Mascarpone Chicken

I hope you won’t think me immodest if I say I can roast a serious chicken. Because, ahem, I can.

The art of chicken roasting is a lifelong project and all, so maybe my chickens aren’t the best they can be (yet); and it could be that half of the knock-you-off-your-chairness of my roast chickens owes to their being Podere di Melo chickens, but I nonetheless think my roast chickens are cause for immodesty.  And unchecked gluttony too, since Jim and I are liable to polish off a whole bird whenever we roast one.

Usually, I keep it simple with roast chicken: some lemon, butter, salt and pepper—and into the oven.  I’m always in love with the outcome, and it’s hard to want for anything different.  Except, of course, if there’s cheese involved.

Mascarpone cheese in fact, and how could anyone resist that?  There’s herbs too, and even the tiniest bit of olive oil, and lots of salt and pepper.  And if you follow the recipe, I promise it will be a serious chicken, with skin so crisp it crackles, and cheese hiding underneath it, lush and herb-y.  There’s more cheese than can be stuffed under the chicken, so halfway through the roasting process, you spoon the uncooked cheese all around the chicken.  It makes a creamy, curd-like sauce.  If you’ve ever had milk-braised pork, you know what the sauce will taste like, and it’s okay if you need to leave right now to procure a chicken.

Don’t fret if you’ve never spatchcocked a chicken before (and don’t skip this step, spatchcocking allows for every inch of the skin to crisp up into a delicious golden brown).  All you need is a good pair of kitchen shears (or a good handle on your sharpest knife).  You cut out the backbone, and then place the chicken cavity-side down on the cutting board.  Press down with a heavy hand to break the breast-bone, so that the chicken lies flat.  Ta-da!  You’re done.  It can seem a little brutal the first time, backbone cutting and breast-bone breaking, but let’s not forget that we are eating the chicken already, so we might as well prepare the thing right. I imagine if I were to be roasted and feasted upon, I’d want to look like this:

Roast chickens can be a tough thing for families—one roast chicken never seems to feed enough people—but in this recipe, a little goes a long way.  Jim and I couldn’t finish our pieces, no matter how hard we tried (and normally we put away a whole one).  It was so luscious and filling, one chicken could certainly feed four.  But better yet, you could make it for one, and have a lot of leftovers.

Mascarpone and Herb Stuffed Chicken

serves 4

for the filling

3 garlic cloves, minced
8 oz mascarpone cheese
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
small handful of oregano
small handful of parsley
small(er) handful of thyme

for the chicken

1 chicken, any size, though to feed 4 you’ll need about one of about 4-5 pounds
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Combine garlic, mascarpone, eggs, parmigianno, herbs, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl.
Cut out backbones from chicken with kitchen shears. Pat chicken dry, then spread flat, cavity side down, on a cutting board. With a heavy hand, press down at the middle of the breasts until you hear the breast-bone break. Cut two slits in the chicken skin, in the creases between the thighs and the breasts.

Sprinkle each chicken with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. To loosen the skin, gently slide your finger between skin and flesh of the breast, starting at the top. Slide your finger between the skin and flesh of the legs by going through the slits you made (be careful not to tear skin). Using a small spoon, slide 2/3 cup ricotta mixture under skin, using a finger outside of skin to spread filling over meat of breast, thighs, and drumsticks. Tuck the wing tips under. Drizzle olive oil over the chicken and sprinkle with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.  Place chicken in a well oiled roasting pan, skin side up.

Reserve remaining filling.

Bake chickens in middle of oven 30 minutes, then spoon remaining filling around chicken. Continue baking until chicken is just cooked through and instant read thermometer reads about 165F, about 20 minutes more. Let chickens stand 10 minutes, then cut each into quarters. Serve with cheese.

Chicken, mushroom, and potato hot pot.

Do you like Jamie Oliver?  He came into my frame of reference about a year ago; before that he sat in the black hole in my mind reserved for TV-celebrity chefs: I knew of him, would sometimes catch a show (absentmindedly while doing laundry) but I didn’t cook from his recipes.  After a while, though, I found myself waking up at 7:30 on Saturday mornings to watch the reruns of his show Jamie at Home, looking forward to it for days really, to wake up before anyone else and make a cup of coffee and sit and watch his show, deciding what to cook for dinner.

Thankfully we’ve gotten Tivo since then, because waking up at 7:30 on a weekend never feels as nice when the afternoon rolls around and you want to nap, and I can record, and save, all of Jamie’s shows.  Jim’s convinced that I just like to watch Jamie and his cute British slang, but really it’s (well mostly it’s) the food.  It’s home-cooking, the way home-cooking should be.  There’s an attention to detail without being fussy; an attention to the right details, really, the ones that will help to make the food taste better.  A lot of his dishes are rather ugly, plebeian-looking things.  But the flavors are there, present and beautiful.

This chicken and mushroom dish became my favorite Jamie Oliver dish.  It’s unabashedly simple.  You fry up some vegetables in chicken fat, then add mushrooms and cook until they are dry.  Then you add some chicken pieces, nutmeg, herbs, wine, and sliced par-boiled potatoes.  The dish ends up akin to a shepherd’s pie, with browned, roast potatoes subbing for mashed (a substitution that suits me well) and a warm, earthy flavor that’s perfect for a cool May night, just when you thought summer was about to come and all of a sudden it’s 50 degrees out there.

