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Archive for the ‘Poultry’ Category

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I just spent a week of bright sunny days cruising the wild, scenic, unspoiled river Loire on the MS Loire Princesse. This handsome paddle-wheel barge-type ship is French-owned, and its 90 passengers were about 60% French, 20% Spanish, and 20% British and Antipodean. Tom and I were the only Americans.

We’d been greatly looking forward to the food on the voyage. As this was a moderately priced cruise, providing good value but not extravagance, only a single three-course menu was available for each lunch and dinner. There was no particular emphasis on the cuisine of the Loire Valley. That was a bit disappointing for us, but the cooking was generally good. Every day several pleasant, simple wines were liberally poured at no cost, and there was a small list of better wines for purchase. (Tom’s blog has more to say about the wines.)
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Lunches

The lunches onboard were far larger than what we’re used to. A few times we’d have been just as happy with only a sandwich or a hamburger. But the chef prepared these menus, and we were on vacation, so we had to try them, didn’t we? Somehow, we managed to get through midday meals like these. (Wine helped, and often a little nap too.)
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Fresh pickled herring, roast veal with chanterelles, tortoni
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Mozzarella and tomato salad, filet of pork with duchesse potatoes, tiramisu
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Black Forest ham, hake filet grenobloise, raspberry cake

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Dinners

Dinners were equally elaborate and varied, with occasionally a small fourth course included. The chef had a real talent with meat and potatoes but offered few fresh seasonal vegetables other than salad greens.
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Duck terrine with sauce gribiche, stuffed filet of chicken with tagliatelle, raspberry torte
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Veal-filled beggar’s purse pasta with cream sauce, confit duck leg, crepes suzette
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Scallop salad, duck breast with port sauce, baked apple on brioche French toast

 

 

Cappuccino of cèpes, vegetables à la grecque, blanquette de veau à l’ancienne, peach melba

 

A word of explanation about the “cappuccino” just above. That’s what it looked like, but it was actually a trompe l’oeil creation: a rich soup of wild mushrooms topped with a veil of cream and a sprinkle of minced mushrooms as faux cinnamon. Quite a delicious frivolity.

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Overall, the cruise’s food was a little too elaborated, too heavily decorated, for our taste. Rather than the panoply of flavors present in most dishes, we’d have preferred having the simple quality of the main ingredients left to shine forth on their own. Also, we really regretted the dearth of local specialties. To be in the Loire Valley and not be offered rillettes or beurre blanc seemed wrong! Likewise, to be in the agricultural heart of France in mid-June and be fed carrots and brussels sprouts. But many individual dishes were excellent.  For instance, the herring in the first lunch above was as sparkling, fresh, and delicious as any I’ve ever had. The many mushroom varieties the chef seemed to love using tasted fine indeed, and he had the best hand with pasta of any French cook we’ve encountered.

After the cruise, we had a few days in the Touraine and the Orléanais on our own, where we took the opportunity to make up some of the deficit of regional dishes – e.g., fabulous white asparagus. And I’ve purchased a little French book of recipes of the châteaux of the Loire, to encourage myself to make them at home.

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Napoleon Bonaparte apparently had very little time for, or interest in, what he ate. Brillat-Savarin said of him “his household was organized in such a way that no matter where he was or what the hour of the day he had but to speak one word in order to be presented with a chicken, cutlets, and coffee.”

Out of that predilection grew the chicken dish named for Bonaparte’s famous victory at the battle of Marengo on June 14, 1800. As Robert Courtine recounts the story in his fascinating historical cookbook The Hundred Glories of French Cooking, the general’s cooking wagon had gotten lost, and his chef, Durand, had nothing in his own carriage but a drum of oil and a flask of brandy. Durand sent soldiers out to scavenge in the countryside, and they returned with a few chickens, eggs, tomatoes, and garlic. Then:

In the twinkling of an eye the birds are plucked. They are cut up with a saber and set to brown in some oil while the garlic is being crushed between two stones and the tomatoes thrown into the frying pan without even being peeled. A spurt of brandy flavors the sauce. And the victorious general is served as befits a leader … [the dish] attended by a ring of fried eggs and full military honors.

