This dish comes from the classic season 4 episode ‘Kamp Krusty’. One of my favourite episodes, Kamp Krusty absolutely nails the childhood experience of organised camps – from the shitty food and forced activities, to the wild celebration of parents in shipping their kids off for a few weeks.
On the topic of the shitty food, the writers clearly got together and decided that gruel would be their analogue for the horrors of the summer camp dining hall; in fact, not even gruel, just ‘Krusty Brand Imitation Gruel’. From its dull colour to the way it’s slopped into the bowls of dispirited children, nothing about this dish seems like it’d be worth eating.
Oliver Twist was also a noted fan – who apparently liked it so much he was willing to risk the wrath of his slave-master to ask for more.
Now, unlike Oliver Twist, and hopefully like most people reading this post, I had a relatively gruel-free childhood and had to google what the hell it actually is. Turns out it’s a porridge, made from oats and possibly of the tears of half-starved orphans of 19th century England. Being fresh out of both of these however, I had to make some adjustments to the recipe, which I will now share.
First off, you’ll need a chicken. Remove the skin, chop it into bits (or the other way round, if you find it easier), reserving the chicken frame. You won’t need the meat from the chicken, apart from the wings, so put them in the fridge for another day.
200g swiss brown mushrooms
Knob of butter
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 shallots, diced.
Quickly all of the above blitz in a food processor to a kind of loose crumb-like texture, but not a goo. It’s an important distinction. Remove from the food processor and gently heat with some butter in a saucepan until browned and fragrant.
1 chicken frame and its wings
1 bulb of garlic
1 brown onion
Roughly chop the chicken frame along with the wings and roast in a hot oven along with half a bulb of garlic, one carrot, cut into chunks, and one brown onion, halved. Roast for half an hour or so or until everything’s browned and wonderful. Remove from the oven and place in a pressure cooker with enough water to cover everything. Bring up to pressure and cook for another half hour. Strain, and set aside.
3 leeks, sliced lengthways and cleaned
Take the leeks, put on a tray and roast on a low oven (about 120 degrees) until blackened and charred and thoroughly burned. Remove from the oven, allow to cool, then crumble into a powder. Set aside.
1 cup of oats
Skin from the chicken
A chunk of butter
Take the skin of a chicken and render some of the fat. Once rendered, remove the crispy skin, eat it, then sautee the oats in the chicken fat for a couple of minutes on a low-medium heat. Once they’re slightly browned, add a cupful of stock and let it reduce. Having no idea how this would turn out, I basically approached it like a risotto, adding stock small amounts at a time until I had a nice, smooth consistency, while still retaining some of the texture of the oats. At this point, stir in the mushroom duxelles, the butter, the leek ash and a pinch of black pepper. It probably won’t need any salt, but add if it needs it.
And there it is – my fancy version of Krusty Brand Imitation Gruel. Fit for a King, or a (Martin) Prince.