Jamie Oliver’s cooking no longer sits in the black-hole and I’m a bit sad for how long it took me to come around.  If you’re a home cook who hasn’t been introduced to the man yet, I urge you to try this dish.  (If you can find lovage, which is the herb used in Jamie’s recipe, try it with that too.)  I also urge you to Tivo some of his shows.  His British slang is pretty adorable.

Chicken, Mushroom, and Potato Hot Pot

adapted from Jamie Oliver’s website

serves 4

6 medium potatoes, skins on
2 big handfuls mixed wild mushrooms, or 3 portobello mushrooms
6 chicken thighs, 3 chicken drumsticks
1 red onions, peeled
1 celery sticks
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tbsp plain flour
a few sprigs parsley and thyme, leaves picked
freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
salt, pepper
chicken stock, homemade (made with the bones in this recipe if you don’t have any on hand)
splash of dry vermouth
a little melted butter

Cook potatoes in salted boiling water until just tender. Drain and cool.

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Take skin off chicken thighs and drumsticks and cut meat from the bones, saving a few pieces of skin and the bones for stock (made now if you don’t have homemade stock on hand or saved for later.)

In a large oven-proof skillet or braiser, add some of the chicken skin and render the fat. Once rendered, remove the skin and add onion, celery, and garlic. Cook over medium-high heat for a few minutes, until most of the moisture has evaporated. Add mushrooms and cook over medium heat until all the moisture has evaporated. Add chicken and then vermouth and cook it down. Add flour and stir to combine, then add a tablespoon or two of stock to make a thick gravy. Add herbs, nutmeg, salt, and pepper.

Arrange potato slices on top of skillet, as pretty as you can manage. Brush some melted butter over potatoes and season with salt and pepper. Place skillet in the oven and cook for 20-30 minutes, until potatoes are golden browned and chicken is cooked through and tender.

With olives.

There’s something on my mind: I’ve found (in real-life and through comments) that a lot of people are self-prescribed haters of certain foods—and I just don’t get it. Putting foods on a “hate to eat” list is so limiting.  Think of all the deliciousness that you may be keeping from yourself! I’ve had many experiences when I tried a food that I disliked, one that was prepared by a fabulous cook or chef, and promptly threw it into the category of favorite foods.  Beets, poached eggs, pate, fennel—they were all on my dislike list at one point or another and, even though I still rarely eat beets (by choice) and pate (by crying myself to sleep some nights because I can’t afford to eat pate), they don’t sit on a list anymore.  I don’t have the list anymore; set fire to it a while ago.  It’s very freeing.

Olives were on that list right up until the burning of it.  I never liked olives; no, I hated olives.  Olives aren’t an odd thing to dislike, Harold McGee calls the olive fruit “highly unpalatable” and notes that we really only like to eat them when cured.  But I didn’t want to eat them at all.  Didn’t want them near my vodka.  Didn’t want to smell them as I passed by the olive bar at the market.  I also, however, hadn’t tried one in years.  Not a smart move for a supposed “foodie.”

Well, I’m happy to say that I tried olives and liked them.  I did it out of desperation.  I was in a slump this winter and needed a new and exciting recipe.  I found one in Saveur magazine, a recipe for sea bass baked in parchment with keilbasa, olives, and fennel.  It wasn’t my favorite recipe, but the best part about it was the olives.  Baked in the oven until soft and oozing their brine, olives are meltingly, disarmingly delicious.  I’m still not a fan of eating olives out of hand, except maybe for nicoise, but I love to cook with olives.

This in particular is my newest favorite olive recipe.  You roast a cut-up chicken with lots of rosemary, thyme, and pancetta, until golden brown, then throw in some black olives and roast until the olives are tender, the chicken browned, and the pancetta crispy.  Because you are using olives, which have such an intense, briny taste, you can go crazy with the herbs.  Don’t hold back on the rosemary or thyme—and use fresh.  The sweetly woody aroma of the herbs are a perfect match for olives; and the roasted garlic is a perfect match for anything.  We had this on top of pureed cauliflower with a clove of the roasted garlic mashed up into the puree, and it was just heaven. With olives.

Chicken with Pancetta and Olives

serves 2-3

adapted from Gourmet, January 2009

  • 1 chicken (about 3 pounds), backbones cut out and each chicken cut into 8 pieces
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoons chopped thyme
  • 1 tablespoon chopped rosemary
  • scant 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • pinch hot red-pepper flakes
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and halved if large
  • 4 (1/4-inch-thick) slices pancetta, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 12 oil-cured black olives
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • more water, to thin, if needed

Preheat oven to 450°F with rack in middle.  Toss chicken with oil, thyme, rosemary, sea salt, red-pepper flakes, and 1 teaspoon pepper, rubbing mixture into chicken.

