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Archive for the ‘Poultry’ Category

Chicken with peppers is a favorite dish of mine. I like to prepare it Roman-style, usually from my own recipe in La Tavola Italiana. This time I made a Piedmont-style version from Faith Willinger’s cookbook Red, White & Greens, which my friend Betty recently gave me. The recipe is very different from the Roman approach.

The difference is characteristically regional: southern Italian simplicity vs. northern Italian complexity. The Roman dish uses very few other ingredients: tomatoes, white wine, salt, and pepper. The Piedmontese dish calls for a bevy of additional items, including pork, aromatic vegetables, sweet spices, and vinegar. I was intrigued by the number of flavors, and also by some small procedural matters.

Willinger says the recipe is primarily used for rabbit but can be made with chicken to accommodate squeamish persons. She urges skinning the chicken, for rabbit-like leanness. I like rabbit, but Tom doesn’t (too many tiny bones). We don’t mind chicken skin, but I did skin my cut-up half chicken, just for appearance.
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Tom minced onion, celery, carrot, garlic, pancetta, and rosemary for me, which was to be cooked slowly in olive oil for 10 to 15 minutes. Normally I’d warm the oil in the pot and then add those ingredients. Willinger’s way is to put them in a cold pot, pour on the oil, stir it around, then turn on the heat. OK, I did that, and it worked all right.
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While the vegetables were softening, I salted and peppered the chicken pieces, tossed them with a little olive oil, and browned them lightly in a nonstick frying pan. Again, Willinger’s way was just the opposite of mine: I’d have heated the olive oil in the pan, then put in the chicken pieces. But again, I did it her way.
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Meanwhile, I assembled the next batch of ingredients: sliced peppers, chopped tomatoes, cinnamon, cloves, and ½ cup of red wine. Willinger suggested peeling the raw peppers, for digestibility, but we’ve never had any such trouble with peppers, so I didn’t.
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Next, the chicken and all those accompaniments were to be mixed in with the vegetables and the pot simmered, uncovered, for 30 to 40 minutes; with ¼ cup more wine added if necessary. There I felt I had to diverge from the instructions. Perhaps I’d taken too large a pot, but cooking it uncovered for that long would have reduced the liquid so fast, it’d have needed far more wine to keep the chicken from frying. I covered the pot. And that worked all right too.
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When the chicken was tender, I transferred the pieces to a serving dish to keep warm and stirred the final condiments into the peppers and sauce: a tablespoon of red wine vinegar and a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg. After five more minutes, I poured peppers and sauce over the chicken and served.
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This was a very good dish. All the varied seasonings had blended into a rich, mellow sauce with just a touch of sweet spice. The peppers had absorbed and basked in the flavor, which gave a nice balance to their natural acidity. The chicken, oddly, hadn’t. With all the time it had simmered in that sauce, the bird still tasted only of itself. A bit of a mystery there, but the peppers and sauce were so good, they overrode the plainness of the chicken. But next time maybe I’ll try a rabbit.

 

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You couldn’t tell from reading my blog that Tom does a lot of cooking in our house. He does, though. Not big on following recipes, he’s a versatile utility cook. Soups, stews, steaks, chops, pasta, frittata, vegetables – let him look in the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry, and he’ll put together something good for a meal.

One of his big talents is hash. Tom sees hash as the perfect way to use leftovers to make another, different meal. No two of his versions are ever exactly the same, and he never measures ingredients, but all are a simple pleasure to eat. This week I watched with my camera while he made his latest concoction. Here’s what would be going into it:
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In the front, a few formerly fried potatoes, the last chunk of a good smoked ham, raw celery, and remnants of a roasted duck. In the back, two eggs, an apple, red onion, carrot, and raw potatoes. (The apple isn’t chopped yet, to keep it from turning brown.) As you see, he doesn’t feel hash needs to be overly heavy on meat.

The condiments, lined up in readiness, were Mexican hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper.

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And so, to work. He started by parboiling the raw potatoes and carrots for 10 minutes.

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Drained, they went into a frying pan with the onion and celery, and gently sauteed in olive oil for about 10 to 15 minutes. No browning yet wanted.

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Next, he stirred in the ham, duck, and already fried potatoes, cooking the mixture slightly more briskly for another 10 minutes. Generous salt and pepper, plus splashes of Cholula sauce and Worcestershire went in at this point, and everything was vigorously stirred together.

