Friday, January 21, 2011

Chicken in Many Guises

The phrase "a chicken in every pot" was originally believed to have been said by Herbert Hoover in 1928.  It was later declared to have been the line of a 1928 campaign advertisement of the Republican Party--but not from Hoover.  James Rogers, the author of Dictionary of Cliches, says that it was reported that King Henry IV of France (1589-1610) stated:  "I want there to be no peasant in my realm so poor that he will not have a chicken in his pot every Sunday."  Well, whoever it was that first said that (likely the King), knew a good thing.

I love chicken!  I love it roasted, fried, barbecued or baked with a sauce.  Just don't simmer one in broth and serve it to me that way, unless, of course, it has a piquant sauce to accompany it or the broth will be the basis for soup, with some of the chicken in it.  As a child I remember kneeling on a chair beside the kitchen table while my mother prepared a chicken for roasting.  First, though, she had to clean it as that was not done beforehand by the farmer or seller.  She would place large sheets of newspaper on the table and then, with her hands, haul out the innards.  I can't remember now if she had to remove all the feathers herself, but I think she did.  She would have plucked them and singed any remaining down.  I found the whole thing fascinating to watch although I did keep my distance. 

Chicken is still one of the most loved of all dishes.  With hundreds of ways to cook a chicken, it makes it one of the most versatile of all meats or poultry.  We only buy bio (organic) chickens now as we do not condone the way many large companies around the world raise poultry in such terrible conditions:  in huge barns with barely enough room for them to turn around and never seeing the light of day.  My sister Paula in Bridgetown, N.S., where we spend our summers, buys hers from a farmer.  They remind me of the old-fashioned free-running chickens of the past:  meaty and delicious.  Of course, when buying one ready-cooked, it is more difficult to determine its background.  Those who sell them here in our area of Germany do carry German-born and raised chickens.  

The pictures above shows the "chicken wagon" that is outside the Edeka supermarket in Ettenheim every Wednesday.  The seller is inside his truck turning his grilling chickens.  Below, the seller obliged me by posing.  (I also bought two pieces of chicken for supper later.)

France, a country known for its food and wine is also known for its Bresse Chickens.  That is the only poultry in the world that has an A.O.C. designation (Guaranteed Origin Appellation), the same qualification that defines French wines.  This law on A.O.C., signed by the French President Coty on 1 August 1957, defines this poultry precisely--the zone, the breed and the rearing conditions--which gives right to the title of "Bresse Chickens."

The Bresse region is unique.  It is included in three counties and under the control of three administrative regions:  Rhone-Alpes, Bourgogne (Burgundy) and Franche-Compte.  The area is between the Jura mountains on the Swiss border and the Saone River.  What is interesting is that all chickens produced in Bresse are not necessarily designated as Bresse Chickens.  Bresse (appellation) Poultry must bear certain identification marks.  Each bird must have a colour code and an identity code.  They must have completely white feathers, fine blue feet, completely smooth, and a bright red crest.  No poultry may be sold under the Bresse appellation if it does not bear these identification marks.

There are certain other requirements as well:  they must have grassy pastures with 10 square meters (108 square feet) per chicken available; one flock of a maximum of 500 chickens and between two batches, a fallow period known as a "health break"; a building measuring 50 square meters maximum; a pasture measuring 5,000 square meters minimum. 

The picture at right depicts a Bresse Chicken on the cover of one of my German cookbooks; this one on Specialties of France.

Bresse Chickens are known throughout France and most of them remain right there; in fact, only about five per cent are exported.  No Bresse (appellation) Chickens can be exported live; all must be slaughtered birds and sold as a whole bird, never as parts.  Those sold within France must also have the head on it when sold.

The picture on the left is of a Bresse Chicken ready for sale.

The year our friends Jean and Bev spent three months in that vicinity, we bought a fresh chicken from their landlord, Charles, who was raising those renowned Bresse Chickens.  It was not cheap.  (Nor is a fine wine!)  When we got home, I decided to roast it my way; well, actually the French way.  I followed a recipe I have used for years from Time-Life's The Cooking of Provincial France.  That chicken was superb!  The recipe can be used for any good roasting chicken.

Roast Chicken the French Way - Serves 3 to 4

3-1/2 to 4 lb chicken (1-3/4 to 2 kilo)

Preheat the oven to 450F/230C.  Mix together 2 tablespoons soft butter, 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice and some salt and pepper and spread this inside the dried cavity of the chicken.  After trussing the chicken, mix together 3 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon oil; brush half over the outside of the chicken.  Place the chicken on its side on a rack in a shallow roasting pan just large enough to hold it comfortably.  Brown the chicken first on that side, then after 10 minutes turn it to the other side and brush it again with the butter/oil mixture; roast it for 10 more minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 350F/180C.