Arrange chicken, skin side up, in 1 layer in a 17-by 11-inch 4-sided sheet pan. Scatter garlic and pancetta on top and roast until chicken begins to brown, about 20 minutes. Drizzle wine over chicken and roast 8 minutes more. Scatter olives over chicken and roast until skin is golden brown and chicken is cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes more. Let stand 10 minutes.

In a medium saucepan, add 1/4 cup water and cauliflower.  Cover and cook over medium heat until cauliflower is very tender.  Add butter and one small (or one half large) clove of the roasted garlic and puree with a stick blender or in a stand blender until very smooth.

Serve chicken on top of a mound of cauliflower.

Roasted and Braised Duck With Sauerkraut

This is the first spring that Jim and I will spend living in a nice place.  We’ve been in old, crappy complexes before, and ones that look pretty on the outside, but are about 500 square feet too small on this inside, ones where you end up with a view of the parking lot.  This spring is different.  We have a screened in porch (the excitement never ceases), trees galore, and a river out the backyard.  Jim swam in it yesterday; he sat on the rock in the middle of the river, closed his eyes and smiled, letting the current rush around him.  And I cursed myself for leaving my camera behind.

But the best thing about this spring is duck, and the local farm that raises it.  I’ve spoken about Podere di Melo before but I feel I must bring them up again, being that there’s a few more nearby-people reading my blog now.  Podere di Melo farm is… well, they say it best:

Podere di Melo is a Certified Naturally Grown farm in West Amwell, New Jersey.  We specialize in foods of the Italian and French countryside.  Our products include European vegetables, honey, and a variety of meats including gourmet poultry, duck, lamb, guinea fowl, and heritage pork.   Our family is dedicated to sustainable farming practices.  We use no synthetic fertilizers, no pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides on our crops.  Our animals roam over chemical-free pastures and are never given antibiotics or hormones.  We pride ourselves on our humane treatment of our animals, allowing them continual access to pasture and sunshine throughout most of the year.

Please note the words Italian and French countryside, roam, dedicated to sustainable farming, humane treatment, pasture and sunshine. Are you smiling?  I am.  Podere di Melo’s food is above anything I’ve ever tasted, even organic.  Farm-raised on a small farm is just a different thing altogether.  I’ve mentioned the chicken before which are raised, in the European tradition, to 12 weeks of age before slaughter (up from 6-8 for industrially-farmed chickens), and I’m sure I’ll mention the pork this coming summer (we got to check out the lazy pigs this weekend, adorable little big guys), but today I’m here for duck.

I’d reserved four ducks online from Podere a month or two ago, knowing I would pick them up this weekend.  What I couldn’t foresee however, was the weather. Perfect for walking around the farm, checking out the pigs, and letting Champ check out the horse barn (he couldn’t believe that they made whole houses for animals!).  It was the dreamy start to our duck dinner, though I’m sure everything would work out fine without that step.

Instead of the traditional sweet-with-duck, like a l’Orange, we opted for duck with braised sauerkraut.  I’m a sauerkraut lover, as is Jim, so when I found Mark Bittman’s easy as pie (easier) recipe for Roasted and Braised Duck with Sauerkraut, we knew we had dinner.  Our duck was perfectly sized for my oval dutch oven, leaving enough room for sauerkraut.  For the recipe, it’s about as simple as putting the duck in a pot, pot in the oven, wait, pot on stove, sauerkraut in pot, wait, carve and eat.  Oh, and don’t forget to drain off and save the fat.

The trick is to cook it in a pot or dutch oven, so that the fat renders and then fries the duck legs on the bottom of the pot.  (The other trick, I’m sure, is to buy a farm-raised duck, which are near impossible to mess up; even overcooked I’m sure the flavor would be enough to satisfy.)  I drained off all but about 1 tablespoon of the fat after the duck had been roasted, then added a few teaspoons to some parboiled yukon gold potatoes and roasted them at 500 degrees in the oven while the duck cooked with the sauerkraut on the stovetop.  Let me tell you: Best. Potatoes. Ever.

The duck was flavorful with a hint of game, succulent, and fork-tender.  The sauerkraut lent just the right amount of acid to cut through the fat.  It was one of those meals, when you are so full but there’s half a duck breast on your plate, and you are really, truly sorry that you can’t eat another bite. Okay, just one small bite more…

Roasted and Braised Duck With Sauerkraut

2-4 servings

from Mark Bittman’s Recipe of the Day

The quality of the sauerkraut is important here. Just make sure the only ingredients are cabbage and salt; inferior sauerkraut contains preservatives, and the kind sold in cans tastes like tin. Even the best sauerkraut, though, should be rinsed before it is added it to the pan.

1 duck, about 4-5 pounds
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 quart sauerkraut, rinsed
2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 cup dry white wine or water
2 bay leaves

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prick the duck all over with a fork, then sprinkle it with salt and pepper and place it in a large, deep, ovenproof skillet or Dutch oven. Roast the duck for about 1 1/2 hours, checking occasionally to make sure it is browning steadily. (If the duck is barely browning, increase the heat by 50 degrees; if it seems to be browning too quickly, reduce the heat slightly.) When it is nicely browned and has rendered a great deal of fat, pour off all but a few tablespoons of the fat and transfer the pan to the top of the stove.