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Finally came the apple and another vigorous stirring, followed by gentle cooking together for 10 to 20 minutes, until the mixture began browning on the bottom and forming a slight crust. The hash was ready.
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Then it was my turn to step in, to poach eggs to top the hash. You need very fresh eggs for poaching, to keep the whites neatly surrounding the yolks. On this day the eggs I had were pretty old, so as an experiment I put a pair of English muffin rings into the pan of simmering water and eased an egg into each one.
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I can’t say it worked completely well. Even though most of the whites stayed contained within the rings, some escaped and floated around wispily in the water. But it didn’t seem to hurt the eggs any.

So here is a plate of the day’s hash, crowned with its egg. The hash itself was richly flavorful, as always. The apple, which he’d never used in a hash before as far as I remember, gave  a nice little touch of sweetness to the succulence of the meats and vegetables. And the liquid egg yolk made its usual perfect sauce.
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Hail to the chef!

 

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A great pleasure of opening any of Martin Walker’s “Mysteries of the French Countryside” books is anticipation of the dishes that Bruno Courrèges, his police-chief detective, will be making for dinner guests in the intervals of solving crimes. Bruno’s kitchen work is described so fully, I’ve been able to recreate several of his recipes for myself – about which I’ve done posts, here and here.

This time Tom and I and the friend who shared those earlier occasions gathered to make a dinner based on two of Bruno’s recipes from The Shooting at Chateau Rock: a main course of chicken and a dessert of cherries. Earlier, I’d written up the book’s information on each dish, so we could make notes on scaling down and quantifying. This we did while having kirs, the aperitif that Bruno served.
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For our appetizer at the dinner table, we couldn’t match Bruno’s homemade pâté de foie gras, but we had a hearty chunk of peppercorn-crusted pâté de campagne, served with cornichons and mustard.
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Our main course was this dish of chicken thighs, which, owing to a peculiar omission in the book, might well have been called a “mystery of the French countryside” itself.
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For all the book’s detailed narrative of chopping shallots, garlic, and tarragon, softening them in butter in a casserole dish, adding wine and stock, bringing it to a simmer, covering and putting it in the oven for 45 minutes, it never said to put the chicken thighs in the pot.

I kid you not. All three of us had read and reread the book’s pages, and once the raw chicken thighs are salted and peppered on the kitchen counter, the next we hear of them is when they come out of the casserole to wait while the sauce is being finished.

Needless to say, we needed an intervention. When would Bruno have put the chicken in the casserole? We opted to brown ours quickly in butter at the beginning, took them out of the pan to wait while we softened the vegetables, and returned them in time for the addition of wine and stock. From there, we were able to return to the book’s “instructions.”

Finally, the pan juices were reduced, and the sauce was finished with crème fraiche and lemon zest. We served the chicken with a very plain rice pilaf, as Bruno did (plus green beans, which he didn’t). The whole dish was excellent, with just a touch of spicy-sweet tarragon in the creamy sauce.
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Bruno’s dessert was cherries (picked from his own tree, of course) lightly stewed with honey and topped with a custard made from crème fraiche and heavy cream. It sounded luscious. Alas, our version didn’t entirely succeed.
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We did take extreme care in the time and temperature for heating the two creams and in the continuous vigorous whisking, both when beating them into the eggs and when finishing the cooking. But our custard first refused to thicken, and then – slowly but inexorably – curdled. Too much heat, I fear. I’ve found custards made with milk much easier to work with, and baked custards are easiest of all. Wish we’d used a double boiler here!

Our dessert wasn’t quite ruined: The cherries were fine, and you could think of the topping as a kind of furry, sweetened ricotta. But it didn’t have the silky texture you expect in a custard. Still, well chilled, and with cherry juice drizzled over the top, it was a pleasant enough ending to the meal.

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And finally: Tom produced three white wines for us to drink in the course of the dinner. A Mâcon-Villages for the kirs, a Condrieu with the pâté, and an older Savennières with the chicken. He’s done a post about them on his blog.
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Exactly one year ago, Tom and I were booked on a flight to Rome, for a week’s stay. We so miss that city! Even if Italy reopens to Americans this summer, we won’t be joining the first wave of post-pandemic visitors. While waiting, we try our best to reproduce the Roman foods that we love, here in our own kitchen.