If that legend is true, the combination was a great serendipity.

Courtine’s recipe is the version of Poulet Marengo I like best, and happily it doesn’t insist on either the saber or the stones. Normally I do cut up a whole chicken for it, but this time for a casual supper for three, I used just three chicken legs – thighs and drumsticks. I salted, peppered, floured, and browned them in garlicky olive oil. (Courtine wants the garlic crushed and stirred in raw at the end of the cooking, but we prefer our garlic a bit tamer than that.)
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Next I flamed them with a generous dose of brandy. It would’ve made a lovely campfire!
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As soon as the flames died I added cut-up tomatoes (peeled, I confess), along with a few more “inauthentic” ingredients called for by Courtine: white wine, salt, pepper, bay leaf, thyme, and parsley. This all simmered, covered, for 40 minutes.
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Meanwhile, I prepared another item added by Courtine’s recipe: slices of bread fried in olive oil. (Possibly Durand commandeered bread for Napoleon from the soldiers’ rations?)
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At the last minute I fried the eggs, set them on the fried bread slices, and placed them around the serving dish with the chicken and its sauce. Et voilà, poulet Marengo!
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It really is an excellent dish. The sharpness of the sauce, from the wine and brandy, contrasts beautifully with the lushness of the fried eggs and bread. The chicken just sits there enjoying it all – as we three diners did.

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The calendar says it’s spring, but the weather hasn’t been fully cooperative. What do you do on an unseasonably raw, dark, damp day? Easy: Have friends over for a bollito misto dinner.

In English, a “mixed boil” doesn’t sound overly attractive, but this northern Italian meat extravaganza is truly marvelous. I remember a long-ago winter day in Ferrara when Beloved Spouse and I lurched out of the icy blasts and into the warmth of a restaurant where all the lunchtime patrons were comforting themselves with bollito misto, served from a steaming silver cart that a waiter rolled around to each table. That was our first taste of this now-indispensable bad-weather balm.

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For this occasion, I embellished the bollito with a multi-course menu of dishes from my book The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen. We started with an antipasto of grilled radicchio with smoked mozzarella.

Several red-leaved members of the chicory family are known as radicchio. This dish wants the long, slender Treviso variety. The radicchio heads are halved and pan-grilled with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper; then placed in a baking pan, topped with smoked scamorza or mozzarella (scamorza is better, if you can find it), and baked until the cheese melts. The combination of smoky-lush cheese and savory-bitter radicchio makes a bracing wake-up call to the appetite.

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Next came a first course of passatelli in brodo.

Long, gentle boiling of several kinds of meat – on this day eye of chuck, chicken thighs, and veal tongue – produces a wonderfully rich broth. A bowl of it is purely ambrosial with passatelli. To make these tiny shreds of dumpling, you mix breadcrumbs, grated parmigiano, eggs, parsley, salt, pepper, and nutmeg into a soft paste. Dip out a quantity of broth into a separate pot; bring it to a boil; set a food mill over the pot; and mill the passatelli mixture directly into it. Cook two minutes, let rest two minutes, and serve. This is the soul’s plasma, so be prepared to offer seconds.

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Finally, the main event of the evening: the meats and their condiments.

In addition to the beef, chicken, and tongue, I separately cooked a large, unctuous cotechino sausage. Alongside we had potatoes mashed with parmigiano; salsa rossa (a thick, nubbly sauce that I make from roasted sweet peppers, onions, garlic, tomatoes, and red wine vinegar), and mostarda di Cremona – fruits preserved in a strong mustard syrup (jars of which I bring back from every trip to Italy). All in all, they made richly satisfying platefuls, with the sweet/sharp flavors of the two condiments playing beautifully off the lushness of the meats.

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And to finish the meal, a pizza dolce, or ricotta torte.