Scatter the sauerkraut around the duck, then sprinkle it with paprika, moisten it with the wine, and tuck the bay leaves in. Turn the heat to low, and cover the pan. Simmer for about 15 minutes, then stir and put some of the sauerkraut on top of the duck.

Cook another 15 minutes or so, until the duck is quite tender. Carve and serve.

Chicken artichoke stew.

I’ve never met a vegetable more frustrating than the artichoke.  You spend too much time on them, getting poked by little pricks in doing so, risking slicing off your palm with your sharpest knife, and possibly (if you are as clumsy as me) peeling off a fingernail or two with your peeler.  All for a teeny tiny little stub.

But damn it if that stub aint worth it.  I’ve never met a vegetable more frustrating that the artichoke but I’m also hard-pressed to name one more complex and delicious.  The texture of a cooked artichoke is like a cross between a squash and an avocado and the flavor is intensely earthy and bold; it leaves a clean, mellow taste on your tongue and, because of a compound called cynarin, makes anything you eat with it taste a touch sweeter—not good when pairing with expensive wine, but fabulous for sauteing with garlic.

Most of the time, I like to drop prepped artichokes in a bowl of lime-water so that their color stays as bright as possible.  I usually find that lemon-water will overpower the flavor of artichokes but lime won’t interfere.  I would’ve loved to show you a video of how to prep the artichokes, but thought I would save you from the barage of bad language and mini-tanrums.  For a great, frustratingly calm slide-show, click here.

I used hot-house tomatoes, peeled and seeded, because canned tomatoes would be too sweet for the sweetening effect of artichokes, and a whole chicken cut into eight pieces (you can have the butcher do this for you instead of buying chicken pieces, you get a much better quality buying whole).  Past all the prep work, this dish is simple as pie (simpler, even): throw everything in a pot with some wine and then have a glass while you wait for your fabulous dinner.

A dinner that will be amazingly good, too; one that transports you to another place, an Italian countryside maybe, where you eat while the wind whips at your hair and the wine intoxicates you.  One where you feel no embarrassment at sucking the chicken bones dry, one where that is considered flattering.  One where, even, there’s a nice man playing footsy with you under the table while you give him your come-hither eyes as you slop up the sauce with some warm, crusty bread.

Artichoke and Chicken Stew

adapted from Bon Appetit, April 1998

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces, preferably farm-raised
  • 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 6 medium artichokes, trimmed, halved, chokes removed 
  • 3 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped, preferably hot-house unless in-season
  • 2 cups chicken broth

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until golden, about 8 minutes. Transfer onions to bowl.

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in same pot over medium-high heat. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Add to pot and cook until golden on all sides, about 10 minutes. Pour off excess fat from pot. Sprinkle flour over chicken in pot; turn chicken over. Cook until flour browns lightly, about 2 minutes. Add sautéed onions, white wine and garlic to chicken. Reduce heat; simmer until wine is reduced by half, about 5 minutes.

Drain artichoke halves. Add to chicken. Add tomatoes and broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer until chicken is cooked through and artichokes are tender, about 30 minutes. Spoon off any fat from surface of stew. Using slotted spoon, transfer chicken and artichokes to large platter; tent with foil. Boil sauce in pot until slightly thickened, about 4 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour sauce over chicken and artichokes.

Comfort food #2.

Last post, I gave you vanilla, so today is comfort food #2: roast chicken.  Specifically, roast chicken with buttery gold potatoes, cremini mushrooms, and slab bacon.  Like a warm blanket on a snowy night.

If you’ve never roasted a naturally-raised, organic-fed chicken before, you don’t know what you’re missing.  Unlike the bland, big-breasted counterparts of the Purdue variety, organic or natural chicken (preferably from a local farm, though I know I’m pushin’ it) isn’t bred solely for its breasts—which leaves the chicken unhappy and anxiety-ridden throughout her life, most of the times unable to walk on her overburdened legs.  Because an animal’s mental state has more to do with how tasty the meat is than how you cook it, happy animals yield well-flavored, moist meat, while factory one easily, almost unavoidably dry out.

If you are looking to switch to farm-raised chickens, you’ll need to know how to roast.  Most chickens that are raised humanely, at local farms (or in your backyard), are only profitable if sold whole.  And while it’s a good idea to buy in bulk and break down some into packages of thighs, breasts, and legs for later, I hardly ever think that far in advance.  Since I am lucky enough to live down the road from a great chicken farm, I just drop in and pick one up for the night’s dinner.

So I’ve fallen in love with roast chickens.  A 3.5 pound bird is perfect for two lovebir—erm, people—and could even do for a family of three. A cinch to put together, leaving time to clean up while it’s in the oven; a dinner that invites after-dinner canoodling, or comfy family time.  A Sunday roast dinner even, especially when it’s cold and snowy outside.

