over-familiar service, Iberia does rather stand out as a diamond amongst the rough of the Cally Road.
The grilled chicken thighs are simple and delicious, replete with all the crispy bubbles of salted skin and moist oysters of dark flesh that make the thighs more than just token protein next to the wonderful “accompaniment” of the spinach. The chicken, in its simplicity, does require good ingredients. For it to really sing, you’ll need sea salt rather than just table salt.
This will serve four for lunch or two for dinner.
Simple Grilled Chicken Thighs with walnut & parmesan spinach
For the chicken:
- Four chicken thighs, skin on.
- Eat free-range.
- Sea salt.
- Cracked black pepper.
- One small clove of garlic, crushed or very finely chopped.
- Olive oil.
For the spinach:
- A lot of spinach. You’ll probably need to steam it in two batches.
- A handful of shelled walnuts, fairly finely chopped.
- One clove garlic, roughly chopped.
- Half a green chilli, deseeded and roughly chopped.
- 200g parmesan.
- Coriander seed.
Start by heating a small frying pan dry over a medium heat. Add the roughly chopped walnuts and toast, keeping the nuts moving around the pan. When there’s a slight burnt smell, remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Meanwhile, pat the chicken thighs dry with kitchen towel before drizzling with a little olive oil. Rub the salt, pepper and garlic into the meat, giving particular love to the skin on the thighs.
Next, steam the spinach. If you don’t have a steamer (I don’t), just boil a couple of inches of water in the bottom of a deep pan and put a sieve over it with a lid on top, it works just as well. Once the spinach has really softened and wilted, remove from the steam and put into a food processor with the toasted walnuts, garlic, chilli, parmesan, salt, pepper and a pinch of coriander seed. Go easy on the salt – parmesan’s pretty salty anyway and you don’t want to overdo it. Pulse in the food processor (or with the hand processor) until everything’s a thick paste that can be moulded into balls. Taste, adjust seasoning and set aside.
Heat a grill pan over a high heat until you can’t hold your hand over it, or alternatively get your overhead grill super super hot. This is better using a grill pan but no worries if you haven’t got one – it will still be delicious. Lay the chicken thighs on the grill (or under the grill) skinside down with a crack, a pop and a hiss and don’t touch them for at least two minutes, or until they’re charring where the skin touches the ridges of the grill. These two minutes are a good opportunity to divide the spinach mix and form into some kind of shape so it doesn’t look like something the Gruffalo sicked up. Serve with a few pomegranate seeds sprinkled over to compliment the raw garlic taste.
Turn the chicken once and grill the other side until it’s darkening with a faint hint of gold. Remove from the grill, plate up and eat as soon as the meat stops burning your tongue. We went red, raw and rustic with the wine, and I recommend you do the same. Apparently Bulgarian wine is a thing at the moment, so maybe go for one of those.