Pollo alla romana, chicken braised with sweet red peppers, is a homely, comforting dish served in every trattoria in Rome. It was one of the earliest recipes we recreated for our first cookbook, La Tavola Italiana, and is still one of my favorites.

Trouble is, not even the best variety of red Bell peppers grown in the USA can compare with the huge, gorgeous ones available in Rome’s vegetable markets. Still, even domestic peppers can make this a very good dish. And this week, long before there are any local peppers, I found big, good-looking ones from Mexico (we’ve been grateful for Mexican fruits and vegetables all winter) at my best local vegetable stand. Each weighed about 9 ounces and cost all of 50 cents.
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We can’t get chickens as flavorful as those in Italy either (I think Roman birds must lead more interesting lives than American ones), but I try for the best I can.

Scaling down my own recipe, I began browning two cut up chicken legs in olive oil, along with a sliced garlic clove. This didn’t go well. Whatever I had last cooked in that pan had totally unseasoned it, and the chicken pieces persisted in sticking, tearing the skin and pasting it to the bottom of the pan.
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Chicken stickin’

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The pieces also thought it was fun to spatter their olive oil all over the stove every time I struggled to dislodge them, as you can see in the picture. Oy.

When they had gotten as brown as they were going to (not very), I deglazed the pan with white wine and scraped up all the remnants of the tasty skin, leaving them in to contribute whatever they could to the dish. The wine also persuaded the chicken pieces to release their death grip on the pan, so I could comfortably stir in about a cup’s worth of puree made from canned Italian-style tomatoes, plus salt and pepper.
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The chicken simmered along quietly in the liquid for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, I had been peeling and quartering two of my favorite German butterball potatoes and also cutting up one of the big red peppers. I added them to the pan.
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I should admit that potatoes are totally non-canonical in pollo alla romana, but for an occasional variation on the recipe, they’re awfully good. Potatoes love tomatoes, and vice versa.

Covered, the pan simmered along for half an hour, getting an occasional stir that wafted up an increasingly mouth-watering aroma. I don’t know how it happens, but I’d swear there’s some sort of chemical interaction among chicken, peppers, and tomatoes that makes for an unexpectedly rich and luscious dish. My partially mangled chicken pieces even came out looking not too bad.
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And tasting fine too. So, while pollo alla romana in the USA is not as great as it is in Rome, it is a consolation, until we can get back across the ocean for the real thing. Moreover, this is a chicken dish that even Tom likes!

 

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Long-married couples who hope to remain that way have to learn to tolerate each other’s idiosyncrasies, not least those involving food. I loved the new dinner dish I tried a few evenings ago. Tom ate a tiny portion, patiently waited while I finished mine, and made most of his meal on the subsequent cheese course.

When I first suggested trying this Carolina chicken and shrimp pilau from James Villas’ book Country Cooking, Tom was actively interested in the recipe. But it didn’t come out as he’d expected: too heavy on the chicken for him. “Arroz con pollo,” he said, resignedly. I didn’t agree, but even if I had, I also love a good arroz con pollo. (He doesn’t.)

With that little domestic contretemps as background, I’ll tell you about making this unusual poultry-and-seafood dish. The recipe gives quantities to serve eight, and I was cutting it down for just two of us. So my protein ingredients were:

  • Two chicken thighs, simmered in water with celery and peppercorns, then skinned, boned, and the meat shredded
  • Two slices of bacon, crisped in a frying pan and crumbled
  • A dozen medium shrimp, shelled and deveined

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After a recent unhappy encounter with mediocre chicken, this time I made sure to use free-range, vegetable-fed chicken thighs. The bones and skin went back into their boiling pot, to cook with the celery and peppercorns long enough to make a light broth. The bacon’s fat I scraped into a heavy casserole for the initial cooking of the rice.