This roast chicken, cooked atop a bed of cremini mushrooms, bacon, and gold potatoes, is my favorite roast to date.  Since the new year, Jim and I have made it again and again; it’s our go-to comfort dish.  It’s not too bad for you—just bad enough really—while still tasting full and homey and lovely. The creminis add a down-home foresty feeling, the potatoes are creamy inside and crisp out, and the bacon warrants time spent fishing out each piece.  Because of all the accoutrements, this roast could certainly feed 3 (dare I say 4), though there might be a fight for the oysters. On New Year’s Day, Jim and I made this dish with black truffles, chanterelles, and shiitakes but found the lower-cost version just as good (maybe even better).  If you’d like the real-deal, the recipe is here.

Roast chicken with mushrooms and potatoes

serves 2-3

  • 1 3- to 4-pound roasting chicken
  • handful of herbs, especially thyme and rosemary if you have them
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly smashed
  • 2 pounds Yukon Gold or Buttercream potatoes, peeled, halved or quartered (depending on the size)
  • 1 pound cremini mushrooms, stemmed, halved
  • 3-4 thick bacon slices, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons on olive oil, divided
  • vermouth, optional

Wash off your chicken, salt (kosher, preferably) and pepper generously inside and out, top and bottom.  Stuff 6 peeled cloves of garlic and a handful or herbs, if you have them, inside.

Put potatoes, mushrooms, and bacon together in a bowl and drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil.  Stir to combine.

If you have it, take a length of tin foil and crumple it into a coil large enough to hold the chicken.  Place that in the bottom of a roasting pan.  Place chicken on top.  Scatter potatoes, mushrooms, and bacon all around the chicken.  If you have it, add a couple splashes of white wine or vermouth.  Drizzle the other tablespoon of olive oil over everything.  With your hands, rub the oil into the chicken skin and all over the vegetables to coat.  Salt and pepper a little more.

With your oven on a 450F, roast chicken for 30-40 minutes or until it’s about 155-160F. Take out the chicken and the foil, place on a platter or cutting board and cover with the unrolled foil. The vegetables won’t be done yet.  Mix them all up, getting chicken fat over everything, and send back in the oven and roast at 450F for another 15-25 minutes, or until they are totally tender and the potatoes getting very browned.  Carve up your bird, arrange on a platter and spoon the vegetables over.

If you like, take two cups of chicken stock and add 4 minced shallots and bring to a boil.  After it boils, bring down to a soft simmer and add 2-3 tablespoons of butter.  Pour this sauce over everything.

Asian supermarket-inspired.

There’s so many things at the Asian supermarket that I can’t find anywhere else.  There’s slender long beans, mounds of my favorite chiles, all the cabbage you could ask for, quail eggs, pork bellies, and chicken feet for stocks—and that’s just the fresh section.  The spice aisle is unbelievably stocked, the pickles are amazing.  Every kind of tea I could wish for.  And the frozen section offers a selection of very good dumplings.

Every time Jim and I go there, we leave happy, laughing, and sated from all the samples.  The prepared foods section is cheap and tasty—with all kinds of snacks to try.  One of our favorites is the barbecued meats.  The goods are on display in a moist-heat glass case; ribs, chicken, and duck for you to bring home chopped up or whole.  Because the meat stays at it’s utmost moistest when bought whole, and because I’m becoming a bit of a snob when it comes to butchering my own poultry, we bought a whole duck—beak and all—and scurried home for an Asian supermarket-inspired pasta.

More and more, I’ve begun taking my cooking cues from the places I shop.  This may be the result of learning more about cooking, or maybe it’s because I moved to a town where I can buy almost everything local from small-farms (as long as I’m always willing to take what I can get), but whatever the reason, it’s been working out pretty great.  We’ve been eating fabulously—grilled whole fish wrapped in bacon, lots of squash, homemade stewing-hen stocks—and many of the meals have been planned organically.  Maybe I’ll have a recipe in mind, read in a magazine lately, or maybe I’ll go completely wild and make the whole thing up, but it often goes that I buy what I see out and then go home and use whatever’s in the pantry to supplement.  This pasta was just that.

We had carrots and garlic and all the makings for an Asian-inspired sauce, so we cut up the duck, blanched some vegetables, boiled some fresh pasta, and threw everything together in a wok.  It was quick and easy but undeniably complex-tasting.  The black vinegar in the pasta’s sauce was punchy (to me it smells like coca-cola) and held up against the rich duck and creamy pasta.  The vegetables made for a full, fresh meal.  Drizzled with sriracha, the lingering heat was warm and comforting against the cold winds knocking about the windows.   We snuggled up and ate our fill, and eagerly began plans for our next trip back to the market.

Asian-style Pasta with Duck

serves 6

For the sauce:

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar (preferably Chinkiang)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Asian sesame oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

For the pasta:

  • 1 pound fresh linguine or spaghetti
  • 1 whole barbecued duck, store-bought
  • 1 bunch long beans, cut into 2-inch pieces*
  • 2 cups shanghia pak choy, or baby boy choy, ends cut off and leaves separated
  • 2 carrots, cut into matchsticks
  • 1 bunch scallions, sliced
  • 1 bunch of cilantro, chopped
  • small handful of mint leaves, chopped
  • lime juice and zest, to taste
  • sriracha

Mix all of the sauce ingredients in a small bowl.  Set aside.

