Recently a friend reminded me of a dish I used to serve up very regularly. If you came to my house for dinner circa 2006, it is highly likely you ate this dish. It had all the elements required for a casual dinner party; simple ingredients, no real recipe required, easily expandable to feed a few extra, quick to prepare, and impressive enough to serve to guests. My friend liked it so much that after only a brief explanation of how to cook it, it went into heavy rotation in her house and is still going strong. And now it’s made a comeback in my kitchen.
Placing a hot, steaming baking dish in the middle of a table with a big serving spoon is my idea of a good time. I like starting a communal meal with the shared experience of passing plates around the table, arms reaching over to scoop large servings of something delicious, wine glasses clinking as they’re shuffled around making room for the salad bowl to do a lap of the table. An atmosphere is created; an open, casual one of giving and receiving, setting the tone for the conversation to follow.
This dish is perfect for this style of eating.
Roasting a chicken is sure to bring people to the table. Add an unexpected ingredient like grapes with old favourites thyme and potatoes, and your guests will also be asking for the recipe. The grapes in this dish add moisture and a lovely texture that compliments the crispy skin of the chicken and the satisfying bite of the potatoes (which have baked in the chicken and grape juices to come out a delightful mix of crunchy and soft).
I find that kipfler potatoes, peeled and sliced lengthways, are the best for this dish, though any good baking potato will do. Select the smallest red grapes you can find and choose chicken pieces with the bone in to keep them moist, or, if you have time, cut a whole chicken into eight. Don’t forget to cover the dish with foil for half the cooking time – it stops the chicken drying out (learned that the hard way, sorry to the friends who ate this meal that night).
If you find yourself with leftovers, this dish morphs into a top-notch sandwich the next day. Just shred your chicken and mix it with the grapes, thyme, a bit of mayonnaise and some avocado if you have it and serve it on some grainy bread with crisp lettuce. It’s worth making more just so you can enjoy the sandwich.
Chicken and Grape Bake
Pre-heat oven to 220C/430F. Line a baking dish with sliced potatoes and place browned chicken pieces and their juices on top. Throw in a few peeled garlic cloves and place mini bunches of grapes and a handful of thyme sprigs in and around the chicken. Squish some grapes over the top of everything to add some moisture, add a few glugs of olive oil and some salt and pepper. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 15 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes.
Present your baking dish at the table for people to help themselves and serve with a green salad.