I chopped half an onion and a tiny garlic clove; briefly sauteed them in the bacon fat; added half a cup of long-grain rice and tossed it to coat with the fat. Next in went ¾ cup of the chicken broth, a little chopped tomato, ½ teaspoon of lemon juice, ½ teaspoon of Worcestershire, several gratings of nutmeg, and a speck of cayenne. (Though Worcestershire sauce is in the ingredient list, it never appears in the recipe instructions. I figured this would be the place for it. No salt or pepper requested yet, either. I gave it some anyway.)
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Stirred, covered, and brought to a boil, the casserole went into a 350° oven for 20 minutes. Though I worried that might be too long for my small quantity, it was OK – just. When I took it out, the rice had absorbed all the liquid and was clearly beginning to think about sticking on the bottom. Quickly I stirred in a little more of the chicken broth and added the chicken, shrimp, and bacon, along with more salt and pepper, though the recipe still didn’t ask for any.
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The casserole went back into the oven for 15 minutes. Again, I was concerned about the time: Would 15 minutes toughen the shrimp? No, fortunately, it didn’t. (And here at last the recipe said to correct for salt and pepper, which I no longer needed to do.)
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As I said above, I loved this dish. The chicken was tender and tasty, the shrimp plump and juicy, the rice gently infused with all the aromatic ingredients. The shrimp and chicken hadn’t actually mingled their flavors, but they neighbored surprisingly well on the plate with each other and with the toothsome rice. I was sorry that Tom didn’t think so too, but for me, the pilau was an excellent new discovery.

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P.S.  That yellow hockey puck you see on the plate above is a sweet potato biscuit. I baked a small batch because Villas calls for them as a good accompaniment to the pilau. They didn’t work for me. Made only with flour, baking powder, Crisco, and a boiled sweet potato, the biscuits hardly tasted of anything. Maybe you had to grow up in the South to appreciate these.

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Though potato is the one food named in the title above, it refers only to the casing for a rich baked assortment of meats, mushrooms, herbs, and spices. In Italy’s Piedmont region, La Finanziera is an extravaganza of a stew, involving delicacies such as cockscombs, sweetbreads, and truffles. Applying the approach to more everyday ingredients still makes an excellent dinner dish.

This was the special dish I chose to match with the second of the 12 special wines Tom picked out from his collection to drink, one a month, this year. February’s wine was a 2001 Gaja Costa Russi – also from the Piedmont. I found the recipe on Italian Home Cooking, a blog by Stefano Arturi that I follow. Stefano is a London-based former restaurateur, cookbook author, and cooking teacher. His version of the timbale is an adaptation of one in Il Talismano della Felicità, the great seminal cookbook by Ada Boni. And mine is a slight adaptation of Stefano’s.

I want to show you what the finished dish should look like. (Regular readers may suspect why.) Here’s Stefano’s timballo di patate alla finanziera. The free-standing drum is made of mashed potatoes, with a crust of browned, buttery breadcrumbs. Quite a culinary feat!
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I was making my usual half amount of the recipe, which would still be too much for just two of us, but it wouldn’t have been feasible in a smaller quantity.

I started by preparing the potato. I boiled a big russet potato, mashed it, and mixed in beaten egg, grated parmigiano, ground nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
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My faithful knife man cut up the meats for me. I used luganega sausage, chicken gizzards already prepared in confit, and a small amount of veal sweetbread – not exactly what the recipe calls for, but all things I had on hand.
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In a sauté pan I softened minced onions in butter and olive oil, with bay leaf, sage leaf, ground cloves, cinnamon, crushed juniper berries, grated nutmeg, and black pepper. I added each of the meats in turn, cooking them gently, and ended by deglazing the pan with white wine.
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Earlier, I had soaked, softened, and cut up dried porcini mushrooms and also sliced a few fresh cremini mushrooms. Separately, I sautéed those, also in butter and olive oil, and stirred in the porcini soaking liquid and a little tomato paste.
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When I’d mixed the mushrooms and their juices into the meats, the timbale filling was ready and could be set aside. Now came the tricky part!

A bit intimidated by the prospect of using the recommended tall metal charlotte mold, I chose a broader, shallower Corning ware casserole dish. I slathered the interior heavily with softened butter and coated it with fine, dry, homemade breadcrumbs. On top of that I gingerly poured in some beaten egg, tilted the dish around until the egg covered all the crumbs, and followed with another coat of crumbs.
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Per the recipe directions, I put the mold into the freezer for a while, to make it easier for the potato lining to cling. Which it did, surprisingly easily: With wet fingers, it was just like applying modeling clay.
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In went the filling, with butter dotted on the top. Then a covering of the rest of the potato casing and yet more butter..