The pastry for this looking-toward-Easter dessert is a tender pasta frolla. The ricotta filling is flavored with confectioners’ sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, chopped almonds, and chopped candied citron and orange peel. For this evening’s torte I diverged a bit from my published recipe: I used very fresh sheep’s milk ricotta; orange peel alone, and a combination of almonds, walnuts, and hazelnuts. Came out just fine!

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Chicken is a wonderfully versatile food. Good chicken, I mean: birds that were fed decently, given room to move around, and allowed outside in fields to snack on seeds and bugs. Battery-raised chickens – well, most of us would rather not taste a battery of any kind. Fortunately, it’s getting easier to find good chickens in grocery stores. To me they’re well worth their premium price, and I love to cook with them.

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One of my (many) favorite ways with chicken is a braised dish I developed for our book The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen. It’s a common enough basic approach, but it carries an intriguing hint of the far eastern spice trade that brought wealth to Renaissance Venice.

In a casserole I soften chopped celery, onion, and carrot in butter and olive oil. I cut up the chicken, flour the pieces, and brown them among the aromatic vegetables. I pour in white wine, add 2 whole cloves and ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon, and deglaze the pan until the wine is almost evaporated. It’s just a small amount of spice, but its fragrance gently permeates the entire dish.

Next I mill a cup of drained, canned plum tomatoes into the casserole (or use my own simple San Marzano tomato sauce) stir, cover, and cook until the chicken is tender, turning the pieces occasionally and adding salt and pepper. Of course, nobody in Renaissance Venice cooked with tomatoes, but modern-day Venetians sometimes do.

While the chicken is cooking, I separately saute sliced mushrooms and add them to the casserole for a final five minutes.

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The entire dish can be made in advance and reheated later for serving. It’s really delicious, if I do say so myself!

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No, I don’t mean the goose from last year’s Christmas – only the one from three days ago. But cooking it so traumatized me that I swear it’s the last goose I’m ever going to make. Let me tell you about it.

There are many opinions on how to roast a goose, all meant to confront the problem of the truly enormous amount of fat a goose has under its skin. This is a plus in one sense, because the fat makes a splendid cooking medium for many other foods (not least potatoes). But separating that fat from its native bird is a serious undertaking.

Some recipes say to start with a very hot oven for a while, then turn it down to low heat. Others say use only the high heat, while still others say only the low heat. How to choose? I’d only ever roasted one goose before in my life, some way to cookyears ago, and I can’t remember how I did it or how it turned out. This time I decided to rely on the ever-trustworthy Julia Child. In The Way to Cook, she has a recipe called Steam-Roasted Goose, which she says renders out the most fat and gives the most succulent flesh of any technique she’s tried. I can’t say she’s wrong, but what a production number it was!

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Beloved Spouse and I started working on our 11-pound goose a whole day in advance, since there was a lot of other cooking to be done for our 5-course Christmas Day dinner. I cut off the wing tips and added them to the giblets and neck to make stock for the eventual gravy. I pulled all the loose fat out of the bird’s cavity and rubbed it all over with lemon juice. I pushed two long skewers through the body, one to secure the wings and the other the legs. I tied the drumstick ends together against the tail. And I made shallow, angled stabs all over the fatty parts of the skin.

trussed-bird

Thus trussed, the goose went onto a rack in my biggest roasting pan, into which it just barely (whew!) fit.

close-fit

I poured in two inches of water, covered the pan tightly, and steamed the goose for an hour, checking several times on the water level. The goose rendered quite a lot of liquid, much of which was fat. It also stiffened and tried to stretch, but the skewers and string held fairly well. After the pot had cooled I lifted out the goose on its rack, poured off the liquid, rinsed the pan, and returned the goose to it. That was all the cooking it got that day.

steamed

There was no room for that big roasting pan in my refrigerator, so I turned off the heat in my study, opened both windows wide, closed the door, and left the covered pan there, hoping for a good cold night.