In the meantime, cut up the following:  1 onion, sliced; 1 carrot cut in 1/2-inch pieces; 1 celery stalk cut in 1/2-inch pieces.  Turn the chicken onto its back, brush it with butter and oil and salt it lightly.  Spread cut up vegetables in the bottom of the pan.  Roast the chicken, basting it every 10 or 15 minutes with butter and oil while it lasts and then baste it with pan juices.  After 1 hour check the chicken for doneness by lifting it with a wooden spoon inserted in the tail opening.  When the juices that run out are yellow (or the leg moves easily), it is done.  Transfer the bird to a carving board and let it rest for 5 minutes before serving.

Make the Sauce:  Stir about 1 cup of chicken stock into the roast pan; bring to a boil over high heat, stirring and scraping in any browned bits.  Boil for 2 to 3 minutes until the sauce has the desired intensity of flavour.  Strain through a sieve, pressing the vegetables well, before discarding them.  Skim off as much surface fat as possible and taste for seasoning.  You can thicken the sauce if wished but it isn't necessary.  

My chicken one evening at the Linde in Wallburg

I go out for chicken nearly every week and usually alone.  Occasionally Hans comes along with me.  He isn't as fond of chicken as I am but he does enjoy it now and again.  Some of my women friends, both here and in Canada, say they would never go out to eat in a restaurant or Gasthaus alone.  They don't feel comfortable doing that.  I enjoy it!  (So does my sister Anne in Toronto, who also goes out now and again on her own.)  I don't just go for the chicken, I also go for the atmosphere, a nice glass of wine and the time to just think, reminisce or make plans.  I am welcomed and feel at home.  I think to myself:  "Why not?"

My friend, Waltraud, who is Wirtin at the Linde in Wallburg, with my Weissherbst wine ready to be served.  

I decided on the name of my blog over chicken and wine at the Gasthaus Linde more than a year ago.  Within days I had posted my first one; a week later I wrote about that evening, which I called "Chicken Night at the Gasthaus."  When I went back after my return from Nova Scotia last October, Waltraud welcomed me with a hug and a big smile.  Needless to say, I was happy to be back, as I had so looked forward to that chicken once again.

Just before New Year's Hans and I went there together.  I ordered their Hänchen im Korb (chicken in a basket).  It is identical to their usual chicken, just served in a different way.  Both the chicken and the French fries are placed in the basket, with a plate beside it in which to put them if wished.  What everyone loves is the crisp and savoury skin--so good that I eat all of the skin first!--and the moist flesh, perfectly cooked.  I usually have with it the green salad (one of the best in the area), though on that occasion we both had Feldsalat, as that was still in season and delicious.

Chicken in a basket and Feldsalat

I have some favourite chicken dishes that I have made over the years.  My kids loved them.  I loved them and still do.  The following recipe was one of my children's favourites, which I made for my granddaughter during her visit to Nova Scotia a summer ago.  Teresa loved it as well.  It is from the early 1960s and was published, I think, in The Canadian Magazine, now long out of print.

Here is the recipe as I make it.  It can be prepared ahead early in the day and refrigerated.  Or:  prepare it all except for adding the sauce; do that just before baking.

Chicken Hawaiian - 4 to 5 servings

In those long ago days, I bought a whole chicken and cut it up myself as directed in the recipe.  Now I buy the parts I wish to use.  A mixture of breasts, legs and thighs is perfect.  I have read, though, that cutting up your own chicken will end up with a better-tasting cooked chicken as one doesn't lose all the juices that way.  You cut it up and cook or ready it immediately, so the juices stay in the pan.

3 lb (1.5 kg) chicken

Preheat oven to 325F to 350F (160C to 180C)

Sauce:  20-oz can sliced pineapple (500mL; about 2-1/2 cups); 1/4 cup soy sauce; 2 tablespoons brown sugar; freshly minced garlic if wished (not in original recipe)

Mix together in a paper or plastic bag:  2/3 cup flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon celery salt and 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt and a little nutmeg.  Add the chicken pieces to the bag and shake it well so that the chicken is coated on all sides but not too thickly coated.

Heat 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon oil in a large frying pan.  Brown the coated chicken well in the hot fat, only as many at a time as will fit the pan easily.  Remove from the frying pan when nicely browned and place the pieces in a large casserole dish or oven baking dish.

Strain the syrup from the pineapple into a bowl and add to it the soy sauce and brown sugar and the garlic, if using.  Mix well and pour over the chicken in the casserole dish.  Cover the dish and bake the chicken until it is tender, 1 to 1-1/2 hours.  (I usually cook mine for the longer period as the sauce will then be thicker and the chicken really tender.)  Baste several times throughout the baking period, another reason for cooking for the longer period.