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I put the dish in a 350° oven with a sigh of relief. But I was not out of the woods yet. It was supposed to be done in 45 to 60 minutes, when the top was firm and golden. It firmed in about an hour, but it absolutely wouldn’t go golden. I gave it several extra minutes, then took it out anyway and let it rest for the indicated 10 minutes before unmolding.

Disaster! Even after loosening the sides, when I topped the dish with a serving plate and reversed the two, the timbale wouldn’t come out. With repeated shaking, the filling and some of its crust let go and spilled out. The original bottom layer of the crust was stuck to the dish and had to be pried out in chunks, to be laid over the filling.

I refuse to show you what the whole mess looked like. Instead, here’s one of the portions I rescued to put on our dinner plates.
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Despite its total collapse, the timbale was delicious. The meats and mushrooms had retained their individual characteristics, enhanced each other, and picked up more flavor from the gentle medley of spices, herbs, wine, and tomato. The potatoes – even the obviously overcooked layer from the bottom of the dish – had also taken on some of the shared flavors and were delicious too. And it all went perfectly with Tom’s special wine.

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I’d like to add that this dinner was special for us in two further ways. That day, we were celebrating Tom’s birthday, and also, we’d gotten our first Covid vaccine shots. Happiness and relief!

I do wonder why my timbale fell apart, though. Dish the wrong shape or made of the wrong material? Not enough butter or crumbs lining it? Potato layer too thin? Too long in the oven? Or just bad culinary luck?  Stefano, if you’re reading this, I’d be grateful for any thoughts you might have about that!

 

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Mies van der Rohe notwithstanding, less is not always more. Sometimes, less is definitely less.

That, alas, was the case when I embarked on my first new chicken recipe of 2021. As my regular readers know, chicken is one of my all-time favorite things to eat, and I never tire of looking for new ways to serve it. Poulet Sauté d’Yvetot, Chicken Sauté Normandy-style, looked simple and unusual when I read the recipe in the Poultry volume of the Time-Life Good Cook series. Other than chicken, salt, and pepper, the only ingredients were classic Normandy flavors: apples, butter, and Calvados.

I’d never cooked chicken with apples, but the combination seemed worth a try. So, on my next trip to a reliably good grocery store, I picked up a pair of big chicken legs – not organic, not free-range, not brand-named; just what was available that day. The first cooking stage was to brown them in butter in a sauté pan.

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The chicken sautéed for about 20 minutes, until half cooked. While that was happening, I peeled, cored, and chopped an apple – the kind of chopping job for which it’s fun to use my mezzaluna.
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When the chicken legs’ time was up, I salted and peppered them, set them in a baking dish in which I had spread the chopped apples, and deglazed the sauté pan with Calvados.
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I poured all the pan juices over the legs, covered the baking dish, and put it into a 350° oven for 30 minutes, until the the chicken tested done. Discouragingly, it had looked better on its way into the oven (left, below) than when it came out (right). Gone was the taut, crisp skin and warm brown color of the sautéing. The legs were pale, limp, grayish, and soggy looking.
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Well, whatever else that chicken was, it was dinner for that evening. I made sure to load the plates with lots of vegetables, just in case. And the vegetables were needed. The chicken had turned out bland and boring. Lacking much flavor of its own, it hadn’t taken on any from the apple, either. The apple, tasty enough in itself, hadn’t even seemed to notice that it had shared an oven with chicken.
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What went wrong here? Two things, I think. First, the chicken legs must have been from a battery fowl, to have flesh so tasteless. Their anonymity and low price should have warned me away, and I should have held off until I could find chicken with a provenance. Second, I think the recipe was misguided: It was more of a braise than a sauté, which made the chicken skin unpleasant; and while the richness of duck would have made a good match with the sweet acidity of apples alone, I now suspect that even good chicken would have needed more supporting flavors.

Oh well, you can’t win them all. Little after-dinner glasses of Calvados helped reconcile us.

 

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I’m always on the lookout for new recipes for chicken that I can make to tempt the taste buds of my non-chicken-loving spouse. My latest discovery is a dish that I didn’t quite get right but that offers interesting possibilities for future adaptations: an empanada gallega.