The next day the goose was fine. In the late afternoon I unskewered its legs to access its cavity and put in a stuffing. Rather than Julia’s suggested stuffings I made my own, softening onions and mushrooms in a lot of melted butter and squeezing them into a bowl of shredded bread, along with salt, pepper, and chopped pecans. Then I sewed up the vent and neck cavities and re-skewered the legs.

Back into the roasting pan the goose went, breast down, its rack lined with a double layer of foil. I strewed chopped carrots, onions, and celery around the pan, and poured in a few cups of the goose’s steaming liquid.

ready-to-braise

I covered the pan again, brought its liquid to a boil on top of the stove, and put the pan in a 325° oven for 1½ hours, basting every 20 minutes. By this time the dinner party was under way, with other cooking and serving tasks interleaving in the usual hectic manner. And there was still one more cooking stage for the goose: 30 minutes in the oven, uncovered and breast up, after which it had to be kept warm while its gravy was made.

Turning the goose breast-up was the fiendish step. How do you turn over 11 pounds of hot, wet, slippery, legs-jutting-out bird that’s lying in a deep roasting pan? I don’t know how Julia did it, but we could think of only one way: I gave Beloved Spouse my two heavy oven mitts and held down the foil and the rack while he heroically lifted the goose out and turned it over, without causing either of us third-degree burns or precipitating the bird onto the kitchen floor.

I can’t show you a photo of that action because we were both too fully occupied to take one, but here’s the finished bird ready to be carved. It’s quite ungainly looking. I could only get a quick snapshot, because the dinner guests and the scalloped potatoes, red cabbage, applesauce, rolls, and gravy were waiting.

done

It was indeed a very tasty goose, though the skin hadn’t really crisped. But, in our somewhat rattled state by then, both Beloved Spouse and I completely forgot about the stuffing. We never took it out of the goose, so nobody ate it. Too bad, because it was probably pretty good. We’ll find out when we can work up our courage to tackle the leftovers.

Despite all the Sturm und Drang, I call the evening a success, but I never want to have another like it! Cooking a goose that way almost cooked my goose: It just takes too much time and energy in the context of all the other components of a major holiday meal. Next Christmas maybe just a simple standing rib roast of beef. Beloved Spouse says “Yes, please!”

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Roland Marandino, who blogs at Cooking from Books, did a post recently on how much neater and easier it is to cook sausages and peppers in the oven than in a sauté pan on top of the stove. That sounded to me like a brilliant idea, and I decided to try it, with a few alterations, for a casual dinner party a few nights ago. It was a great success.

For six people I used six individual pork ribs, six sweet Italian sausages, six hot Italian sausages, two very large chicken legs, two Spanish onions, and seven of the last of this season’s locally grown Bell peppers.
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ingredients

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Beloved Spouse did his usual expert knife work on the peppers and onions, and the rest was a slam-dunk. I oiled my biggest roasting pan, laid in all the meats and vegetables, salting and peppering as I went, and drizzled olive oil over the top.
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oven-ready

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Roland’s recipe, which was for a smaller quantity of food, said to keep the sausages in a single layer and roast at 400° for an hour. As you can see, mine was a deeply filled pan. I gave it an extra 10 minutes and stirred the mixture around a few times during the cooking. When the time was up I cut the chicken into smaller pieces and halved some of the sausages. I’d intended to transfer everything to my very largest platter, but since this was such a casual occasion I just served everyone straight from the roasting pan. No one minded.
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roasted

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I’m happy to say that all the meats and vegetables were fully cooked and very tasty. A nice crusty country loaf complemented the simple meats. Everyone ate well, and with the accompaniment of a magnum of 1997 Castello Banfi Poggio alle Mura Brunello, the customary good time was had by all. So thank you, Roland, for providing the idea!

