Mum has been getting into recipes with only four ingredients in a big way. I was sceptical but told her to send over the ’70s-tastic four-ingredient chicken dinner recipe. I took a look, I remained sceptical, especially as one of the main ingredients was a packet of powdered French onion soup mix.

My overriding childhood memories of French onion soup never actually involved serving it piping hot in a bowl. Instead, all I recall is a blur of parties and barbecues where I was on French onion dip duty, vigorously mixing the beige, MSG-laden powder into sour cream. To be fair, this combination did make for a rather more-ish, addictive dip. Jatz crackers were the preferred biscuit for dipping at parties across Australia in the ’70s and ’80s. I’m pretty sure if someone put a bowl of French onion dip and a box of Jatz next to me right now, I’d scoff the lot in a matter of minutes.

But when it came time to source the ingredients for this chicken dinner recipe yesterday afternoon, I realised I hadn’t noticed powdered French onion soup in any British supermarket in the 10 years I’ve lived here. My only UK memory of French onion soup was its presence on a Christmas menu at my husband’s late grandmother’s house in about 2011. And I had the prawn cocktail for my starter because Australian Christmas Day means you need to eat some sort of seafood to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

I checked Asda, I checked the Co-op – nothing! I then went to the Mace grocery store – a very underrated chain of offies – and grabbed an 89p packet of Knorr’s Florida Spring Vegetable Soup mix. I didn’t realise spring vegetables were a big deal in Florida. Anyway, it was the substitute for French onion soup because I was not going to try a fourth grocery store on an increasingly wet afternoon in a pandemic for a bloody chicken dinner.

As I drove home looking like a drowned rat, I reflected that packet soups and assorted just-add-water noodles are a cheap, quick, easy way to add a flavour punch to many dishes. As I perused the soups at Mace, vowing this would be my last store of the afternoon, I realised that I could have chosen any number of French onion substitutes for this chicken dinner.  The Florida Spring Vegetable concoction won because the ingredients list seemed to contain an impressive array of flavours.

But I did not stop at the four ingredients from Mum’s recipe – I added a garlic, chopped white onion, diced pancetta, chopped asparagus, a diced red pepper, salt and paprika… The white wine was a £4.50 bargain from Asda – a South African chenin blanc that I rescued from the discount shelf with its bright yellow price tag. If you don’t want to add wine to this chicken dinner, for this one, I’d recommend white grape juice, lemon juice, pomegranate juice or apple juice.

The chicken is cooked slowly in the oven in the soupy, wine mix so it stays tender and absorbs the flavours. It’s embarrassingly easy and my husband declared it to be “canny” – high praise from a laconic Geordie.

Chicken Dinner: 1970s style


  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 100g pancetta
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 packet powdered soup mix, such as French onion or vegetable
  • 3/4 (175ml) cup white wine
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 300g diced chicken breast or thigh
  • 6 asparagus spears, chopped into 3cm lengths
  • 1 large red pepper, diced
  • Salt and paprika to taste


  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
  2. Fry the onion, pancetta and garlic in olive oil until the pancetta just starts to brown. Set aside.
  3. Place the chicken pieces evenly across the bottom of baking dish and add the onion, pancetta and garlic.
  4. In a small bowl, mix the soup powder, white wine and honey until well combined. Pour over the chicken.
  5. Cover and cook for one hour.
  6. Add the asparagus, red pepper, salt and paprika, turn the oven down to 150 degrees Celsius and cook for another 30 minutes.
  7. Serve with rice, noodles or potatoes. Plus Mum recommends a side of green beans sauteed in lemon juice and butter because why not.

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