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Archive for the ‘Poultry’ Category

Roasted Quails

Quails are always a treat for me. The very first time I tasted them was in the very first dinner I had in Italy. It was in Rome, 1974, a neighborhood trattoria called La Capricciosa. The weekly menu was a mimeographed broadsheet listing 40 fish, fowl, and meat dishes. Bewildered by the abundance and amazingly low prices, I could hardly believe it when I saw “2 quaglie” – two quails – offered for 1300 lire, which then was about $2. I had to have them!

I can’t remember now how they were cooked – possibly just sauteed in butter with sage leaves – but they were beautifully brown, tender, and juicy. I took home the menu, and here it is. If you click on the image, you can read it clearly. The quail entry is down on the lower left.

 

 

For years after, every time we were in Rome, I had to go at least once to Capricciosa for quaglie. It was a sort of home away from home for us, and we loved everything about it, from its slightly run-down appearance and furnishings to the two musicians – an old violinist and a young guitarist – who made the rounds every evening. Then a fire closed the restaurant for a few years, and when it reopened it was a much fancier kind of place. And no more quails. Sigh.

These days, I occasionally treat myself to a pair of quails at home. Mostly when Tom is either away on a trip or out at a business dinner, because he finds the little birds difficult to cope with. A bushy moustache is a liability for hand-held nibbling of meat from tiny bones, which is pretty much the only practical way to eat anything on a quail other than the breast.

 

 

This latest pair are a little odd looking, having kept the stretched-out position into which they’d been frozen, rather than being plumped up like miniature chickens. I decided to roast them, using a recipe of my own from The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen. Since the lean little birds need a protective layer of fat to keep them from drying out in the oven, I draped each one with a round of pancetta, which adds flavor as well as moistening.

 

 

In the absence of pancetta, blanched bacon or salt pork works for the covering, too. (BTW, notice how thin the string around the pancetta is? I’d run out of kitchen twine, so I used dental floss.)

While the oven preheated to 400°, I browned the quails in butter, along with a few sage leaves. The preliminary sauté is necessary for color, because of the short time the birds would be in the oven.

 

 

I transferred them to a baking dish, deglazed their sauté pan with white wine, and poured the juices over the quails. In the oven, they roasted for 25 minutes and were ready to eat.

 

 

They were wonderfully tasty and, as always, took me back in memory to Capricciosa’s quaglie.

I still have my journal notes on that first Roman dinner. Tom and I had two antipasti, two pastas, two main courses, a liter and a half of wine, two espressos, a grappa, and an amaro – all for 8,500 lire, or about $16. Today, with inflation, my $2 quails would translate to about $10 and the whole meal $65 – but just try to think what this meal would cost today in any restaurant that could serve it!

 

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This week I reconstructed an ancient French dish to match with a tasting of two wines made from the Cabernet franc grape: one from France’s Loire valley, the other an American from a winery on Long Island’s North Fork, where traditional Loire grapes do very well. Tom wanted to compare the wines to each other, alone and with dinner.

 

To keep the contest “in the family,” we wanted to have a main course from the Loire region’s cuisine. Recipe research revealed that most specialties of the Touraine region are white-wine dishes, in keeping with the many lovely white wines of that area, as well as the culinary resources from its ocean access and many rivers. But we needed a dish to showcase red wine.

Waverley Root’s classic book The Food of France speaks admiringly of coq au vin made with the Loire’s Chinon wine. (We had a Chinon for our experiment, but it was to drink, not to cook with.) Root goes on to describe a variant on coq au vin dating from medieval times, “today almost confined to the valley of the Loire.” Its name is a metonymy: sang de poulet aux oignons, “chicken blood with onions.”

The dish is similar to a typical coq au vin – cut-up chicken braised with mushrooms, onions, and bacon in a red wine sauce – except for the final step, which is to stir chicken blood into the sauce. Root hastens to say that, since the blood is mainly a binder for the sauce, the dish can be made just as successfully with conventional thickeners. So, with a little help on ingredient proportions from a recipe for poulet au sang that I found in Larousse Gastronomique, I made the dish for our wine tasting.