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until tender, 2-5 minutes.

Blanch the carrots and choy in boiling water for 2 minutes, transfer to a plate.  Blanch the long beans in the same water for 3-5 minutes, until tender. Drain.

In a large wok, render the fat from the reserved pieces of duck skin.  Remove the skin and discard.  Add

Take the skin off of the duck breasts and legs, reserving a few pieces.  Tear the meat into bite-sized pieces (this is a messy job, so do it over a large cutting board.) Discard carcass.

Using a few pieces of the duck skin, render the fat in a large wok.  Add vegetables and duck pieces and cook for 1 minute.  Add pasta and sauce and cook for a few more minutes, until everything is fragrant and hot.  Add scallions and cook 1 minute more.

Transfer to a bowl.  Sprinkle with cilantro, mint, and lime zest and juice to taste.  Toss everything together and serve with sriracha.

*You can substitute regular green beans for the long beans.

Keepin’ it real.

Jim and I finished up the last bits of our coq au vin at 6 a.m. Friday morning.  The breakfast—coq au vin, a small scoop of mashed potatoes, and a fried egg on top—has been had all week; it’s a pick-me-up before I go off to work and fuel for Jim’s creativity (he’s working on some fabulous short stories).  I’m really going to miss it now that it’s gone—just possibly enough to make it all over again this weekend.

for the marinade

Thankfully, now that I’ve made “real” coq au vin, it’s no longer in my pile of “scary culinary dishes” that I’m afraid to try.  I don’t even understand, now that it’s done, why I ever thought coq au vin was scary.  It’s almost fibbing to say that it takes a few days to make since most of those days require no work whatsoever besides dipping into your marinade and moving things around a bit.  And the real work (on the day you cook the bird) is hardly hard work.  It’s definitely not brain surgery (or pastry making for that matter) and as long as you have a big pot and another pan handy, you’re up for the task.

chicken browned in bacon fat
chicken browned in bacon fat

It’s a bit time consuming—the chicken cooks for about 2 hours in the oven and you’ll spend a portion of that time prepping the bacon, onion, and mushroom “garnishes,” but it’s well worth it for that brown-food taste (any one out there Anne Burrell fans? Brrrooooown food!).

white buttons

If you can get your hands on a stewing hen, do so—for tradition’s sake.  But if you don’t have a local meat producer (you should search around if you aren’t sure) just use a good, organic bird (preferably one that’s a little older, with strong bones, if you are able to get it from a butcher or farmer).  The longer you marinate the bird in wine and vegetables, the more delicious it will taste—you could start marinating on Thursday for a Sunday feast—and what wine you use really matters.

pearl onions
pearl onions
pig n pearls
pig n' pearls

Wine matters in a coq au vin (you’re using a full bottle of it!)  I urge you to try a Burgundy or something with a big body from France but you could also do a Cabernet Sauvignon from California for a slightly different taste.  Try and buy in the $10-$20 range, and don’t go under $10 (ok, $8 if your budget is strapped).  It was somewhat sacrilegious to me to use a whole $20 bottle in a recipe, so I sneaked a glass.  I’m happy to report that it didn’t damage the coq au vin one lick.

coq au vin
coq au vin

I can’t really describe the coq au vin’s tastes to you, it’s too deliciously dreamy.  I’ll just say this: chicken, bacon, onions, mushrooms, slow-cooked buttery wine.

Put that together with olive oil mashed potatoes and you head just might explode.

le vrai coq au vin
le vrai coq au vin

Real Coq au Vin

serves 2 over the course of a few days (or 4-6)

from County Cooking of France by Anne Willan

Marinade

  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • 2 stalks of celery, sliced
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 tsp. peppercorns
  • 1 bottle (750 mL) red wine
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Chicken

  • One 5- to 6- pound stewing hen or large roasting chicken, cut into 8 pieces
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 6 oz piece of lean smoked bacon, cut into lardons
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups chicken broth, more if needed
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 large bouquet garni

Garnish

  • 2 tablespoons butter, more if needed
  • 16-18 baby pearl onions, about 8 oz, peeled
  • 8 oz mushrooms, trimmed and quartered if large
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley

For the marinade, combine the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, peppercorns, and wine in a saucepan, bring to a boil, and simmer for 5 minutes.  Let the marinade cool completely.

Pack the chicken pieces in a deep, nonmetallic bowl and pour the cooled marinade over them.  Spoon the olive oil on top to keep the chicken moist.  Cover and leave pieces to marinate in the refrigerator for at least a day, turning them from time to time, and up to 3 days if you like a full-bodied wine flavor.

Take the chicken pieces from the marinade and pat them dry with paper towels.  Strain the marinade, reserving the liquid and the vegetables separately. Heat the oven to 325ºF.

To cook the chicken, heat the vegetable oil in a saute pan or flameproof casserole over medium heat.  Add the lardons and saute until browned and the fat runs, about 5 minutes.  Transfer them to a bowl using a draining spoon and set aside.  Add the chicken pieces, skin side down, to the pan and saute over medium heat until thoroughly browned, at least 10 minutes.  Turn them and brown the other side, 3 to 5 minutes longer.  Remove the chicken pieces and set aside.