Meanwhile, saute the pineapple slices in the fat left in the frying pan until they are golden on both sides.  (I do this as soon as I put the chicken in the oven and then they are ready when needed.)  Fifteen minutes before the chicken is done, place the sauteed pineapple slices on top of the chicken pieces and continue baking, uncovered, basting with the pan juices.  Serve each piece of chicken with a pineapple slice on top.  Note:  I have occasionally added some peach nectar or even orange juice when I didn't have a large enough can of pineapple.

Below is my Hawaiian chicken supper recently.  (I had salad on the side.)  I had mistakenly opened a large can of pineapple chunks instead of slices, so I sauteed them and scattered them over the chicken the last 15 minutes of cooking as usual.  (The slices are easier to handle and also look more appealing on the plate.)

I have always loved baked potatoes with this dish.  They can be put in the oven with the chicken an hour before it is ready, which means no splashing on the stove top and no mess.  I like mine crisp, therefore I don't wrap them in tin foil.  It's important, then, to cut into them as soon as they come out of the oven to let the steam out, which then keeps them crisp.  Top with some butter, salt and pepper and there you have a delicious potato.  Cole slaw goes well with this as does corn or peas.

Today, chicken may not be served to the family sitting together around the table on a Sunday as I experienced as a child.  I hope, though, that families at least still do sit together for a nice meal.  I did continue that tradition of special Sunday dinners with my children and Hans and I do that still--just not always with chicken and sometimes not at our own table but at a Gasthaus!  Luckily, too, we don't have to clean those birds ourselves as my mother did.   We can buy them ready to cook and cut up for us, boneless and skinless, if we so wish.  We can also buy them ready cooked, hot off the grill and delicious.  It's still enjoyable, though, to cook our own in all the many ways there are to cook a chicken.

Supper last evening:  chicken from the chicken wagon; freshly made French fries; sauteed green pepper, onions, garlic and mushrooms.  Hans, by the way, said the sauteed vegetables didn't really go with French fries, but I thought the whole meal was delicious.  Both of us enjoyed it.  We had a bottle of 2008 Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris), Kabinett Trocken--a gift from a 94-year-old friend--with our simple meal. 

Guten Appetit!  Prosit!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Sylvester: Celebrating the New Year

The New Year has arrived as seen above, live from Berlin on TV on the 31st.  People celebrated everywhere in Germany and around the world as they awaited midnight.  The pealing of the church bells and fireworks going off announced the arrival of 2011 in Germany.  Of course, radio and TV stations counted down to the stroke of 12 with party-goers cheering and hugging and wishing one and all "Ein gutes Neues Jahr."  The picture below was also on the Berlin TV station, RBB.

That afternoon, we went out for a while to one of our local Gasthäuser, sitting at the Stammtisch with some of the regular Gäste (customers) who had stopped in, as we had, to wish the Wirt and Wirtin, Erich and Sylvia, a "guten Rutsch," a saying that wishes someone a "good slide" into the new year.

On the left, Sylvia and Erich.  

On the right, Hans and I with two acquaintances, regular Gäste at the Gasthaus.

We stayed at home New Year's Eve to welcome in the new year.  Those years that we don't go out to celebrate, we watch some music programs during the evening; we watch, as well, the sketch "Dinner for One."  This is its 40th year on TV and all the non-advertising stations show it--most of them twice--on the 31st.  People from all over Germany tune in.  It is in English and without sub-titles.  Forty years ago NDR TV station (in northern Germany) showed it for the first time.  They had made a contract with an English cast of two, both well-known British stars at that time:  May Warden and Freddie Frinton.  It has become a tradition on Sylvester Abend (New Year's Eve).  It isn't known in North America I don't believe, nor even in England, but it is certainly known in the German-speaking countries of Europe:  Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Lichtenstein and, I think as well, Holland.  The film is in black and white. 

The quality isn't good here (the film itself is clear) but you can get an idea of the setting, which is in an English-style dining room in a mansion, with a long table, five place settings on it.  Four are imaginary guests, but real to Miss Sophie, who is celebrating her 90th birthday.  James, the butler, serves the several (imaginary) courses and always with a different wine, liqueur or Champagne.  Those are quite real!  He makes sure all glasses are filled and all are are empty after each course.  He, of course, drinks them to make sure of that!  It is hilarious as he becomes more and more unsteady on his feet.

The picture at right is the scene at the end where James helps Miss Sophie up to bed and, according to the words repeated before each course, "The same as last year, Miss Sophie?" and her response, "The same as every year, James."  With a wink from James, up the stairs they go together.