I wasn’t repulsed by the idea of blood. I’ve often enjoyed blood sausages. I’d also encountered it in the Neapolitan dessert sanguinaccio, which is a chocolate pudding made with pig’s blood. It too can be made with other thickeners, and having tasted it both ways I must say the version with blood was better: it had a lush, velvety mouthfeel. But since fresh chicken blood is not a common grocery item in my neighborhood, I was happy to be allowed to substitute cornstarch.

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So, on to the cooking. Rather than a whole chicken to be cut up, which is really too much meat for two, I’d taken the lazy path of buying skinless, boneless chicken thighs. I sauteed them in butter until they’d just firmed up, then removed them to a dish.
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In the same pan, with a little more butter, I sauteed button mushrooms, tiny onions, and pieces of thick-cut bacon until the vegetables were about half done.
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I transferred them to the dish with the chicken to wait while I started the sauce. I sprinkled flour onto the remaining melted butter, stirred it in for a minute or two, added a lot of red wine and a little broth, and deglazed the pan.
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Back went the solid ingredients, along with a bay leaf, parsley, thyme, salt, and pepper.
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It all simmered together, covered, until the chicken and onions were perfectly tender. At the end I thickened the sauce with cornstarch. I was also supposed to finish it with a flaming dose of brandy. I tried to, but my brandy perversely refused to ignite. Oh, well – I just gave it a stir and cooked a bit longer to burn off the alcohol.

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Dinner began with a tasting of the two wines by themselves, both of us taking notes on our impressions. Then we drank the wines with a small first course: baked zucchini boats stuffed with minced soppressata, onion, egg, and parmigiano. Not French, obviously, but tasty, and neither wine made any objection.
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Then came the main event, along with glasses of both wines: the bloodless wine-braised chicken, with small potatoes boiled in their jackets.
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It was a good coq au vin – and less fuss to prepare than some I’ve made from other recipes. I slightly regret not having been able to try it properly with chicken blood, but we enjoyed it enough just as it was that I expect I’ll be making it that way again.

The dish also served very well as a testing ground for the two Cabernet franc wines. If you’d like to know how that worked out, you can read about it on Tom’s blog, here.

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Last week Tom and I made our annual spring birding pilgrimage to Cape May, New Jersey, a hotspot for migratory birds. We stay in an oceanfront motel apartment with a kitchen, so we can alternate dining out and dining in. Not to waste birding time with extensive food preparation, we bring along pre-cooked main dishes in a cooler chest. This year our friend Jennifer was with us, so we were cooking for three.
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The appetizers for our first dinner in the apartment were a specialty of Tom’s, elegantly known as “cheese thingies.” For these he lightly pan-cooks 7” frozen parathas, tops them with cheeses and other items as inspiration suggests, and runs them under the broiler until the cheese melts. We brought all the ingredients for these in the cooler chest.

On the left, a thingy with Isle of Mull, a Scottish cheddar, and Greek-style pickled peppers. In the center, one with Puigpedrós, a Catalonian cow cheese, and Italian corallina salame. On the right, Puigpedrós again with chopped onion and pickled jalapeño peppers. Very eclectic and international, eh?

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Our main course was a stew of chunks of skinless, boneless chicken thighs with potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, green beans, onions, garlic, a few dashes of Cholula hot sauce, white wine, and chicken stock, thickened with flour. I’d made and frozen it several days in advance. It was plain, homey, and tasty.

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The next night we went out for dinner to the Lobster House, a popular dockside restaurant. There we always start with Cape May Salts, an especially succulent local oyster. The three of us happily went through two dozen oysters and then went on to excellent fried soft-shell crabs and fried sea scallops. The menu always offers elaborate creamed seafood concoctions, but we prefer to keep things simple and enjoy the freshness of the prime fish and shellfish.

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At home again the following day, we sat to a mixed antipasto, the components of which also came along with us in the cooler chest: fresh ricotta, mortadella, sweet sopressata, grape tomatoes, a smoked shrimp and crab spread, Venetian-style calf’s liver pâté, and toast triangles.

