Greek chicken for Easter
I’m doing research for a presentation to give to schools about what we eat today, the good, bad and the ugly. I’m beginning back in the 80s, for no important reason other than that’s when I started writing about food, and I have lived the many and varied changes. At the beginning of the decade we still reflected the 70s fashion for meat and three veg, but come the end of the 80s, food had begun to morph into something very different.
For protein, in the early 80s, we chewed through 46 per cent beef and 30 per cent mutton. Of the remaining 20 per cent, fish was 6 per cent and the rest we can roughly assume, was poultry and pork. Chicken was still classed as a food for special occasions.
How it’s changed. Today we stir-fry, steam, roast and grill our way through 31 kg per person — that’s three out of every four meals, or 115 million birds per year.
Given chicken’s popularity, it seems a relatively good choice for Easter celebrations, rather than the more traditional lamb, especially as autumn is settling in. The tradition for lamb comes primarily from the Mediterranean-bordering countries, in particular, Greece, where Lenten fasting traditions are still strictly observed until the Resurrection service at midnight on Easter Saturday. On Easter Sunday, the lamb is spit- roasted while families gather to chinwag and eat, rather heartily, the day away.
It’s this Easter family meal I love most — probably more so than Christmas. The four-day break allows time to prepare something special and a day after to clean up. There’s less stress, and what’s served on the table is less of a concern than who is at the table.
Feasting has its roots in religious festivals commemorating saints, or indeed God. The Easter Sunday feast, breaks the 40 days of Lent’s abstemious fasting that began with Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day) and Ash Wednesday. Meat — and anything deemed rich such as dairy foods and eggs — were once forbidden. The humble pan-cooked cakes were a simple dish that allowed the cook to clear out all the rich foods in the pantry. Today we find schools reviving the tradition of Shrove Tuesday with pancake races.
What we eat and how we eat meals today has dramatically changed. In a recent Family First survey, 88 per cent of respondents said it was very important to have family meals together, however only 29 per cent of those questioned were having meals together every night of the week. It’s not always possible to have meals together, but three times a week, without phones, where talk can happen, is ideal. The same survey found teenagers were much happier when they had regular, interactive family meals.
Chicken is cheap, especially if you buy it frozen, so it’s ideal for a large crowd. Split the chicken down the back to flatten and it will cook quicker. Spread it liberally with a herb and spice butter inspired by the flavours of Greece, roast with a medley of autumn vegetables and enjoy a casual feast day of fabulous flavours with family and friends on Easter Sunday.