Why do chefs and cooks love poultry? To answer this I quote the patron saint of all chefs, Brillat-Savarin: “Poultry is for cookery what a canvas is for painting. It is served to us boiled, roast, hot or cold, whole or in portions, with or without sauce, and always with equal success.”
Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826)
Poultry and fowl is a traditional favorite in all ethnic and classical cuisines. Most probably because it is less expensive to raise and slaughter than any other kinds of meat. Poultry’s appeal to the modern cook is obvious: it’s easy to prepare, and takes on an endless range of flavors.
Chicken: the number one preference for dinner – whether roasted for a traditional Sunday lunch, or skewered and spiced for kabob, chicken is one of the world’s most popular ingredients. Unlike other meats, few cultural or religious taboos exist regarding its consumption, and it’s a relatively cheap source of protein and essential vitamins and minerals. Low in fat (the fat that is present is ‘good’, being mostly unsaturated or monounsaturated)
The obsession with chicken is reflected in the endless range of recipes and preparations. The subtle taste of the meat complements a spectrum of flavors from the simple pot-roasted bird of European peasant farmers to the hot and spicy chicken soups of Thailand and the Far East.
So let’s hear it for the humble Gallus domesticus!
Turkey: These large birds indigenous to Mexico and Central America where first domesticated by the Aztec Indians. The first Spanish settlers took some of these domesticated birds back to Spain, and soon Europeans were breeding them into a much plumper version. The Pilgrim Fathers brought some of these domesticated turkeys back to the New World in the 1600s and began crossing them with the indigenous American wild turkeys. Turkey, although similar to chicken in many respects has a drier breast meat but the underused thigh (red) meat is far more flavorsome and juicier with a texture closer to veal.
Turkey has fewer calories, less fat, less cholesterol, and very little sodium, but it is high in protein, vitamins, and minerals.
What would Xmas or Thanks Giving be without this bird? It’s very size and magnificence radiates luxury and festivity.
Or try it closer to the Aztec original roasted and served with a fiery “mole” sauce made from bitter chocolate and chili.
Cornish Game Hen: Also called “Rock Cornish game hen.” This is a hybrid of Cornish and White Rock chickens. These miniature chickens are about 4 to 6 weeks old and weigh about 500-700 gram usually enough for one serving.
Ducks and Geese: known as water fowl. Duck and goose are poultry and considered “white” meat. Because they are birds of flight, however, the breast meat is darker than chicken and turkey breast. Because all the meat on a duck or goose is dark, it has a stronger flavor than chicken breast meat and even chicken leg meat. This is because more oxygen is needed by muscles doing work.
Most of the world’s cuisines feature duck with some of the most famous classical dishes featuring duck e.g. Peking duck from China, Duck ala orange and Duck Confit from France and even the home grown Bebek Betutu in Bali, Indonesia
Pheasant: A Game Bird, coming originally from Asia but now found in Europe and North America. As with many birds, the male has a more brilliant plumage than the female and is larger. The female’s flesh is plumper and juicier. Very young cocks and hens may be roasted as is but older pheasants should be Barded with bacon or pork fat or cooked with moist heat because their flesh is lean and dry. Farm-raised pheasants do not have the same flavor as the wild birds.
The most traditional way to serve pheasant is under glass in a sauce radiant with cognac, morels and cream
Quail: Quail are a tiny, delicately flavored and mostly flightless game bird native to North American. Its delicate flavor comes from the nuts and seeds the wild bird eats.
In general, they should be cooked like other game birds. Young birds can be roasted; broiled or fried and older fowl should be cooked with moist heat.
Guinea Fowl: A relative to the chicken and partridge, the female (hen) makes better eating than the male. The taste has been described as “pleasantly gamey.” Guinea fowl were raised and eaten by the Greeks and Romans.
Pigeon and squab: A widely distributed bird that is normally eaten only when young. Squabs are young pigeons that have never flown and are therefore very tender. Squabs are normally under 400 gram and about 4 weeks old. May be prepared like chicken.
Grouse: A small low-fat game bird. Quality birds should have no odor.
