Sunday, September 30, 2012

Cajun Collard Stuffed Chicken Ballottine

So Yonetta sent me an email with a recipe for chicken galantine linked, which was a not very subtle way of telling me to either shit or get off the pot with this stuffed chicken idea. She's a fan of cajun food, collard greens, and nuts so this one totally appealed to her while I wasn't quite stoked about it. But hey, you gotta start somewhere and it might be badass. I wasn't getting anywhere just talking about how I should try it sometime.

Before starting, I had to read the recipe quite a few times as it is written like the author is talking to you as you act as sous chef in the kitchen. Good at following explicit directions, this was an exercise for me in more ways than one!

The original recipe didn't have measurements for most ingredients, so I did my best to annotate quantities I used. I rearranged the order of items on the list from first to last used. Otherwise I did the best I could to follow the directions.

Cajun Collard Stuffed Chicken Ballottine*
adapted from Kinderhook Farm Kitchen
click to print

1 whole chicken, about 4.5 lbs
1 tbsp butter
1 onion, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 c chicken stock
3 c collard greens, chopped, about 1/2" pieces
1 c walnuts
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp paprika
maple syrup
1 c ricotta cheese
4 tbsp schmaltz (rendered chicken fat)

Rinse the chicken and dry the skin and cavity well with paper towel. Bone it out. Reserve bones to make stock now or later.

This took me 30 minutes. I am glad I practiced this in some shape or form, not on one, or two, but three different occasions. Watch this video!

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Melt butter in saucepan over medium-low heat. Add onions, stirring to coat, and cook until translucent.

Add garlic and stir, cooking until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add collard greens and stock to the onions. Salt and pepper. Stir to coat evenly. Cover and let simmer.

At this point I realized that my disagreement with nature wasn't winning me anything and I turned the lights on. Amazing how I could actually see then what the stirred collards looked like.

Meanwhile lightly toast walnuts in the oven about 5-7 minutes, or when just fragrant. Chop while warm.

Walnuts ready to go into the oven.

Toss chopped nuts with maple syrup, cayenne pepper, paprika, oregano, and thyme.

I put the warm nuts and spiced in a bowl that has a lid. A small quantity of syrup was added, the lid snapped on, the bowl shaken, and more syrup added. This continued until the seasonings stuck to the nuts but the nuts weren't wet.

Turn oven up to 400°F.

After the collards have sufficiently cooked down to yield a soft texture, about 20-30 minutes, use a slotted spoon to transfer the collard greens to a medium bowl. Add the ricotta cheese and seasoned walnuts, stirring to combine.

I wish I'd tasted this mixture now to adjust the seasonings. I'd have added a LOT more.

Smooth the stuffing over the breasts and stuff some into each leg and wing.

I realized there was a gap between the breasts exposing neck skin. Filleting the breasts slightly allowed the gap to be covered, just as Pepin described in the video linked above. The stuffing was then packed into the appendages and over the breasts.

Carefully roll up the stuffed chicken.

If the chicken skin is damp even just a tiny bit, the skin will be slippery and refuse to stick to itself. Tucking a sheet of paper towel under each long half of the bird I managed to dry the skin and roll the bird up. Once done, the dry skin stuck to itself such that the bird could be handled enough to tie with twine. And seeing the bird stuffed like this caused me to laugh hysterically for many minutes because 1) it looks crazy, and 2) I imagined this is pretty much how I'd look on a beach, minus the lengthwise incision.

Tie with some cooking twine.

This was done just as Pepin showed in the video. Doing it with the incision side down was pretty easy, the hardest part being the wing section. After turning the bird over, I saw that one wing was tucked under twine (evidenced by the stuffing having been forced out) and the other wing sticking out entirely. Managing the neck skin to seal in the stuffing took a little bit of doing but was not impossible.

Transfer chicken to a roasting pan or rimmed baking sheet. Rub some fat over the chicken skin, salt and pepper.

I rubbed chicken fat collected from the batch of stock I had simmering on the stove over my stuffed boneless chicken.

Roast the chicken uncovered for about 2 to 2.5 hours. Check to see that the juices run clear.

I roasted the chicken for 1 hour and 20 minutes and then though I should put in a temperature probe. But I wasn't sure where to put it! In the flesh or right through the middle of the stuffing? The location where I finally stuck it (shoulder? breast? stuffing?) indicated 170°F but the temperature started dropping immediately. I put the chicken back in the oven for another 50 minutes and then pulled it out, afraid I was drying it out. Stupid me, I hadn't even left the probe in so have no clue what the temperature was.

