Chicken and Pumpkin with Soy & Star Anise


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So this whole ‘posting once a week’ thing hasn’t really worked out for me that well.

I could make excuses but it feels better simply to adopt the mantra of a famous British Kate – never complain, never explain.

(Now I’ve thought about it, there really are quite a few famous British Kates these days aren’t there? Between the likes of Moss, Winslet and the artist formerly known as Kate Middleton, they really do set quite a high benchmark for the rest of us.  I can’t even manage the odd blogpost for crying out loud. It might have been more realistic if my parents had called me Bob).

But here I am anyway as I have been spurred into action by this Diana Henry chicken recipe, which we have eaten probably 97 times since I bought what is still my favourite “healthy” book last year, and that I have been meaning to write about ever since outing number one. Really, it is that good. Insanely simple and on the table in about an hour, if you remain focussed and don’t waft around the kitchen drinking wine. Everything about Diana Henry’s ‘healthy but actually tasty’ magic is evident here – lots of robust Chinese flavours to make up for the absence of lots of fat and sugar and a dinner that feels really quite indulgent notwithstanding its solid vegetable quotient and cold-busting winners like ginger, garlic and chilli. Without the chilli, I am pretty sure this would be an absolute child-pleaser too but, hey, I write about all that stuff over here and this is where we talk about post-7pm dinners with chilli, and wine, and conversations that last longer than 67 seconds.

This is great with brown rice, or any wholegrain really – Diana suggests seasoning any supporting grain with plenty of salt and pepper, a squeeze of lime juice and lots of chopped coriander. We have done this when I can be bothered (and I often use these pre-packed mixed grains from Waitrose, gently stir-fried with some kale or other greens) but as it already has the pumpkin you can easily serve this as it comes, or with some steamed sprouting broccoli or pak choi, if you are after a slightly lighter dinner.

Waitrose mixed grain thing (with kale).

Chicken and Pumpkin with Soy & Star Anise
Serves: 2
Adapted from [url href=”″ target=”_blank” rel=”nofollow”]A Change of Appetite[/url] by Diana Henry
  • groundnut (or other neutral) oil
  • 4 bone-in chicken thighs
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce (tamari to make this gluten-free)
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp soft dark brown (or coconut) sugar
  • 1/2-1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
  • 1 rounded tbsp finely chopped ginger
  • 2 small garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 4 spring onions, chopped on the diagonal
  • 450g pumpkin or squash, deseeded and cut into chunks
  • 1 10cm strip orange zest
  • 1/2 star anise (and NO MORE)
  • juice of half a small orange
  • black pepper
  1. Preheat your oven to 180C (fan).
  2. Heat about a tablespoon of the oil in an ovenproof pan or casserole – it needs ideally to be something in which all the thighs can lie in a single layer. Brown the chicken well on both sides. Set them aside.
  3. Stir together the soy, vinegar, fish sauce and sugar. Heat the remaining oil in the pan (you may need to add a splash more) and then gently fry the chilli, ginger and garlic and all but a sprinkling of the spring onion for a couple of minutes and then add the soy mixture.
  4. Put the chicken back in the pan, skin-side down, along with any juices. Add the pumpkin (or squash), the orange rind, star anise, 50ml water and the orange juice. Season well with pepper (but not salt). {This won’t seem like enough liquid but it is, honestly. The pumpkin and chicken both kick off more water during cooking and make enough sauce}
  5. Cover the pan and put in the oven for 40 minutes. After 15 minutes turn the chicken over and return to the oven. Remove the lid for the final five to 10 minutes.
  6. Scatter with the reserved spring onions and serve.
As the pumpkin is such a big part of this, try and seek out a smallish flavourful one rather than the often insipid, massive carving thing. If in doubt, most of the butternut squash we get in the UK is pretty reliably flavoursome. If you live near a farm shop or similar look out for dark green Kabocha squash as these are really great.[br][br]I did not have any star anise the last couple of times I made this (yes, a first world problem indeed) but a pinch of five spice or a slug of hoisin sauce – but not both at the same time – have worked perfectly well. In fact, if it weren’t for all the horrible things they put in most hoisin sauces, I would advocate that as minor recipe upgrade.

Kitchen Song of the Day: Hold Back the River – James Bay

Note: I would have included Kate Beckinsale in my list. But, you know, Underworld.


The Buckwheat Adventure - Healthy Eating for Normal People (anything but another kale & quinoa salad)

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2 thoughts on “Chicken and Pumpkin with Soy & Star Anise”

  1. Love this! Have the book and am working my way through it so shall try the chicken pronto. PS. Hold Back the Rive is our kitchen song every day at the moment.

  2. This is one of my favourites, too! I also agree that it is wonderful with kabocha — that is the squash I always use in this recipe. My husband is not a fan of star anise, though .. so I will try your suggestions for hoisin sauce or five spice powder.

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