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!


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