Let chicken rest before slicing; serve hot.

Aaaalright. Ooookay. What to say. I overcooked the crap out of this underseasoned bird.

Before I get to those details, let me just say that this preparation was a little overwhelming, particularly when I had a hard time rolling the bird up. Getting past that hurdle, things came together well; Pepin's instructions were great. I wish I had good advice for where to put the temperature probe, but I'm guessing right down the middle would be fine. Put it in at the beginning and wait until 165°F is reached, anticipating an increase in temperature during standing/resting. If any of you have feedback on this, please share!

As for the seasonings, I could've easily doubled them. As it was, the cajun flavor was almost non-existent. Collard greens and nuts both have strong flavors, the cajun should've had more showing. I am not sure how much cayenne pepper, paprika, oregano, and thyme I used, maybe just 1/2 tsp each.
The total quantity of stuffing was perfect. I had expected it to squirt out any available opening during the rolling and twining steps. The only loss was because of the pinched wing. The nuts could've been chopped a little finer as I found them too big.

Slicing the bird, weird not to have to work around bone, yielded quite an impressive look! So impressive that I'm definitely going to try this technique again but with different stuffing. Collards and nuts just aren't my thing. The skin was fantastically pretty, crispy, and tasty while the flesh was dry. Two hours and ten minutes for a 4.5 lb bird was serious overkill.

Overall, I'm glad to have tried it. Once I get chicken mastered I'll have to work on duck. Eventually, I might be able to swing a turducken!

  • chicken: $11.36
  • butter: $0.06
  • onion: $0.54
  • garlic cloves: $0.15
  • chicken stock: $0.32
  • collard greens: $1.49
  • walnuts: $1.40
  • ricotta cheese: $1.75

Total: $17.07 or about $2.85 for each of six pretty big servings.

*What is a gallantine and how does it differ from ballottine? Per Pepin:
A galantine is a boned bird, usually a duck or chicken, filled with a force-meat mixture and alternate layers of liver, truffles and the like. The boned, stuffed bird is poached in broth, cooled off and served with its own aspic. A ballottine is essentially the same except the stuffed bird is roasted instead of poached and served hot with a sauce.

Collard Greens

Purchased just yesterday, these collard greens are starting to wilt.

Checking out the Ratto Bros. site, I learned that collards should be stored in high humidity (90-95%). Fortunately, they'll perk up nicely if you just let them soak in water for awhile, maybe an hour. You want to do that anyway to rinse any earthy stuff away.

Roughly chopping into 1/2" dice, I can tell collards, even more so than kale, are not some wimpy greens. These babies are pretty hardy.

Looking for collard greens, or greens in general, in the Larousse turned out fruitless. Must be too non-French in 1984 when my copy was printed! I did learn that cotton candy is called "candyfloss" or barbe a papa.

Ratto Bros. collard greens available in the produce section of Ralph's for $1.49/bunch.

Coastal Range Organics Young Chickens

Wondering whether there is a difference between organic and "regular" chickens, I decided to find out. I'd been feeling a little weird about how Sanderson Farms or Foster Farms chickens can be purchased whole for as little as $0.79/lb on sale. That's a whole chicken for about five bucks.

Coastal Range Organics young chickens are available whole for $2.49/lb at Costco which seems astronomical in comparison. But isn't that a little nuts? $2.49 a pound isn't really expensive when considering ground beef consistently goes for more. I admit to blocking the chicken cooler for 10 minutes while I weighed my decision. $23 for chicken.

Leaving the store, I didn't have buyers remorse. No matter what, my intention was to use all of (ok, 95% of) the chickens as I normally do. One of the two birds was placed directly into the freezer. The second one was investigated further.

It was easy to decide which of the two birds to put in the freezer: the one in the completely closed package! Yes, this one had a breach where the staple didn't grab all of the plastic or the plastic bag had somehow been pulled out. Sniffing the opening, the chicken didn't smell like anything but chicken.

Being an organic chicken means it was fed organic food, was not subjected to "added" antibiotics or hormones, no animal by-products (which I'm guessing would be food for non-organic birds), and it's fresh and all natural. Hmm. Where have I heard that? Oh yeah, Foster Farms says that too. Wait, no, they say, "always fresh, always natural".

