Every now and then its good to be reminded that the simple things in life are ever the most elegant and if you doubt that, look no further than great designers like Chanel. My reminder came in the form of a dish that was written by a fave Italian cook, Giorgio Locacelli, resident of the UK but raised in Lombardy Italy where his uncle had a restaurant and he was, from an early age surrounded by food and cooking. Locacelli is regarded as the finest Italian cook in the UK food scene. He is outwardly, fanatic in regard to method and style, but then, as ever with Italians, passion overcomes making his cooking and food a pure delight.
I have a chicken in the fridge... not unusual I hear you say and you would be right, but the point was I guess that I was sick of roast chicken, over grilled chicken, done the BBQ chicken thing last week, so something new was in order. I began by plunging into the depths of memory and decided that I would debone the chicken, stuff it and..... step in Giorgio! He suggested that a stuffing of mushroom and truffle with fresh herbs would be stunning, further that to poach the chicken and serve it with some cappilletti (little hats filled with ricotta) cooked in the broth in which the chicken was poached, would be stunning. He was right.
let me walk you through the method for deboning. For a definitive method, I would advise you to consult with Mastering the Art of French cooking by the indomitable Julia Child, however it is not all the difficult requiring most of all a very sharp knife, and my much loved small Shun paring knife which I still keep in its original box and sharpen lovingly before each performance. I am also known to become very agitated should anyone use my knife. Call me anything you like, but there are some things that are sacred.
There is little point in going through this whole performance for a chicken less than free range organic, so make sure that you have a chicken worthy of your efforts. I would also suggest that you remove it from the refrigerator some hour or so before you intend to start, having the bird at room temperature is easier. I also prefer to lay a tea towel over the chopping board to prevent slippage. If you have some issues with both hygiene and with fear of the knife slipping, then a pair of kitchen cloves could be desirable.
Make the first cut straight down the back bone, god I hope that you will all know the difference between the breast bone and back bone, the breast bone is where the breast fillets are located, the back bone is the 'bottom' of the bird. So the first incision is from vent to neck, straight down the back bone. The next steps are simply to carefully pare back the flesh from the carcass, detach the wing bones and the drum sticks (this can be done by snapping them off the carcass or by cutting in the joint itself) and leave them in place for the minute. Pare carefully on each side until you are left with only the breast bone, now carefully begin to detach the breast bone, this is the one place that you may make a big mistake ... it is thin tissue and so requires some care.
To remove the wing bones, first cut off the last two sections of the wings, leaving you with just one bone. Run your knife right around the bone just below the point on the bone that connected the wing to the carcass and begin to pare the flesh down. It is very simple and at the end, just pull the bone out. The leg bone or drumstick is a little more complex as you will have two bones per leg to deal with, but the principal is the same.
This will leave you with a complete skin intact chicken, all flesh in place. Roll it up and put in the fridge to await the next step. Place all the bones into your stock pot, including the wing tips, add an onion, a carrot or two a couple of stems of celery, cover all with some cold water and begin to make a delicious soup/stock... this will take 60 minutes. My trick here is to do this in the base of my Chinese steamer and to then steam/poach the chicken over the stock, thus I also get the advantage of adding the flavour of the cooking chicken to the soup and the chicken is bathed in delicious steam. Win win all round.
The stuffing is easy... I chose not to follow the Giorgio plan with truffles, mostly because I did not have any on hand, but to extemporise a little. I choose some fresh mushrooms, some dried porcini and in fact ham, you could of course use proscuito. I start with one of my retail ready stuffing mixes.
Peter Watson Sage and Red Onion stuffing
2 tblspns of milk
1 tblspn butter
200 grams of ham or proscuito, chopped but not too finely
150 grams of Swiss Browns that are chopped but again, not too finely
50 grams dried porcini, soaked in some hot water (don't waste the water, add that to the chicken stock) chopped, again not too finely
salt and pepper
egg is an option, I am not a lover of 'dense' stuffing so I prefer to not use one, for those who want to have a cold slice terrine like finished dish, then add one egg.
Place Peter Watson Sage and Red Onion stuffing mix in a bowl. Soften the butter and add it along with the ham and mushrooms, work this through with your fingers, try and not 'compress' it. Salt and pepper to taste.
Lay out the boned bird and cover the flesh side with the stuffing, leaving 2.5 cm along the outside edges (not the neck or bum end, just the sides) and pat the stuffing down, not hard. Now simply draw the two sides together and form a roll. Using kitchen twine, tie up the bum and neck ends first to prevent leakage of the stuffing and along the rest of the roll, four ties to hold it all together.
Rub the roll with a little oil add a bit of salt and pepper, place in the top half of the double boiler and steam over the stock for 50 to 60 minutes, not at a harsh boil, but on a gentle heat. At the end of one hour, check that the chicken is cooked and wrap the roll in foil that again you have oiled slightly, place to one side.
Here I have to confess that I did not make the Cappilletti, but I did buy the best I could. I am so glad to have that off my chest.
Strain the stock and remove as much of the fat as possible, there will be a bit, chickens are quite fatty. Place the strained stock in a pot and bring back to the boil, add your home made Cappilletti and cook, mine took about 14 minutes.
To Serve slice a piece or two if that's what you want, place in the middle of a pasta bowl, surround with 10 or 12 cappilletti and cover with a good ladle of the delicious broth, scatter a little fresh parmesan or grana padana over, test for salt and pepper and enjoy. I have to confess that I did have some crusty bread with this and gave thanks.
Locacelli is to be thanked for a reminder that such simple delights, requiring nothing more than moderate skill, attention to detail and fresh ingredient are enough to produce a meal of great excellence and perhaps, its time that we took stock of our cooking lives and embraced with passion, the concepts that have driven food and cooking in countries like France, Spain, Italy and Greece for years and which, in so many ways we have either lost or are in danger of loosing or being swamped by too much food choices or ingredients we neither understand nor in some ways, relate to.
If you are the more visual type - there is a good Deboning Video on UTube.
Peter Watson December 5, 2011