I’ve known empanadas as small, savory turnovers. This one, a specialty of Spain’s Galicia region, is a full-sized pie, filled with a mixture of chicken, peppers, onions, and ham, and baked in a bread crust. Here’s its picture in the Cooking of Spain and Portugal volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series.

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The recipe starts by having you make the bread dough and let it rise fully, before it says anything about preparing the filling. There I almost shot myself in the foot right away, not noticing that there had to be two rises, not one. Happily, I reread the instructions just in time to get started early enough.

As the dough rose, I began working on the filling. For a small half recipe, I put two chicken thighs and several chunks of onion in a pot and poached them in water for 25 minutes.
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As soon as the thighs were cool enough to handle, I skinned, boned, and cut them up. Since my chicken didn’t lend itself to neat ½-inch cubes, as requested, I settled for bite-size chunks.
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Next I had to finely chop about three tablespoons each of onions and prosciutto (an approved substitute for Serrano ham) and a tiny clove of garlic. And to cut the flesh of half a red Bell pepper into ¼-inch squares. The shape of my pepper wasn’t conducive to squareness, either, and I decided somewhat larger pieces would be fine. Every cook is entitled to a little self-expression.
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I sauteed the peppers, onions, and garlic in olive oil for 10 minutes. They started smelling good immediately. I added the ham and ⅓ cup of simple tomato sauce; raised the heat and cooked off most of the moisture; stirred in the chicken pieces, salt, and pepper; and turned off the heat. It all looked good enough to eat, right out of the pan. I resisted; and set the pan aside.
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Returning to the risen bread dough, I deflated it, divided it in two equal pieces, and rolled them out in circles on a floured board. Well, I say “rolled,” but mostly I treated them like pieces of pizza dough, stretching them by hand. The dough was reasonably cooperative.
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I then did something really foolish, which could have been disastrous. I spread the filling on one piece of the dough, laid on and sealed the other piece, and left the pie to rise for a final 20 minutes on the rolling board, not the baking pan.
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I was appalled when I realized what I’d done. How was I going to get that soft, heavy, moisture-filled mound moved onto the baking pan?! I had panicked visions of dinner consisting of a smeary loaf of chicken bread.

It took two of us to do it. With four hands, two large flat spatulas, and a rimless cookie sheet, plus delicate nudging to restore the empanada’s shape once safely on its pan. With a whoof! of relief, I brushed the surface with egg wash.
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In 45 minutes of baking at 375°, my empanada browned nicely and rose into a substantial dome. That surprised me, because I couldn’t imagine the filling would have swelled to raise the crust like that.
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Nor had it. When I cut into the empanada, there was a big air space inside, which somehow had stretched the top crust to eggshell thinness. There was nothing like that in the cookbook’s photo, though a closer look at it suggested the presence of a steam hole at the center – which was not called for in the recipe. That might well have made the difference.
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Despite its peculiar appearance, my empanada was very pleasant to eat. We just crunched our way through the brittle top crust and enjoyed its contrast with the softer crust on the bottom and around the rim.
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And that chicken filling was amazingly good. Even Tom said so. Simple as its condiments were, it had somehow achieved an Iberian flavor, even without Serrano ham. I can easily see myself making chicken this way again, to use as a pot pie filling with a pastry crust, or an oven casserole with a biscuit topping. Even just by itself, with rice or noodles alongside. I can hardly wait!

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Thanksgiving dinner was a two-person affair for Tom and me this year. Sadly, Covid concern kept us away from our traditional holiday meal at the home of friends. To console ourselves, we tried putting together a minimalist celebratory feast.