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The main event was a pan of lasagna that I’d made in advance, baked, and frozen for transport. It was partly a Marcella Hazan-style northern Italian version, with Bolognese meat sauce and béchamel, but with Neapolitan additions of mozzarella and coins of sweet sausage – all between many layers of our thinnest homemade lasagna noodles. Reheating the lasagna in a very hot oven provided nice crunchy end pieces to contrast with the meltingly lush central section.

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.The final dinner of our trip was again at the Lobster House, and again we started with two dozen of our favorite Cape May Salts. We went on to the restaurant’s signature snapper soup (not pictured below), fried flounder and fried calamari. Everything was sparklingly fresh and perfectly cooked.


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Lest you think all we did in Cape May was eat, be assured the birding was fine, even though the weather was a bit dodgy. We got up very early each day and did quite a bit of walking, which was how we worked up appetites for all that food. We logged a total of 93 species of birds over 3½ days.

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In the later twentieth-century culinary world, Patience Gray was the epitome of the eccentric Englishwoman. Her adventurous and impoverished years of living in remote parts of the Mediterranean region are memorably captured in her cookbook Honey From a Weed: Fasting and Feasting in Tuscany, Catalonia, the Cyclades and Apulia – which I acquired only recently.

It’s a fascinating book, though to me really more for reading than for cooking from. It’s filled with history, admonitions, anecdotes and folklore about seemingly every vegetable, every herb, every land and sea creature Ms. Gray ever encountered in her many primitive dwelling places.

The first dish I’ve tried from the book is called Guinea Fowl My Way. Now, I like guinea hens: they’re leaner than chickens, with darker, denser flesh, richly flavored and just a bit gamy. But this recipe had an additional attraction for me because of this remark in her headnote: “I propose the following anarchic method; carry it out before protesting.” I couldn’t resist the challenge!

So, off to the butcher shop for a bird. I had to order it, and the one I received was over three pounds, half again as big as the recipe called for.
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The anarchic character of the recipe showed at the start: The first thing I had to do was make a grog. This involved boiling up lemon juice, lemon zest, sugar, black pepper, and water, then stirring in a hefty dose of grappa. Gray goes on: “if you are anticipating a cold – I am writing this in winter – drink some of it hot. Leave what remains to infuse.” I did.
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Next was to brown the guinea hen in olive oil in a frying pan with garlic cloves. Since I’d be making the dish just for two, I cut my bird in half and froze one half for another time.
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The shape of the half hen made it reluctant to brown very well, but I did what I could, then transferred it to a casserole in which it fit snugly. Since it had no body cavity to hold a required rosemary sprig, pine nuts, and more garlic, I just added them to the pot. Then I deglazed the frying pan with red wine and poured that over the bird.
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Finally, before covering the pot and letting it cook gently until the hen was done, I was to “heat and add what is left of the grog.” There was a lot left, but after one more sip, in it all went. (I’m happy to say those sips warded off any cold I might have been anticipating.)

My half bird took about an hour to cook, longer than the recipe said for a whole bird, probably because mine was older and with firmer flesh. A few bastings with the pan juices kept it moist, and it came out looking quite nice, if you allow for a guinea hen’s rather splotchy-looking skin.
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We were very interested in those wine- and grog-redolent pan juices, so I made a batch of fresh egg noodles to serve along with the bird. (The other vegetable on the plate is sauteed eggplant.)
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It all made a good meal, though not noticeably anarchic. The guinea hen was very flavorful, the light gravy excellent on both the meat and the noodles. Its alcohol had all cooked away, of course. I don’t know that I’d go the whole grog route again if I make the dish another time, but a slow braise like this is clearly a good way to handle guinea hen.

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On the occasional evening when Tom isn’t dining at home, I like to make a nice little dinner just for myself. I almost always choose chicken as my main dish, since he doesn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I do. One such opportunity came up just recently.

The recipes I chose for my meal, though interesting to read, gave me some concerns. Oh well, I thought; trying a new dish always involves some risk. In La Bonne Cuisine de Madame E. Saint-Ange I’d found a recipe for Poulet à la Casserole and also one for Endives à la Façon Flamande that I thought would go well with chicken. Acquiring the components was easy, because the only ingredients were the bird, two Belgian endives, and butter. The butter I already had.

