A butcher's hook

Popeye was a jaunty sailor obsessed with spinach. It was the miraculous substance that swelled his strength to superhuman proportions. In the children's comics we read, he overcame obstacles and thwarted the bad guys, often after downing a can of spinach.

As a kid growing up in 1970s Hamilton, spinach was a foreign vegetable. Silverbeet we knew about - soggy, overcooked and notable for its tough white stalks. It was the nearest we had.

These days we recognise spinach as a much less exotic edible. New Zealand spinach must rate as one of the most useful crops. Easily grown, its leaves can be frequently picked off for salads, sandwiches and stews.

At TLC Meats spinach is mixed with camembert, onion and garlic and stuffed inside a chicken that has then wrapped in bacon.

Leanne Anderson, "gourmet chicken creator", at the Richmond Centre butchery has been preparing the dish, called Popeye Chicken, for some time. She gets repeat customers and estimates the chicken will feed about five. That's good news. Visiting TLC meats last week with $30, I'm seeking options for a family of five. One Popeye Chicken will cost $18.99 and while that's more than a supermarket bird, we have a birthday to acknowledge so Popeye poultry is perfect.

Anderson says the strips of bacon, covering the chicken's outer, add to its flavour while also deleting the need to add any fat in the roasting process.

We will eat this hot but left to cool down and eaten cold, the layers of chicken, stuffing and bacon are more obvious, she points out. That means her comic-book inspired creation would be great for a special occasion lunch when cold meat means something other than a run-of-the-mill option. A smaller Popeye chicken is also produced for poultry fans only needing to feed two mouths.

I've started with chicken so finish the rest of my $30 spend by opting for Chicken Wellingtons. These are small pies, folded a little like Cornish pasties and modelled on a traditional Beef Wellington. Chicken thigh fillet meat is tucked, with basil pesto and cheese, inside savoury pastry. At about $4 each, I take home three agreeing with Anderson that they'll be handy fillers for quick meals.

They'll feed two at a time.

The family devour the Popeye Chicken once it has been roasted for an hour, and left to rest for about 10 minutes. No gravy is required - it would be insensitive to swamp Anderson's creation in heavy sauce. We go for the roast potatoes and green salad combo - not with spinach because that has gone to seed in the garden, but with rocket as its base. The chicken flesh is firmer than the last supermarket chicken we purchased, as well as being less oily despite its bacon coating. The stuffing doesn't overwhelm the flavours and the onion- allergic members of our household don't notice its inclusion, so that adds to the ease and enjoyment of our treat.

Taranaki Daily News