The back of the package describes briefly the food provided to the birds, the pesticide free land they are grown on (and are supposed to literally have access to but I won't go into what this could possibly mean, there are plenty of other sites that discuss this topic in detail), and the third party organic certification. Should you care to contact Coastal Range Organics, their address is on the package too. The zip code is complete, unlike the one provided on the Contact Us page of their website.

Chicken Nutrition Facts anyone?

Ok, so now is there a visible difference? The skin does not seem to be as yellow as most birds I've purchased in my life. Otherwise, pretty much the same. Chicken's chicken.

The amount of fat attached to the skin at the cavity opening seemed to be less than a usual chicken. Otherwise I can't tell this bird from any other.

Walking around the internet now, my suspicions were confirmed: Coastal Range Organics is the organic line of Foster Farms chicken. What I don't know is where the Coastal Range Organics birds are farmed. Washington state? I am inclined to believe that the Foster Farms birds I get at my grocers here in Orange County are from central California based on the number of dots on this page. It'd be nice to know exactly where the farms are but I can see why they don't advertise those locations. PETA people can get crazy.

I wonder this aloud because, well, I don't spend too much time consciously choosing organic over non-organic food. I don't spend a lot of time considering the carbon footprint of what I eat either. Easily you could say it must be because I don't give a shit, but really it's because I am prone to over-analysis-paralysis. It can be hard to decide what to do for me, the chickens, and the environment. It's not just about how many miles of road a chicken is driven in a refrigerated diesel guzzler, but the treatment of the animals, the impact of the farm they are grown on, the FDA's vague labeling acceptance. Weighing all of those variables is overwhelming! Hats off to those who have the diligence, stamina, and dedication to vie for only organic or strictly local.

My trend/guideline is to keep it simple: taste and quality aside, buy the more local choice. Standing in the store, I'll choose the Hawaiian sugar over the Paraguayan sugar if offered a choice (though as the crow flies I'm not sure there's much difference) for example. This article by Deborah Madison resonated with me. Sometimes just trying to maintain a well-balanced diet is too much and I wind up eating junk (ahem, cookie dough for dinner 10 days straight?) which certainly doesn't help anything.

Whether I wind up buying more of these birds or going back to the regular chickens, I'll buy Foster Farms over Sanderson Farms. I don't have reason to believe there's anything wrong with Sanderson's fowl, I just learned that Sanderson Farms is based in Missouri and their most western processing facility is in Texas, a couple states away from me. For now I'll vote not to eat Texan chickens.

Coastal Range Organics chickens, available in packs of two at Costco for $2.49 a pound.

Harvest Sensations Fresh Thyme

Sometimes when you buy thyme, it'll have a little pink flower.

And then you wonder if this is really thyme because it looks completely different from the other one.

Harvest Sensations Fresh Thyme, available at Grower's Direct in a 1 ounce package for $1.29.

Henckel's Sharpened

I took the chef and Santoku knives from my Henckel's set to Chef's Toys to get them sharpened the day I bought the Shun 8" chef's knife. When I went back to pick those knives up, I dropped off my two paring knives and bought the Shun paring knife. Then I went back to Chef's Toys to pick up the paring knives and bought sieves.

The knives, because I didn't have any sheaths for them, were wrapped in paper. Finally, to see how these babies looked, I unwrapped them. I looked at each one, smallest to largest, and couldn't help but notice that my chef's knife was no longer the same. It was sharper, but not a fine edge.

The bevel was messed up. One side of the knife looked okay (above) but the other side was basically smoothed completely. No bevel. No 20° angle. And the edge had a bunch of pits on it, which caught on paper. Using the knife proved that it wasn't the same anymore. It doesn't cut worth a shit.

I'm not going to get all crazy and bash on Chef's Toys since the other knives seem to be okay. I am chalking this up to the fact that the number one go-to knife went way too long (4 years!) before sharpening. Guessing, Knife Sharpener Guy had a ton of blades to get through and can only dedicate so much time to each. Lesson learned: get knives sharpened frequently.

Rather than discard this knife, I'm going to figure out how to put a new edge on it. Any tips, tricks, hints, or offers to do this for me will be eagerly entertained! Meanwhile, I'll debate what I want to do with the Shun. I'm not exactly gunning to go back to Chef's Toys to have them sharpen that one even though I have a perfectly rational reason for why the Henckel's wasn't perfect upon return.