Poultry accepts graciously and elegantly all cooking techniques. It can be prepared in an endless succession of styles and tastes. It crosses all culinary barriers and takes us back to our childhood. One of the earliest culinary memories I have is of my mother’s chicken “lokshen” soup served with thin vermicelli, golden and full of carrots, onions and celery. Sometimes there would be the added luxury of the un-hatched egg still in the chicken and boiled along with the soup. This was comfort food in the extreme and I think subconsciously influenced my love of cooking and cuisine.
Another reason I love fowl is because I can use every indispensable part of the bird. Breast meat, wings, drumsticks, thighs, leg quarters, as well as gizzards, hearts, livers, backs and necks — even feet and cock’s combs — all have culinary applications. In fact if I dine on “Yum Cha” dim sum my most favorite tidbit is the “dragon’s feet” or as you might have guessed the stewed chicken feet in red chili sauce…….yummy!. Of course this has scared off many a potential female companion who looks on with mortification as I just go ahead and munch on these delicious morsels, spitting out the bone and gristle as if I was an authentic Cantonese
In short why do chefs or indeed any one prefer poultry / fowl?
……..Because it is delicious!
Bresse Chicken Thigh stuffed with Foie Gras and Braised in chicken and truffle Broth (Serves 4)
1 Bresse chicken or any free range hen
1 whole fresh black truffle or for the more conservative, a good quality tinned product
100 gram foie gras, de-veined and cut into batons
Fleur de Sel and freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the vegetables:
4 baby carrots with tops, peeled and sliced in half length ways
4 baby turnips with tops, peeled and sliced in half length ways
120 gram butter
Fresh snap peas, shelled
1 large potato, peeled
Salt to taste
For the broth:
100 ml tablespoons truffle juice
500 ml chicken consommé
A few drops of Truffle oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the garnish:
Slices of fresh black truffles
Fleur de Sel, to taste and freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the chicken: Separate the thighs from the chicken, keeping bones and skin intact.
De-bone thighs and stuff with foie gras. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap, being sure to tie the ends with twine. Fill a pot with water and heat to 80 degrees. Poach thighs for 1 hour and 20 minutes, while keeping the water temperature constant.
For the vegetables: Bring a pot of water to a boil. Cook carrots in boiling water until tender, about five minutes, then remove with a slotted spoon and set aside, keeping warm. Repeat procedure with turnips. Add snap peas and cook until tender, while still maintaining their color then shock in ice water to prevent them from further cooking. With a medium parisienne scoop, scoop out balls from the potatoes. Cook in salted water until fork tender.
For the broth: In a saucepan, heat truffle juice. Reduce by half, add consommé and simmer for five minutes. Season with truffle oil, salt and pepper. Pass through a fine-mesh sieve and reserve, keeping hot.
To finish: Remove string from thighs and cut thighs into three or four pieces each.
To serve: Place thighs in center of plate. Add vegetables and coat with Corsican broth. Garnish with truffle slices, Fleur de Sel and pepper.
Golden Lokshen Soup – chicken soup with vermicelli
The ultimate food for the soul, chicken soup is known as nature’s antibiotic. The warming aroma and home-cooked taste ensure a cozy, comforting experience, and its health-giving properties are slowly being acknowledged by the medical community (although Jewish grandmothers will tell you that they’ve known it for years).
1 boiling hen 2.5-3 kg.
Cold water in a stock-pot (boiling and to cover the chicken)
1 large onion cut into quarters
3 Celery stalks sliced
1 Parsnip cut into batons
5 large carrots cut into batons
3- 4 bay leaves
1 teaspoon black pepper corns
1 cup Parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper
Cooked thin vermicelli
Put the chicken in the pot and cover with cold water.
Bring the water to a slow boil, skimming the grey scum (fat) off the top, add the vegetables, and turn down to a simmer.
While the soup simmers, keep the lid askew, and season to taste with salt, white pepper and a little sugar. Simmer for about two hours.
Carefully remove the chicken from the soup. You can leave the vegetables in the soup, or you strain through a cheesecloth lined strainer for a clear broth.
Put some cooked “lokshen” vermicelli into warmed soup bowls and pour over the chicken soup in all its golden glory!
In my house the prized portion was the chicken neck which was left in the soup and fished out to be sucked of all its meat by one of the lucky diners.
The chicken itself has been pretty much cooked out but the meat can be shredded and added back into the soup or used for chicken sandwiches the next day!