Add the reserved marinade vegetables to the saute pan over medium heat and fry until they start to brown, 5 to 7 minutes.  Stir in the flour and cook over high heat, stirring, until it browns, 2 to 3 minutes.  Pour in the marinade liquid and bring to a boil, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens.  Simmer for 2 minutes, then stir in the broth, shallots, garlic, and bouquet garni.  Replace the chicken, pushing pieces down under the sauce.  Cover the pan, transfer to the oven, and cook, turning the chicken occasionally, until the pieces are tender and fall easily from a two-pronged fork, 1 to 1 1/4 hours for a roasting chicken and at least 30 minutes longer for a stewing hen.  If some pieces are tender before the others, remove them and set aside while the rest continue to cook.

Meanwhile, cook the garnish.  Melt the butter in a frying pan over medium heat.  Add the onions and brown them, shaking the pan from time to time so they color evenly, 5 to 7 minutes.  Lower the heat, cover, and cook the onions, shaking the pan occasionally, until just tender, 8 to 10 minutes more.  Lift them out with the draining spoon and add to the reserved lardons.  Put the mushrooms in the pan, with a little more butter if needed, and saute until tender, 3 to 5 minutes.  Add them to the lardons and onions.

When the chicken is cooked, remove the pieces and set them aside.  Wipe out the saute pan, add the garnish, and strain the sauce on top, discarding vegetables and seasonings.  Reheat the garnish and sauce on the stove top over medium heat.  If the sauce seems thick, add a little more broth, taste, and adjust the seasoning.  Add the chicken pieces, pushing them will down into the sauce, and heat gently for 3 to 5 minutes so the flavors blend.  Coq au vin improves if you keep it, well covered in the refrigerator for at least 1 day and up to 3 days so the flavors mellow.

To serve, reheat the chicken with the garnish and sauce on the stove top if necessary.  Transfer the chicken pieces to a serving dish or individual plates, and spoon the garnish with a little sauce over them.  Sprinkle the chicken with the parsley and serve the remaining sauce separately.

Chicken for the true gourmet.

I had chicken for the first time in my life this week.

I mean, I’ve had chicken before—many, many times. Chicken from plastic wrapped packages in the supermarket, chicken from farmer’s markets, chicken at fancy restaurants, chicken at fast food joints (well, that may have been “chicken.”) But this week, for the first time ever, I had chicken.

This chicken was not just chicken. This chicken made you savor the very word chicken, exaggerating it to the point of italics as you slowly chewed it’s flavorful meat.

This chicken was bought at Podere di’ Melo, a small farm run near my new apartment (I’m moving in August!) in West Amwell, New Jersey. Jim and I visited the farm, touring the idyllic landscape of stables, vegetable beds, the forest of trees for the pigs, peeking into the feed bins to assure ourselves that it was organic, almost tripping over the many happily pecking chickens that inhabited the entire area. We heard the farmers—a lovely married couple still working full-time jobs while running the farm—talk about their desires for the place, their view on the farm’s growth over the past two years, and about their love of food, cooking, and animals. Before I even bought a chicken, I already knew that it would be the chicken for me.

I’m leaving for vacation tomorrow, but I couldn’t go before letting you know about these chickens. Podere di’ Melo explains it best:

“Simpy put, these are one of the tastiest chickens you can find. Derived from the same genetic strain as the famous Label Rouge (Red Label) chickens of France, these birds are unlike anything you have tasted before. Unlike conventional (or even most organic) chicken, these are bred for flavor, not rapid weight gain (a feature that benefits the producer, not you!). They take longer to grow than commercial (and most organic) chickens and are active foragers (commercial breeds rarely move from the food tray). This results in an amazingly flavorful meat. This is the chicken for the true gourmet.

I’ve had organic chicken before. I’ve had “free-range.” But I’ve never had chicken. And once you’ve had chicken, you’re a convert for life.

Herb Roast Chicken

excerpted from The River Cottage Meat Book (copy and pasted from Married… with Dinner.)

1 small but plump roasting chicken weighing about 3 to 4 pounds
7 tablespoons soft butter
generous handfuls of fresh herbs, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/2 glass of white wine
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Take off any string or elastic trussing from the chicken, place the bird in a roasting pan, and spread out its legs from the body. Enlarge the opening of the cavity with your fingers, so hot air can circulate inside the bird. It will cook quicker like that.

Put the butter in a bowl, throw in the roughly chopped herbs and the garlic, and season well with salt and pepper. Mix together with your fingers, then spear all over the chicken, inside and out. (Note from Anita: I also gently loosen the skin and spread some butter directly onto the meat. Yum. Note from Robin: I didn’t do that, but you definitely should!)

