the elusive bresse chicken

bresse chickenBresse chicken is one of those seemingly mythological creatures I’ve long heard about it, but never seen (or eaten) myself, kind of like a unicorn. The great poets of gastronomy wax rhapsodic over the flesh of these particular birds, which are raised free-range in eastern France and have the distinction of being the first animals designated with an AOC, or appellation. While I would have loved to chance upon a whole roasted bird, I was still pleasantly surprised to find a version of it on the menu at Camelia, the courtyard garden at Mandarin Oriental, where I’ve been staying on the rue St. Honore. In the hands of Michelin-starred chef Thierry Marx the plump breast of the bird is layered in a terrine with black truffle and foie gras de canard, surrounded by fruity girolle mushrooms in a savory jus. I never imagined a bird could stand up to the intense aroma of truffle or the pungent flavor of duck liver, but this poultry more than holds its own. Satisfying as an appetizer, it only serves to make me crave the full bird experience.

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live blog: meat sweats, part one

In 1948 Charlie Vergos cleaned out a basement below his Greek diner, discovered a coal chute, and started a Memphis legend, Rendezvous. The coal chute gave him a vent for his considerable talents over a charcoal grill, allowing him to expand from ham and cheese sandwiches to ribs. Today, several thousand people on an average night pour through Charlie’s basement and sink their teeth into a slab of what makes Memphis, well, Memphis. It started and stays about the local-style dry-rub ribs, but the menu is as eclectic as the kitchen sink decor: vegetarian red beans and rice, lamb riblets, barbecue nachos – all served with beans and slaw, pickles and peppers optional. I hear they still make a mean ham and cheese sandwich, too, but like most people I came for one thing only: ribs, perfected.

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more stars: ming court

After yesterday’s mess hall meal it was a no brainer to accept the invitation to dine at Ming Court, the Michelin two-star restaurant at Langham Place, Mongkok. I’ll be moving to Langham Place in a few days, too, so not only did it give me the chance to do a bit of neighborhood reconnaissance, but it also gave me the leisurely opportunity to sample the contemporary Cantonese menu of chef Tsang Chiu King. Sophisticated yet approachable - and very, very comfortable – it’s an engaging dining experience of traditional fresh flavors, creatively presented: a trio of dim sum; bean curd three ways – with prawns, braised with black truffle & gold leaf, and stuffed inside whole abalone with black mushroom; subtly elegant matsutake and bamboo funghi soup; stir fried giant garoupa; award-winning pan-fried chicken skin filled with chicken and black truffle, accompanied with sliced pumpkin; baked rice with chicken and cheese served in bell pepper; and a refreshing tofu bird’s nest “extravagance.” Best of all, the food doesn’t take itself too seriously. Chef Tsang is obviously – thankfully – focused on form following flavor. Which makes for happy palates – not to mention empty plates.

 

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jerk & juice

Jerk is Jamaica’s claim to culinary fame. A fiery spice blend of allspice, cloves, garlic, and Scotch bonnet peppers, jerk spice, as it’s commonly called, is dry-rubbed into various meats before smoking over a slow-burning mix of hardwood and charcoal. Jamaicans boast of being able to jerk anything – yes, the ubiquity of jerk means it can function as both noun and verb – from pork and tofu to shellfish and sausage, each augmented in its own particular way by a healthy rub of jerk. Yet for me, nothing quite measures up to how the spice permeates - and in the process tenderizes – the meat of a chicken. The capsicum in the pepper breaks down the muscle fibers, turning even the toughest old bird into something sublime and juicy – with a satisfying spice kick, too.  Makeshift jerk shacks are found all over the country, but along an empty stretch of road between Ocho Rios and Port Antonio I came upon Buccaneers Jerk & Juice, a substantially less provisional establishment with both a garden and bar. Half a succulent chicken with a side of festival, lightly sweetened fried dumplings that are tailor-made for mopping up the addictive mix of drippings and hot sauce which puddles on the plate, set me back all of eight bucks. That’s what I call finger-lickin’ good.

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egg on my face

A friend of mine and I somehow got on the subject of fresh eggs recently.  If you’ve never had a farm fresh egg, you’ve no idea what you are missing:  it cooks up as a creamy, slightly silky puddle of incredibly flavorful egg-y goodness.  So while I was boasting about heading down to the Greenmarket this weekend for half a dozen of Knollcrest Farm’s finest hen eggs, he had to go and do me one better:  “The chickens you see here were part of the set for a movie I was working on.  Every morning before the crew arrived, I would get to the set early and collect their eggs and let them out of the coop. As I was cleaning up and resetting the house for the days filming I would sometimes cook myself an egg for breakfast. Now that was a fresh egg.”  I’ve been humbled.

