a home cook with notions & an appetite
Oh, I know I’ve been away. There are reasons and things are nearly settled, so I’m just about able to get back to my regular leisure schedule again. Not that I haven’t been cooking. Oh, there’s been cooking. We’ve even cooked things other than chicken, but I have many, many chicken experiments to catch up on. We shall try to intersperse, as the CSA began last week and I do so want to get off on the right foot. (Although there will be no strawberry recipes as those just are going straight down the hatch.)
So, food-wise, I have been completely obsessed with the Time-Life Good Cook and Foods of the World series. My collections of both are nearly complete and the latest chicken recipe does come from the Poultry volume. I’d always assumed these books were designed to make money as quickly as possible for as little effort from picture-heavy, dumbed-down cookbooks. Then I flipped through their dried bean cookbook which had a cassoulet recipe that starts with rendering your own goose fat from a whole goose.
I was wrong.
These cookbooks are very involved and expect quite a bit from the home cook. Sure, the books did not foresee the lower temperatures on pork and will still overcook plain vegetables, but more often than not, you can find all sorts of “breakthrough” tricks and techniques used on today’s cooking shows in these books. Everything old is new again. And now that I’ve nearly completed my collection, I can say it’s worth seeking these out dirt cheap used to have them in your collection as well.
Stuffed roasted chicken? Well, even Time-Life knew stuffing a whole chicken was unsafe, so they had an better way to stuff a chicken that did not involve stuffing the cavity of the bird with stuffing that would ultimately prove unsafe to eat (unless, of course, you wanted chicken meat that was beyond dry because you got the stuffing up to temperature and didn’t care at all about the consequences to the actual bird). But I’m also getting ahead of myself, as this is not a traditional stuffing. Perhaps I should get to the usual and list the ingredients first:
1 whole chicken (mine was the usual 4 1/2 lbs)
1 tsp crumbled mixed dried thyme, oregano & savory
3 Tbs olive oil
3 oz ricotta cheese
3/4 cup fresh white bread crumbs
4 Tbs butter
1 Tbs fresh marjoram (or fines herbs)
1 large egg
1 med onion, chopped, stewed in 1 Tbs butter for 15 min and cooled
1 small firm zucchini, cut into julienne strips, salted, sauteed in 2 Tbs butter and cooled
The recipe does require advanced prep, but as I did this on a weekend, chopping and cooking the eggs and zucchini around lunch and letting them cool was really not a great deal of effort. Fresh breadcrumbs are a snap with the food processor, and are something you want to do for this recipe, as a dried breadcrumb will not give you the creamy consistency this stuffing is meant to have. Breadcrumbs, butter and cheese were mashed with a fork slightly and then combined with the egg, salt, pepper and herbs. The cooled vegetables were mixed in (very cool, otherwise the cheese will go very wrong), along with enough Parmesan to make the stuffing firm and stiff. Now to get this in the bird…
The chicken prep was also done well in advance. Before I stuffed the bird, it sat for an hour or two (honestly, no one died) to marinate. This was something I did a bit ahead of cooking the vegetables. I began with the usual wash out and thoroughly dry the chicken portion of the chicken prep that seems to go without saying. Then the Time-Life clever bit starts to com in – I take the backbone out of the chicken so I can flatten out the chicken and thoroughly loosen the skin. I not only rub the chicken down with dried herbs and olive oil, but you can also see where I cut small slits in the skin to hold down the drumsticks (it’s a bit of slot A, tab B construction method, but for poultry). The chicken sits for an hour or two which gives plenty of time to cook onion, zucchini, let it cool and assemble the stuffing. I’ve also preheated the oven to 450 degrees.
Now the rest of the clever and the fun – in the bottom, middle picture, that’s my hand far up in the chicken, shoving in the stuffing (thorough hand-washing goes without saying) between the loosened skin and meat. The stuffing went around the legs and thighs and then up around the breasts. Once the stuffing was packed in, the whimsy comes in the form of shaping it to over-emphasize the breast and leg/thigh contours using my hands over the surface of the bird. I then salted and peppered the bird thoroughly.
The 450 degrees was for 10 minutes. Just enough to get a really good brown started on the skin. At the end of 10 minutes, I turned the oven down to 375 degrees. Thanks to the butter in the stuffing and the olive oil on the bird, I found plenty of juices coming from the bird to baste the bird every 30 minutes for about an hour – or until a thermometer in the flesh came out to 165 degrees. I let the bird sit for about 15 minutes on the cutting board after lifting it carefully out of the pan (there are a lot of juices) to let everything firm up thoroughly, before carving the bird. When carving the bird, I did end up with nice line of baked stuffing between crispy skin and very moist chicken.
I would have liked a more seasoned stuffing (after cooking, the herbs didn’t stand up to the rendered chicken fat from the skin – and some spice might have been nice). But I’ll admit that the idea of stuffing under the skin is a phenomenal idea. As is the idea of cooking even more things from the Time Life series.