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In our recent week’s vacation in Rome, Beloved Spouse and I dined only in restaurants we’d known and loved for years. We really had meant to try new places – I had a list – but once we were there, we couldn’t resist our old favorites. In my last post I wrote about our dinners at three of them; now I’ll describe the other three.
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campana-menu

We’ve been dining at La Campana for more than 30 years. It never seems to change, which is a comfort in this very unstable world. The image above is from my copy of its paper menu of July 7, 1979, all handwritten entries, reproduced in lurid purple ink. We’ve always eaten very well there and did again this time. Extravagantly, we both chose fettucine with white truffles for our first course (€50 a portion: about $55).
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white-truffle

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These truffles were much whiter than the ones Tom had a few days previously (a good thing: the paler, the better). Though they weren’t strewn as lavishly over the pasta as in the other dish, their flavor was much more intense, almost intoxicating. Interestingly, I have another of La Campana’s paper menus from fall 1990, which lists fettucine with white truffles for 35,000 lire. That amounted to $28 then, which would be about $50 in today’s dollars, so the price has hardly gone up in all that time.

For our second courses, Tom had petto di vitello arrosto, roasted breast of veal, and I had abbacchio arrosto, baby lamb, both with roasted rosemary potatoes and a light pan gravy. Both were quite simple and quite delicious Roman classics. Baby lamb here really is baby lamb: a tiny, pale-fleshed animal with a lot of gelatin and cartilage where Americans expect bone. And veal here means a milk-fed young animal, not a half-grown steer.
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vitello

abbacchio-campana

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La Campana’s menus now are multi-paged, printed, and encased in leather binders, so I fear I won’t be able to expand my collection any further. But I do cherish the old ones I have.
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sora-lella

Sora Lella is the only restaurant on the tiny Tiber Island, which stands in the middle of the river in Rome. Still family-owned and -run, it offers a large menu of classic Roman dishes, ever-so-slightly lightened. We started with two of the house’s specialty fried antipasti: suppli (rice balls) and polpettini (meat balls).
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polpettini-suppli

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Uncharacteristically for us, we skipped pasta that evening and went on to secondi: trippa alla romana for Tom, pollo alla romana for me. The tripe was of several kinds, not just the honeycomb that’s all we get in the US, well cooked to tenderness in a tomato sauce flavored with celery and cloves and generously topped with pecorino cheese. My chicken was a free-range farm bird, stewed with luscious sweet red peppers and a little tomato.
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trippa

pollo

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With just room for a little dessert, we shared another very typical Roman dish: a slice of ricotta torte with a bottom layer of sour-cherry preserve.

 

 

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ar-galletto-awning

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And now I have to report the one disappointing experience of our Roman dining week: Ar Galletto. We used to love this place when it was known as Da Giovanni ar Galletto, a scruffy, unpretentious, side-street trattoria, cheerful, noisy, and much frequented by locals. A few years ago it moved a short distance to large quarters on the Piazza Farnese, decorated its rooms in chilly Milanese-modern style, extensively upgraded its menu – and sold its soul.

It disappointed us on our last trip to Rome, but we wanted to try it again this time in case it had recovered. It hasn’t. Giovanni’s brusque charm and his devotion to quality have gone forever. The waiters now seem to see their role as jollying international tourists rather than intelligently serving their food or knowing their wine list. The kitchen turns out some good dishes, but also some bad ones, apparently aiming more to impress than to please.

For example, of our pasta courses, ravioli filled with oxtail (coda alla vaccinara) and dressed with the same oxtail sauce was excellent. Short pasta alla gricia (the sauce mainly rendered guanciale and grated pecorino) was thick and gummy, not much improved by the addition of cooked artichoke.
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ravioli-gricia

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And of our main courses, abbacchio arrosto was as it should be, but maialino arrosto was inedible. The pork seemed to have been cooked and sliced in the morning, left out to dry and harden, and then heated up in a microwave.
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abbacchio-galletto

maialino-galletto

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Finally, ordering the wine produced a textbook example of waiterly ineptitude: See Tom’s blog post “Wining in Rome” for the absurd story. So, here’s one name to strike off our list of Roman restaurants to return to. But the contrast in the experience makes us appreciate the other great dining places all the more. Maybe not everything is eternal in the Eternal City, but enough good survives to make us look forward to our next visit.

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