I acquired a turkey thigh and leg (bought, not grown, Tom hastens to clarify), which together weighed in at a bit over two pounds. Wrinkly creatures, they were.
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I’d only ever roasted whole turkeys before, so I had to do some recipe research for these parts. I found a simple preparation for roasting turkey parts in Julia Child’s The Way to Cook. Per Julia, parts take half the time of a whole bird, which for my two would mean two hours at 325°, for an internal temperature of 165°. Mindful of turkey’s tendency to be dry, I spread softened butter all over the two parts and basted them every 30 minutes with their own juices and hot water.
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Meanwhile, to approximate the traditional Thanksgiving bounty of multiple vegetable dishes, in my hotter oven I roasted a pan of winter vegetables, using ones I had on hand: a white sweet potato, a carrot, some chunks of Spanish onion, the end of a fennel bulb, and a few Brussels sprouts.
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And I made a very small batch of cranberry-orange relish: one cup of cranberries and half of a clementine, rind and all.
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A special treat for our first course was oeufs au cheval. I’ve written here about this appetizer of white bread fried in butter; spread with foie gras, topped with a butter-fried egg; sprinkled with grated parmigiano and paprika, and finished under a broiler. The eggs were unusually uncooperative this day, apparently adapting perfectly to the ambience of 2020, so our plates weren’t as pretty as earlier ones I’d made, but they tasted just as good.
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Then it was time for the turkey. When two hours in the oven were up, the thigh and leg were a crisp rich brown, quite handsome to look at, but they’d also reached 180° on an instant-read thermometer. That was not good. I pulled them out of the oven, gave them a good rest, and hoped for the best.
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I didn’t get it. The meat was dry and chewy, the skin all leathery. Alas, that’s only too common in Thanksgiving turkeys, and a perfect example of why people often dislike the traditional dinner. (The vegetables were somewhat over-roasted too. Maybe my oven is running too hot?)

Well, it was what it was, and we ate what we could of it. A hastily made pan gravy and the cranberry relish helped it a bit.
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The nice 12-year-old Morey-Saint Denis from Drouhin that we drank with it by no means hurt. One wonders how many dry turkeys have, over the years, been lubricated by a good wine.
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What helped the dinner most, actually, was its dessert – again in the great American holiday tradition. Just for the two of us I made the whole pumpkin chiffon pie that I’d intended to bring to our friends’ dinner party. It’s one of Tom’s favorite pies, and it came out exactly as it should: feather-light on the palate, moist, spicy, and only slightly sweet – a lovely ending to a slightly flawed dinner.

Let’s hope it’s an omen for what’s left of this very flawed year.
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Pollo in Pepitoria

Do you know what makes a good husband? Here’s one clue: not liking chicken much himself, he’ll say “Diane, isn’t it a long time since we’ve had chicken for dinner?” Gee, what a nice fella!

Thus authorized recently, I spent an enjoyable time browsing through my cookbooks for a new chicken recipe to try. From four finalists in The Cooking of Spain and Portugal volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series, I finally settled on Pollo in Pepitoria. Though its English name is Chicken Braised in White Wine with Almonds and Garlic, the ingredients that intrigued me most were hard-boiled egg yolks and saffron.

The recipe calls for a 4- to 5-pound roasting chicken. From the nearly inaccessible freezer depths of the unsatisfactory new refrigerator I’ve anathematized here before, I excavated half of a very large free-range chicken, just the right size for half a recipe.
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I cut the bird in pieces; salted, peppered, and floured them; browned them quickly in olive oil over high heat, and moved them to a heavy casserole.
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In the frying pan I softened a cup of chopped onions, spread them over the chicken pieces, added chopped parsley, a small bay leaf, half a cup of white wine, and a cup of water. All fairly routine handling so far.
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Now I entered for-me uncharted territory. While the chicken simmered, covered, for 20 minutes, I prepared the remaining flavorings of blanched almonds, saffron threads, garlic, and a hard-boiled egg yolk, to be pounded together in a mortar and pestle.

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It was supposed to become a smooth paste, but I’m not a good pounder. Best I could do was a sort of sticky crumble.
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That was OK, though, because when I added a little of the chicken’s braising liquid, the mixture became pourable. I stirred it into the casserole liquid and simmered for about 15 more minutes, until the chicken was tender. The last step was to remove the chicken pieces to a deep platter and keep them warm while boiling down the liquid to thicken and reduce it by half. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve.
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This was a very good dish, with an interestingly subtle sauce. The overall effect was creamy, but somehow not in the manner of sauces made with cream or butter. We couldn’t distinguish any individual flavors of egg yolk, garlic, onion, saffron, or almonds: they’d blended into something tasting lightly exotic, an excellent complement for the bird.

The non-chicken-lover across the dinner table from me gallantly declared that he liked it. (Little does he realize there are three more interesting looking chicken recipes from that Spanish cookbook awaiting his next bout of gallantry!)

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