April 14, 2013

Ballotine of Chicken

For the April Daring Cooks Challenge, Lisa from Parsley,Sage and Sweet has challenged us to debone a whole chicken, using this video by Jacques Pepin as our guide; then stuff it, tie it and roast it, to create a Chicken Ballotine.

I'm a list maker. I have a to do list, of course. And a list of recipes to try, restaurants to sample, books to read, clothes to buy, vacations to take, things to pack, and gifts to give. You get the idea. Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed I calm myself down by making a list of lists I need to make. Yes, really.

So maybe it's no surprise that I have a list of cooking techniques to master. Or at least try.

That list looks something like this:

  • Break down a whole chicken into 8 pieces
  • Filet a fish
  • Make a tender pie crust
  • Make mayonnaise from scratch
  • Make a loaf of bread
  • Debone a chicken

So I was excited when I read this month's Daring Cook's challenge -- deboning, stuffing, tying and roasting a whole chicken! If you're not a list maker, you may not understand. But there is something immensely satisfying about crossing something off a to do list.

Most Daring Cook's Challenges involve one or more recipes and then photos illustrating the technique. But this one took more than photos. It required a video. And not just any video. A video featuring cooking legend Jacques Pepin. (If you're interested in watching the video, you can view it here.)

He made it look so easy. I watched the video a couple of times and felt ready to go. I gathered my knives, cutting board and kitchen towels. I had my laptop, video cued up, at the ready. And off I went.

It was a bit of a mess. I had to keep returning to the video for guidance and stopping to take pictures — not an easy task when you're working with raw chicken. I washed and dried my hands over and over so I could pick up my camera and hit rewind on my laptop without contaminating the entire kitchen.

At one point in the video Jacques looks up at the camera and says (with a straight face!) "It should not take you much more than a minute to bone out a chicken." Maybe if you're a classically trained French chef who regularly cooked alongside Julia Child. It probably took me closer to 45.

It wasn't pretty. And it wasn't as easy as Jacques made it look. There were a few little bones that didn't want to leave their cozy, chicken home. At these points, I admit, Jacques' finesse and technique gave way to my brute force. But in the end, the chicken was deboned. And I was able to pick up my pencil and do this:

  • Debone a chicken

I started with this whole chicken. 

First, I cut off the wings and what I believed fervently hoped to be the wish bone (it wasn't).

I put the chicken breast-side down, and cut a slit down the back.

Now it was time for the main event, pulling out the carcass. Doing that, according to Jacques, barely involved the knife. In fact, the knife would only be used to cut through four joints — the two shoulder joints and the two hip joints. And you don't need a lot of force, either. When you find that sweet spot, the knife slides right into the joint and separates it away. Once the joints are dealt with, it's more a matter of peeling the meat off the carcass than cutting anything away. 

Here's what it looked like once the carcass was out.

The hardest part was probably removing the bone from the leg and thigh. Let's just say it involved a lot of scraping. It wasn't pretty. Not while I was doing it. Or, really, even once I was finished. I'll spare you that picture and just show you what the chicken looked like when all the bones were out.

The bones!

Finally, it was time to stuff the bird. The stuffing was a simple mixture of spinach, garlic, cheese, and cubed bread. I spread the stuffing over the chicken and down into the leg/thigh area.

Then rolled the chicken up, slightly overlapping the sides so the stuffing couldn't escape.

All tied up with kitchen string.

Glazed with melted butter, salt and pepper. Then into the oven she went.

Only to emerge an hour later, beautifully golden and perfectly cooked.

Sliced. And ready to serve.

Ballotine of Chicken

1 whole chicken (about 3-3/4 pounds), boned
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Spinach, Cheese, and Bread Stuffing (see recipe below)
1/3 cup water
1/2 cup dry red
1 celery stalk, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 small onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/2 tsp cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tablespoon water
1 Tbsp dark soy sauce
1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley

1.    Preheat the oven to 400°F.

2.    Lay the chicken skin side down on the work surface and sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Spread the cool spinach, bread and cheese mixture evenly over the chicken, stuffing the legs too.

3.    Roll the chicken up, tie it with kitchen string, and place it in a roasting pan.

4.    Roast the ballotine for about 1 hour or until the temperature is 160-165 degrees F in the center of the ballotine. Lift it from the pan and place it on a platter.

