Stuffin’ Chickens

First let me assure those of you that know me, that the title does not refer to some “special interest” group that I have recently found on the internet! Instead it is indicative of the current focus of my Chef’s course, which is all about big knives and getting to grips with dead things. However, if you type the latter into Google (which I just did) you might get an interesting insight into some of the weirdos that inhabit cyberspace. I can certainly conclude that the title Stuffin’ Zombies would have bought more traffic to my humble blog.

Anyway, the equally humble chicken was the focus this week. Having learnt to truss it and portion it, we have moved on to deboning and stuffing it. Sometimes I struggle not to continue thinking like an investment banker. Why, I have caught myself asking myself, would I waste my valuable time on tricky deboning, when my super efficient chicken butcher will helpfully work his way through ten kilos of bird parts in the same time it takes me to get through two? Then I remind myself that I’m no longer an investment banker (I hear few people are these days and most of those prefer to remain in the closet for obvious reasons), and in the time I save myself not cutting chickens up, I generally generate zero revenue. Worse, in the time not engaged in figuring out the intricacies of chicken anatomy, there is a very real chance I will think of some specification upgrade to regale my builders with or a must-have piece of equipment for my little bed and breakfast, thereby diminishing my fast dwindling reserves even faster.

Of course I am a seasoned prevaricator and am able to come up with a number of other reasoned arguments for not cutting up chickens. The first is that I don’t use the breasts much or at least I didn’t in England. Given the choice between horrible, steroid enhanced, water-pumped supermarket fare, or free range, rare breed, sell-your-granny-to-buy-your-dinner priced fowl, I always opted for the legs of the latter which for some strange reason were substantially cheaper (they are the same price per kilo as breast here) and could be slow cooked in a tasty sauce without drying out. However, here the breasts don’t seem to shrink in the same way, even with the farmed variety, though I still think it worth a few pesos more to go for the country guys (pollo de campo).

Anyway, having had a little talk with myself, I reminded me that I was now a person of limited resources (most of which are earmarked to pay for the 5th Floor’s restoration), and that I should start taking my profession of hospitality provider and chef pretty seriously before I go broke. I quickly riposted (to myself of course) that the problem of a chicken is the same as that of a duck. A duck is too much for one but not enough for two. A chicken can just about make 3 people happy, but is a bit meagre for four. My new self argued that I was not making the most of my recent education, and won over the residual investment banker in me, by making the point that whole chickens are substantially cheaper than the prepared cuts I normally demand. In my new life, I need one chicken to feed four, luxuriously! But also economically!! Stuffing is the answer. Cheap but tasty ingredients, things in the fridge you wondered what you were going to do with, the seasonal gluts that lower the price of a particularly wonderful fruit or vegetable. They are all your friends!

So the first thing with a chicken is to cut off the breasts and thighs (go and look on youtube if this is still  mystery). It doesn’t matter if you do this badly, leaving lots of meat on the carcass because you are going to roast that anyway before making stock with it. If you do it really badly, after roasting pick off some of the remaining meat with your fingers to make chicken soup once your stock is ready.

Stuffing? Well it turns out the breasts couldn’t be easier. Get the fat end towards you, stick the knife in nearly to the end (along one side) and make an ark as you pull it out . What you want is small entry wound, big pocket. Stuff with whatever you have to hand (I had a pear that I cooked briefly with a sweet chile in escabeche and then mixed with blue cheese). A couple of toothpicks to seal it but dont brown it as you give it a quick sizzle in a buttered pan, and then poach in your previously made stock.

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The thighs, a bit more complex as you have to remove the femur and then cut the ligaments around the top to move the meat down the bone while retaining the skin, but given the meat is more flavoursome it’s difficult to go too wrong. Classically called Jambonneau (little ham), I stuffed it with some quickly fried red peppers and green olives. If you trying to be a grown up chef you should then sow the thing neatly up with needle and thread, but if you are cooking for friends a few toothpicks and a protective slice of jamon crudo do the trick pretty well. Then roast the little chaps until their skins are nicely browned.

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Reduce some white wine and add a bit of cold roux to thicken the poaching stock while the breasts are resting. Mix and reduce some more. That’s your sauce.

Serve with a bit of garlic infused mash, don’t bother peeling the potatoes, the slight bitterness counteracts buttery garlic, and some brussel sprouts roasted with smoked panceta.

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Plate it elegantly(ish), take a photo, and then add lots more sauce because actually people like sauce. It’s food, not a bloody painting!

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Ugly but good and more than adequate for four, with the added advantage of a couple of liters of left over chicken stock for soups and sauces. Well worth the effort.

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