I WON'T buy chicken unless it has been a happy, scratching bird during its fully lived life.

I remain amazed that free-range or organic birds take up a fraction of most shops' shelf space. Many shoppers, it appears, let their wallet do the choosing, not their sense ethical production.

Does a perception hang over free-range birds that they are just plain expensive? You can still please your wallet and choose the more ethical option if you ensure your chicken provides maximum value. With poultry, this is not hard. Every cut lends itself to a slightly different cooking method, so versatility comes as standard.

A whole bird can, of course, be roasted like a joint. Once finished, be sure to pick over the carcass to remove all the meat for a stew or soup. Reserve the bones for a great base for soup or stock. The expensive breasts could be roasted, but with milder weather, why not poach them gently in stock, intensifying that cooking liquid, in turn, for other uses. Drum sticks are fun grilled for picnics, cooked in a barbecue sauce, or shredded into salads . The best parts, the dense, succulent thighs, shine in a casserole and a creamy fricassee is ideal for bright but cool spring evenings.

Chicken thighs in a red pepper and fennel casserole

Recipes serve 4

4 chicken legs

2 red and 2 yellow peppers

1 bulb fennel

3 banana shallots, peeled

2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced finely

A couple of spoonfuls pitted black olives

A good pinch of smoked paprika

1 dstsp chopped parsley

Salt and fresh ground black pepper

Few bushy sprigs of thyme

2 dstsp tomato puree

170ml white wine

Olive oil


1. Heat a large cast iron ovenproof casserole dish or saucepan. Add a light film of olive oil and heat for one minute then season the chicken legs with salt. Brown over a moderate heat on both sides in the oil for several minutes, then lift out onto a plate. Add a few grinds of fresh black pepper

2. Halve the shallots lengthways and slice into very thin strips. Add thyme, shallots and garlic to the pan, with a dash more oil if needed. Season with a little more salt, and allow to soften over a low heat stirring regularly. Cut the fennel into four wedges lengthways, trim out the core then slice the fennel into fine strips. Once the shallots have begun to soften, add the fennel and stir in well, then continue sweating gently over a low heat.

3. Halve the peppers lengthways, remove pith and seeds. Cut the pepper into strips and add to the pot. Stir to combine. Add smoked paprika to taste.

4. Add tomato puree and stir so everything is coated. Allow to cook for a minute then add the wine. Bring to the boil then reduce by half. Return chicken pieces to the pan, skin side downwards. Add a little water (150 ml or so), so the contents of the pan are slightly juicy like a casserole but not soupy. Cover the surface with a pot-shaped piece of parchment paper, then a lid. Now cook either in the stove top over a low to moderate heat, or in a pre-heated oven at 180C for 20-25 minutes until the meat is cooked and tender.

5. Taste for seasoning. Remove thyme sprig. Stir in the olives and parsley and serve, perhaps with rice, cous cous or new potatoes.

Marinaded chicken drumsticks

3-4 chicken drumsticks per person

2 large spring onions, finely cut diagonally into rounds

1 tsp toasted sesame seeds

For the marinade:

2 tbsp fish sauce

1 rounded dstsp orange marmalade

2 spring onions

1/4 cup brown sugar,

1 lemon, juiced

1 tsp rice wine vinegar or sherry vinegar

6 tbsp soy sauce

1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped

2 shallots, finely diced

1 tsp sesame oil

2 tsp chicken bouillon,

1 good pinch paprika, to taste

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, to taste

1. Discarding the root, slice spring onions in fine rounds.

2. Place all marinade ingredients in a large plastic tub or freezer-safe zip-lock style bag and mix well. Add the drumsticks to the tub or bag. Toss well to mix all the ingredients together, ensuring the chicken meat is well coated. If using the bag, squeeze out as much air as possible and seal. Move the drumsticks around so everything is coated with marinade.

3. Transfer to the fridge and leave to marinade for at least 3 hours and preferably overnight.

4. 30 minutes before cooking, remove container from fridge to bring to room temperature. Preheat oven to 190C. Lift the drumsticks out of the marinade onto a baking sheet lined with foil, in alternate directions with a little space between each for even cooking. Bake for 30 minutes, turning once or twice.

5. While the drumsticks are roasting, pour the marinade into a small saucepan and simmer over a low heat until the liquid has reduced by half. When the drumsticks have been in the oven for 25 or 30 minutes, brush the reduced marinade onto each drumstick and roast for 5 minutes, or until fully cooked through. Place drumsticks onto serving plate, sprinkle with spring onions and toasted sesame seeds and serve at once.