On New Year's Day we decided to have a meal that was easy without too much work afterward, but one we both have enjoyed over the years.  We had thought about a meat fondue but decided on Heisse Stein (hot stone), which is similar, except that the meat and vegetables are cooked at the table on a hot stone and not in hot fat or broth.  Heisse Stein was popular here in the 1980s and occasionally was offered at a Gasthaus.  That is not the case today and one is hard-pressed to find one to buy at a store now.  The stone, which is heated first in a hot oven, rests on a rack on the table, under which are two burners that keep the stone hot while one cooks the meat and the vegetables.  It is a great way to entertain as it is laid back, fun and relaxing.  What I really like is that there are few dishes to wash up afterward and little mess--and that after a tasty and delicious meal.

The uncooked meat is placed on a dish beside the one from which we'll eat the cooked meat and vegetables, with separate fondue forks used for adding the meat to the hot stone.

This year Hans bought pork fillet, steak fillet, turkey fillet and small Nurnberger sausages (we both love these; small Bratwurst with a spicier taste).  All except the sausages were cut into bite-size pieces.  He also bought some Schinken (bacon type) as it helps keep some fat on the stone and it is also very tasty.  As we can buy excellent fondue/heisse Stein sauces, Hans picked up four jars of them, plus some horseradish.  I made a sauce that I found in an English magazine years ago--a garlic/curry mayonnaise--one that we both like very much.  For vegetables, we had red peppers, mushrooms and red onions (the latter cut into quarters).  We have sliced French baguette to go with the meal.

My recipe for garlic and curry mayonnaise is fast and easy to prepare.  It is best made early in the day so that the ingredients meld.  I made half the recipe and we still had some left over.  Here is the recipe:

Garlic and Curry Mayonnaise - Makes one cup

2 cloves  of garlic
A little salt
1 cup good mayonnaise
2 tablespoons (approx.) chopped chives
2 to 3 teaspoons curry powder

Peel and crush garlic to a smooth paste with a little salt (in a mortar with pestle if possible, as I do).  Mix the garlic into the mayonnaise; add the chopped chives and curry powder.  Stir well and refrigerate until ready to use.  This will keep in the fridge as a bottle of mayonnaise will, but I would use it as soon as possible.  Any leftover sauce can be used on the side with pork, chicken or Bratwurst sausages.  A picture of it is shown in the glass dish above.

With our meal we had a bottle of Champagne, a Clicquot Brut from Reims, France.

The House of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin was founded in 1772 in that city.  I really enjoyed this quite expensive Champagne, though Hans was not quite as enamoured as I.  German Sekt (a Champagne equivalent) can have more flavour, as often only one particular grape--though not always just one--such as Riesling or Scheurebe, both of which can be strong in flavour, is used.  The Clicquot is a blend of three grapes:  Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.

To finish dinner, we had mousse au chocolat for dessert.  This is one of my favourite desserts to serve as it feels light (though not in calories!) and can be made a day ahead.

I have made many different recipes for chocolate mousse over the years but have a couple of favourites, both of which can be frozen, including this one.  The one this year was from the Winnipeg Free Press in the 1970s; however, I have made changes to it with some additions and deletions.  I halve the recipe for the two of us; it normally yields six servings.

Chocolate Mouse - 6 servings

4 eggs, separated
1/2 cup fine white sugar
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier (instead of brandy)
6 squares (1 oz each) unsweetened chocolate (instead of semi-sweet)
3 tablespoons water (instead of double-strength coffee)
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup or more whipping cream (instead of 1/2 cup)
Cassis (my addition) as part of topping

Beat the yolks until they are thick and lemon coloured.  Stir in 1/4 cup sugar and the Grand Marnier.  Place over hot water.  Stirring constantly, heat until thickened and smooth.  Place in a pan of ice water or in very cold water in the sink; beat 4 to 5 minutes longer or until as thick as mayonnaise.

Melt the chocolate and the water over hot water.  Stir until smooth.  Add the butter in pieces gradually until the mixture is smooth and creamy.  Blend this into the egg yolk mixture with a spatula.

*Beat egg whites until soft peaks form; gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, beating until it forms stiff meringue or peaks.  Fold this into the chocolate and egg mixture.  At this point, I fold in some whipped cream as well, a good 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup, whipped.  Spoon into a crystal or cut glass bowl or into individual punch cups and chill until set.

Note:  *You can leave out the egg whites and just use whipped cream (as much as you wish).  I don't always use the egg white and sugar mixture, although I did this time; sometimes I use just the whipped cream, with some sugar added to it, especially if using non-sweetened chocolate instead of semi-sweet.

To serve the mousse, top it with a dollop of whipped cream and some Cassis (add a little sugar and vanilla to the cream when whipping it).  The Cassis, to us, really is the finishing touch as it adds contrast and sets it off.  Creme de Cassis comes from Dijon, France.  (One of my recipes calls for Creme de Cacao, but we prefer the Cassis.)

Bon Appetit!  Guten Appetit!

Happy New Year!  Ein gutes Neues Jahr!  Une Bonne Annee!