Place in the center of a hot oven (400F) and leave for 20 minutes (phase 1). Then baste the chicken [with the drippings], turn the oven down to 350F, pour the wine into the pan (not over the bird), and roast the bird for another 30 to 40 minutes (phase 2), depending on its size. Open the oven door, turn the oven off, and leave the bird for 15 to 20 minutes (phase 3). This is usually enough time to roast a small chicken through without burning the skin (the reason I prefer small chickens for roasting.) For a bigger bird, you will have to make the necessary adjustments, adding a few minutes to each phase. You may also wish to protect the bird’s skin with buttered foil for, say, the first 20 minutes of phase 2. A good test for doneness is to pierce that part of the bird where the thigh joins the breast; the juices released should run clear.

Forget about gravy. Carve the bird in the pan, as coarsely and crudely as you like (no wafer-thin breast slices, please), letting the pieces fall into the buttery pan juices and letting the fresh juices from carving mingle with the rest. Then take the pan to the table and pass it round your family or guests in the pecking order of your choosing, so they can pull out the bits they fancy. Pass it round a second time, to help redress grievances and encourage the further and fairer distribution of juices.

Accompaniments? Roast potatoes would be de trop. A green vegetable would probably go unnoticed. Some good bread to mop up the juices will be appreciated, while a leafy salad, produced only after your guests have demolished the chicken, might assuage a few guilty consciences.

The discover of the roasting pan, a day or so later in a cool larder, is a joy you may not wish to share. Plundered the jellied juices, congealed bits of skin, and crusty meat tatters that cling to the carcass before you quietly make the rest, along with the giblets, into stock.

*I’ll be in East Hampton until next week, so I won’t be responding to your comments. I’ll try to get to all of you as soon as I return. See you then!

Back with a Pot-Roasted Chicken

I knew I couldn’t stay away too long. As soon as I told you all I’d be taking a little blog-vacation, my computer started to seduce me. Every time I passed by, on my way to dilly-dally about nothing (that’s what vacations are supposed to be like, right?), my computer would reach out with it’s cute little mouse begging to be fondled. Click me, it whispered demurely.

You all didn’t help. Everytime I caved and skulked over to check out the internets, you all were posting new, delicious, inspiring dishes. The nerve! I yelled, Don’t they realize I’m trying to RELAX!?! How does one sit around, lolly-gagging, while everyone is being so productive?

Well, I couldn’t take it anymore. I cajoled my little laptop into taking me back, promising never to ignore her again. Then I got into the kitchen.

Ann (who’s just about my favorite blogger out there) from A Chicken in Every Granny Cart, posted about this pot-roasted chicken last week. It hit me as the perfect way to bust my blues; a whole chicken is one of the most satisfying foods for me to cook. And you can really get rid of all your pent-up aggression while you rip the thing apart—I’m not very good at carving the chicken, ripping instead and therefore not taking pictures of it afterwards! What’s more, a pot-roasted chicken, cooked with vegetables that you can serve as a side dish, is that kind of I-need-easy-right-now-because-I’m-afraid-my-life-is-falling-apart meal that sounds oh, so right.

To be honest, though, this isn’t my favorite method of roasting chicken. Don’t get me wrong, the chicken is fabulous—succulent, crisp-skinned, well-flavored. It’s the vegetables that aren’t my favorite. They’re lovely, but I usually prefer browned veggies with my roast chicken. That or mashed potatoes. Made with a lot of butter. Damn you, diet!

I’m posting Ann’s recipe below with the few adaptations that I made—I used green peas instead of beans because that’s what I had on hand. Ann’s recipe is adapted from Izzy’s Mama. Go check out both their sites if you know what’s good for that tummy of yours!

Pot-Roasted Chicken

adapted from Ann’s Pot-Roasted Chicken

  • 1 medium Chicken, rinsed
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • a dozen cloves of Garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 1 Cauliflower, cut into florettes
  • fresh Sage, Rosemary and Tarragon, washed
  • 1 large lemon, quartered
  • Dry Vermouth
  • Sherry Vinegar
  • about 1 tbsp room temperature Butter with a clove or two of pressed Garlic worked into it
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 bag frozen petite pea & pearl onion mix (or a bag of anything that you’d like to go with your chicken.)
  • 1 bag frozen corn

Heat the oven to 400°F.

Toss the onions, garlic, 1 lemon quarter and all the cauliflower into your largest oven-proof dutch oven. Add a few chopped sage leaves and the leaves off of a few sprigs of rosemary. Pour over a very large glug of dry vermouth and a wee dash of sherry vinegar.

Add rest of the lemon and a handful each of the tarragon, sage, rosemary and one of the lemon halves to the chicken’s cavity. Rub the garlic butter all over the chicken and under the skin if you can. Season very liberally with salt and pepper. Place the chicken into the dutch oven on top of the vegetables. Pour over a glug of olive oil. Put the lid on the dutch oven and transfer to the oven.

Roast, covered for 1 hour.

After an hour, carefully remove the dutch oven from the oven, and then carefully remove the lid from the dutch oven. Add peas and corn and stir around as much as you can. Place the dutch oven back into the oven and allow to roast uncovered for 35 minutes or until a knife inserted into the deepest part of the chicken (near the thigh) send only clear juices to the surface (if your chicken is exceptionally large, it may need a few minutes longer). Remove chicken and carve (or rip!) Transfer the veggies to a bowl (transferring with or without the liquid) and serve with rice or polenta.