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Madame is very particular about the size of her poultry, calling for two-pound young chickens in all her casserole-cooked recipes. We rarely see chickens that small here, but I found a fresh Cornish hen of the right weight.

The cooking method is ridiculously simple, but I wondered if it would work. It said to melt butter in a casserole dish. Once the dish was warm, put in the chicken, cover immediately, and let it cook untouched, on moderate heat, until the chicken was tender; about an hour. Then uncover the dish and “color” the bird in its butter.

Here’s the hen just going onto the stove.

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Two things worried me here. The butter was not supposed to brown at all during the cooking. I couldn’t imagine how it wouldn’t, in all that time on direct heat. And with no turning of the bird, why wouldn’t it become seriously stuck to the bottom of the casserole? But I did as directed, nervously looking in every 15 minutes, lightly nudging the bird, and turning the heat down or up a little, in my uncertainty.

Here’s the hen when I decided it was done, after an hour and a quarter.

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Indeed, the butter hadn’t burned, only turned more golden. But in the last several minutes, the hen had given out a lot of liquid (hardly visible in the photo), which I had to boil off before I could do any final browning. And when I tried to turn it over to start browning, it had – as I’d feared – stuck. Pitiful.
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Furthermore, and totally unexpectedly, the dratted thing would not brown. I tried long enough to be afraid it would just fall apart in the pan if I kept turning it, so out it came, almost as pale as it went in.

Next I was to “lift off the light crust” from the bottom of the casserole with a little water, stirring to make a simple pan gravy. Mine wasn’t exactly a light crust – it was mostly a mess of bits of chicken skin, but I did it.
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Meanwhile, I had been making the Flemish endive dish. For that I had to cut up the endives, wash and dry them thoroughly, pack them into a heavily buttered ovenproof pan, put a round of heavily buttered parchment paper on top, add a tight cover, and cook them in “a gentle oven” for two whole hours. No liquid at all.
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I started the dish at 325° but soon turned it lower, because I could already smell the endives cooking, and that didn’t seem right. At the end of two hours, they were supposed to have gathered together into a compact mass that, turned over onto a plate, would be a lightly golden cake. Mine wasn’t. The pieces were still totally loose, some brown and crisp, others pale and soft.
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Obviously, neither of these dishes could be considered a successful execution of a recipe from a classic, authoritative cookbook. But they were what I had to eat for my dinner, so I sat down dubiously to the ugliest chicken I had ever prepared and one of the least prepossessing vegetables.
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And yet . . . and yet . . . there’s a happy ending to this story.

My ugly little hen was absolutely delicious. As promised by the recipe, in its long cooking the butter had diffused through its flesh, enhancing its natural flavor. The light bitterness of my faux-sauteed endives was a good foil for the rich, buttery chicken; and the simple little pan gravy beautifully moistened both bird and vegetable. A light sprinkling of salt was all they needed.

So: two dishes far from pretty, but both very tasty. Could’ve been worse. I doubt I’ll ever make either of these recipes again, especially not for anyone other than myself, but I’m pleased that they provided me with a good dinner after all.

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Left to myself, I’d cook chicken at least once a week, I’m so fond of it. My companion across the daily dinner table, however, doesn’t even remotely share that enthusiasm. He indulges me often enough, but I don’t push it too far. So when, recently, he was going to be away from home for several days, my poultry passion flared up and I began looking at chicken recipes.

For some years I’d had an item in my big recipe binder called Peruvian Roasted Chicken, which I’d never tried. I can’t remember where it came from, but its technique and spicing are very different from anything I’ve done with a chicken before. This was clearly its moment. No problem about cooking a whole bird for one person: I can happily eat chicken for several days in a row.