For the sauce:

5.    Skim off and discard most of the fat from the drippings in the pan. Add the water and wine to the drippings to deglaze the pan, and heat over medium heat, stirring to loosen and melt the solidified juices.

6.    Strain the juices into a saucepan. Add the celery, onion, and carrot and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and boil gently for 5 minutes. Stir in the dissolved cornstarch and soy sauce and bring the mixture back to a boil, stirring, to thicken it. Remove from the heat.

7.    Transfer the ballotine to a cutting board and remove the string. Cut half of it into 4 or 5 slices. Return the uncut half of the ballotine to the serving platter and arrange the cut slices in front of it. Serve with sauce. Cut additional slices of ballotine as needed at the table.

Spinach, Cheese, and Bread Stuffing

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp finely chopped garlic
5 ounces baby spinach leaves
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 cup (grated Gruyère or mozzarella cheese
1 1/2 cups cubed bread

1.    Heat the oil in a large saucepan or skillet. Add the garlic, spinach, salt, and pepper and cook for 1 minute to soften the garlic and wilt the spinach.

2.    Transfer to a bowl and let cool to room temperature.

3.    Stir in the cheese and cubed bread.

Serves 4 to 6

April 3, 2013

Google's Braised Chicken and Kale


I came across this recipe in Bon Appetit. It caught my eye because my brother-in-law works for Google and I've heard tales of the food. There's a salad bar of course, and soups and sandwiches and pizza and burgers and pasta. But there are also Chinese and Indian stations, serving noodles, tofu stir fry, daal and saag paneer. You can get carnitas burritos, bi bim bap, sushi and empanadas. Nuts, berries, and freshly squeezed juices. And did I mention that it's all free?

With such a strong reputation for their food, I figured any recipe that Google shared with Bon Appetit would be a winner. But I was stuck on the kale.

My long lost friend, kale.

I haven't eaten kale for almost two years. Not because I don't like it. I do. I did. Until I joined a CSA and got a fat bunch of kale in my box every week for five straight months. I ate it shredded, torn and tossed in salads. I stir fried it with olive oil and garlic, and I served it steamed, with a pat of butter. I made kale chips. And then I just couldn't eat any more kale. 

But now here it was again. And I was considering it. Seriously considering it. When I tasted it in this recipe, it was as if we'd never met before. I'd forgotten its rich earthy flavor. And how it stays just a little bit crisp even when it's cooked.

The recipe was a winner. And kale is back on my grocery list.

Start with bone-in chicken thighs. I bought thighs with skin and bones, then just pulled the skin off. (It's easy if you just grip the skin with a paper towel and pull.)

Sprinkle with paprika, salt and pepper.

Cook until the chicken is golden brown. It won't be cooked through yet. Give the chicken enough space to brown; you may have to do this step in two batches, as I did.

Cook garlic and onion until tender and golden brown.

Add the chicken (and any chicken juices) back to the pot.

Then add broth, wine, and herbs.

Bring to a boil, cover and simmer...

...until the chicken is cooked through.

 Add the kale. Cover and simmer for about five more minutes...

...until the kale is wilted but still bright green.

I served the chicken and kale over polenta, which was perfect for soaking up the tasty sauce.

Google's Braised Chicken and Kale

Recipe slightly adapted from Bon Appetit

4 chicken legs, drumsticks and thighs separated (I used 8 chicken thighs with bones, skin removed)
1 Tbsp paprika
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
6 garlic cloves, sliced
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine
2 sprigs rosemary
2 sprigs thyme
1 large bunch kale, center ribs and stems removed, leaves cut into 1-inch strips
Lemon wedges

1.    Sprinkle chicken with paprika; season with salt and pepper.

2.    Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add chicken skin side down and cook, turning occasionally, until brown on all sides, 8-10 minutes; transfer to a plate.

3.    Add onion and garlic to pot and cook, stirring often, until softened, 8-10 minutes.

4.    Return chicken to pot. Add broth, wine, and herbs. Bring to a boil; cover. Reduce heat; simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 40 minutes.

5.    Add kale to pot. Cover; cook until wilted, about 5 minutes. Discard herbs.

6.    Serve chicken and kale with lemon wedges.

Serves 4