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naughty chicken realized

It was pointed out to me over the weekend that perhaps posting an untested recipe – no matter how amusing – involved a bit of hubris on my part.  Point taken, reader.  So last night I decided to put it to the test, first rubbing sage butter underneath the skin of a five-pound organic chicken. Next, I loaded up a non-stick bundt pan with fingerlings, parsley, and small onions dressed in salt, pepper and olive oil.  Before impaling the chicken I did something the recipe neglected to mention:  laying a piece of foil over the hole to force the drippings back into the well of the pan. It roasted for a little over an hour.  After resting for fifteen minutes on a plate tented with foil it was perfectly tender and succulent.  (Apologies for the lack of an “after” photo – you’ll just have to trust me on this one.)  The potatoes were a little underdone however, so I spread them onto a baking sheet and put  them back into the oven for another  ten minutes.  Straining the collected pan juices, I put them into a saucepan with some white wine and reduced it by half.  Thickened with a little butter and corn starch it turned into a velvety gravy that made a great complement to this lascivious bird.  I am innocent no more.

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naughty chicken

I got an email the other day with one of the best subject lines I’ve read in a long, long time:  The Naughty Way To Roast A Chicken.  Coming courtesy of Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan and the people at Apartment Therapy Media, it made for an amusing read.  Moreover, it’s suggests a rather inventive bit of adaptive reuse for those of us lacking the cabinet space to store myriad bits of kitchenalia.

So as to not spoil the fun, I’ve cut and pasted the complete e-mail below.  Click the link to sign up for their weekly email, The Kitchn.

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Last week I went to a press lunch showcasing a collection of snazzy Staub cookware that Williams-Sonoma will start carrying this summer. The chefs prepared the meal almost exclusively in giant Staub slow-cookers (or cocottes, as they call them) and grill pans.  That was cool, but what really caught my eye was this phallic vertical roaster awkwardly perched in the corner of the kitchen, and naturally I started thinking about chickens.

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Daydreams took me to another single-purpose item in my kitchen with a big upright pipe: the bundt pan. On the way home, I picked up a chicken and embarked on a rather obscene journey with the pan that until this fateful moment lived mostly in obscurity in the back of a cabinet, and occasionally made innocent cakes for sweet little tea parties.

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For the uninitiated vertical-roasting virgins, you should know that the great thing about doing it vertically is that it’s more efficient and gives more even browning without having to tie up your bird. You can vertically roast everything from a tiny quail to your Thanksgiving turkey. The bigger the bird, the bigger the time savings. But you have to be brave enough to handle that raw meat from all sides and literally plunge it onto an offensively large shaft. You’ve read this far, so I know you can do it.

Before putting it in the oven, I rubbed the chicken down with salt, pepper and some dried orange rind I had laying around. This turns out to be a nice treatment, but honestly, I didn’t really care how my bird was dressed. I was just making it look pretty for a second before I did the deed. To prop it up, I put some baby potatoes and onion wedges beneath the chicken’s rear. These roasted in the peppery fat that dripped off the chicken and made for a tasty side dish.

I’ve written the recipe without specific seasonings and under-body props, so just ask yourself what turns you on, and dress accordingly. This is about a new position more than anything else.

Bundt Pan Vertical Chicken
serves 4-6

3 to 4 pound chicken
Salt, pepper and spices to season
Potatoes, hard fruits, onions to prop

If using seasonings on the chicken, rub them into the skin. If you have time, let them penetrate for an hour or more in the refrigerator. Otherwise, get right down to business.

Place an oven rack low enough to accommodate the bundt pan plus an extra few inches. For me, this means using the bottom rung. Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Scatter a layer of propping fruits and/or vegetables on the bottom of the pan. Turn the chicken upright (legs on the bottom, wings on the top) and plunge the body onto the bundt pan’s central spike.

Roast for 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350°F and roast another 40-45 minutes, or until an instant-read meat thermometer inserted into the breast registers 155°F. Turn the oven back up to 450°F and roast another five minutes, or until thermometer registers 160°F.

Relieve the chicken of its bundt-y intrusion by carefully lifting it off with tongs. Set it on its back to rest on a plate. Check the roasted vegetables for done-ness. They should be tender but not mushy. If under-cooked, return them in the pan to the oven until done.

Congratulations. You’re innocent no more.

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