At the heart of the recipe is a pungent marinade made by mixing together

2½ Tbs garlic powder
1⅓ Tbs ground cumin
4 Tbs white vinegar

2½ Tbs paprika
2½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbs white wine
3 Tbs soy or canola oil
3/4 tsp salt

I had to make a few adjustments there. I won’t keep garlic powder in the house, so I pressed three cloves of fresh garlic. I had only whole cumin seeds, so I crushed some in a mortar. The only paprika I had on hand was Spanish smoked pimentón, so I used that. And the oil I used was olive. All that made quite a heady brew.

Next I was supposed to pull all loose fat off the chicken and wash it in a quart of cold water mixed with the juice of a lemon. That seemed unnecessarily fussy for my fresh, clean chicken. I rinsed it in plain water and rubbed a cut lemon over it. Then, with a sharp-tined fork, I had to stab deep holes all over the bird, “including under wings” (why so specific there? I don’t know), and rub the marinade into it, inside and outside.

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The bird and all its marinade was to be sealed in a plastic bag and put in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, preferably 24. Since I wanted to eat chicken that evening, I left the bag on the kitchen counter for 4 hours, figuring that would equal at least twice the effective time under refrigeration.
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When the bird emerged from its bag I had to truss it for the rotisserie. That was a slippery and messy procedure, at the end of which my hands felt well marinated too. But onto the spit it eventually went.
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According to the recipe, the spit-roasting should take 45 to 55 minutes. I know that, on my rotisserie, chickens take quite a bit longer than that, and indeed this one did: about an hour and a half, being basted every 15 minutes with the reserved marinade.
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Expecting a powerful punch from the seasonings, I was surprised by how mild the roasted bird turned out to be. The skin was fairly spicy, but the flesh – though moist, tender, and tasty – was only lightly aromatic, mostly from the cumin. Afterward, I checked a few other Peruvian chicken recipes on the web and, while there’s a lot of variation on the marinade ingredients, all the descriptions suggested that “peruvification” yields a bird with a strong, distinctive flavor profile. Not mine.

Be that as it may, I enjoyed my chicken thoroughly (for two dinners and two lunches). But I fear it’s not a dish that would make a convert of Beloved Spouse.

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Duck Confit

There’s absolutely no need for me to make my own confit of duck. I can order it on the Web or, to avoid shipping charges, check various local specialty stores and almost always find it. Still, though making confit takes a long time, it’s quite easy, and I like to do it occasionally. So, when the urge struck recently, I acquired a pair of large fresh duck legs and turned to the confit recipe in Tom Colicchio’s Think Like a Chef.
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For the first stage of the preparation, I sprinkled salt in the bottom of a plastic container and nestled the legs into it, after pulling off and saving all their loose fat. On top of the legs I sprinkled smashed garlic, sliced shallot, and sprigs of fresh thyme.
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I covered the container and let it sit in the refrigerator for two days. On the third day I first rendered out the pieces of duck fat, adding an older supply of fat that I’d had in the refrigerator from a previously roasted duck.
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Then I took my duck legs out of the refrigerator, brushed off the salt and seasonings, transferred them to a deep, heavy pot, and poured on the melted fat. There was plenty to cover the meat.
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The pot went into a 225° oven, where it simmered very gently for three hours. By then the legs had rendered a good deal more fat, had shrunk considerably, and were looking fairly scuzzy from the way the meat had pulled away from the bones. But they always do look that way, so I wasn’t distressed.
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Once cooled, the legs and their fat went back into the plastic container and into the refrigerator, where they remained contentedly for a month. This week, we were ready to eat them. I depart from Colicchio’s recipe in the matter of the final cooking. My way is to lift the legs out of the semi-solidified fat, leaving on enough of a coating to cushion them when it melts, and heat them through in a sauté pan.
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For appearance’s sake, I really should have finished them under the broiler to brown and crisp the skin. But I was feeling lazy, so we ate them just as they were, accompanied by a potato gallette and sautéed apple slices..
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The duck was delicious – moist, tender, richly flavorful. Even the soft skin was good – saltier than the meat but wickedly addictive. As for the apples, is there any fruit in the world that duck doesn’t love? My confit duck legs took to the apples like a . . . well, you know the saying. The crisp, firm potato cake made a good textural contrast to both the bird and the fruit. A fine meal for a cool, autumnal evening.

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