Roasted Game Hens, Brussels Sprouts, Tiny Potatoes, Bacon Hollandaise, Poached Egg

DSCN4633Besides being a full time college administrator and a part-time blogger, I also help teach writing intensive classes in English Literature at Harvard, and this semester we are studying Darwin’s theory of evolution (in terms of the impact On the Origin of Species had on the 19th century novel).  Perhaps that fact, along with a small plate of sprouts I enjoyed at Michael Schlow’s new joint, The Sinclair, the other night, inspired this chicken/egg creation: a partially de-boned Cornish game hen served with roasted Brussels sprouts and tiny wee potatoes, topped with fried onions, bacon hollandaise sauce, and a poached egg.  This was NOT an easy dinner to prepare!  De-boning the hens still takes me a while, making hollandaise sauce while poaching eggs requires a Doctor Octopus-like physiology, and there were a lot of little component parts that had to be executed all at the same time in order to serve everything hot together.  But, dear reader, was it worth it!  My tender, juicy hen covered in the runny golden goodness of cousin yolks paired with the earthy herbaceousness of caramelized baby cabbages, white potatoes, and flash fried onions was the perfect offering for a chilly, windy, and wet late winter’s dinner.

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Roasted Game Hens, Brussels Sprouts, Tiny Potatoes, Bacon Hollandaise, Poached Egg

2 game hens, breast and back bones removed
2 small whole sweet onions, peeled, trimmed, and boiled in water until tender
20-3o Brussels sprouts
10-20 tiny white potatoes
4 slices bacon
1/2 cup diced white onion
4 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
1 1/2 sticks butter
EVOO
flour, sea salt, cracked black pepper, white wine vinegar

DSCN4622I’ve presented de-boned game hens once before on this blog (check it out here), when I went into great detail about how to remove the back bones and breast bones of these little beasties – but today I didn’t have the time to take all the pictures.  There are some good tutorials on YouTube, too – which I refer to each time I go through this procedure.  I’m still not as efficient as it as I’d like (read: it takes me a long time, and I cuss like a sailor throughout the whole process), but the results have been wonderful each time.  By removing these portions of the skeleton, you are making these otherwise difficult to eat birdies a breeze!  The only bones left are in the legs and wings, but one can carve right through the body of the bird with a delicate knife to gather up rich, whole mouthfuls of succulent, juicy chicken.  However, once those bones are removed, you are left with a rather deflated critter, so I like to give it back some shape by stuffing something yummy and roundish back into the chest cavity.  In this case I did so with tiny sweet boiled onions, which I’d peeled and trimmed (leaving them whole by keeping just the butt of the bulb intact) and cooked until easily pierced with a fork.  Then I trussed up the birds with some twine so they’d maintain their shape.  After rubbing them down with salt and pepper, I set them aside until I was ready for them.

DSCN4624I neglected to add these important components of the meal to my set-up shot, so here’s a little something for you now.  I only need about a 1/2 cup of diced onion, and I fry the slices of bacon until crispy.  Oh, and when I said tiny potatoes, I meant TINY — these bad boys are about the circumference of my thumb, and no more than a knuckle long.  And I’ve got baby hands, people.

DSCN4625These I partially peel…

DSCN4623… and the sprouts I trim and halve, keeping the really small ones whole.

DSCN4628I’m able to spread both veggies out on the same baking sheet – which is good since they’ll take about the same amount of time to cook.  They’ve all been doused in EVOO, salt, and pepper, and the sprouts I lay cut-side down.

DSCN4629The trick to a meal this complex is having everything ready to go at the same time.  On my back right burner, I’ve got a water bath set up to double-boil my hollandaise sauce, which starts with a stick of butter melting in the small bowl resting on my tongs. On the right I have a large pot with several inches of water set to a simmer to poach my eggs.  The front burner has my largest fry-pan, a couple glugs of EVOO, and some more butter which I heated to a foaming mass before gently placing my birds within.  I meant to put them both breast side up at first, but their floppy, skeleton-less anatomy confused me, so one’s face up and the other is face down.  No harm done.

DSCN4630“The lost art of the arroser.”  I had the pleasure of discovering this term in print just when I needed to find it – since I engaged in said art when preparing tonight’s dinner.  This refers to the technique of spooning hot fat oven the up-side of a protein searing in a pan, so it can gently cook on both sides at the same time.  I’ve seen this on Iron Chef and other cooking shows, and I’ve mimicked it to great effect in the past, but I’ve never known what it was called.  Thanks, New York Times.  Anyway, given that it takes two hands – one to tilt the pan, the other to spoon the butteroil – I couldn’t take a good shot of me in action, but suffice to say that as my birds sizzled, I basted them continually with hot golden deliciousness for about 5 minutes of sear time before flipping them.

DSCN4631Damn they look good.  I do the same technique for the flip side of each bird before I get them both settled, breast side down (so they’re resting on their “elbows”, so to speak).  This is crunch time: it will take 25 minutes for the sprouts, potatoes, and chickens to roast off in a 350° oven.  The pan with the veggies goes on the bottom rack – which is closest to the heat source in my oven – and the chickens go in their pan onto the top shelf to finish baking through.  I now have 20 or so minutes to get everything else done before I need to plate.

DSCN4626First, I toss my onions in flour, salt, and pepper before…

DSCN4627… frying them in some oil until crispy and brown.

DSCN4632Now it’s egg time.  The trick to making both hollandaise sauce and poached eggs is to have everything ready in advance.  Water should be at a low simmer for both preparations; the back, smaller burner for the sauce, and the front larger burger for the eggs.  Given that I was under pressure to get everything out on time, I didn’t take pictures of each process, but for the hollandaise sauce you can check out this previous posting, which goes into great detail, and for the poached eggs I actually followed Kenji’s most recently posted procedure from Serious Eats.  The eggs only take about 4 minutes to poach, and the hollandaise takes about 10 minutes from start to finish.  After the 10 minutes prep it took to get everything ready, by the time my sauce and eggs are ready, it is just about on the minute I need to pull out my chicken and veg from the oven.

DSCN4634The roasted sprouts and potatoes form the bed for this little baby chicken, while the oozing yellow yolk and sauce act as its blanket, with a little scattering of fried onion bits for contrast.  After cutting the trussing strings, I am able to disengage a leg from the bird with the gentlest of tugs – which, of course, I do daintily with my pinky finger extended in polite form.  But once the succulent, tender, and steaming meat makes it to my tongue, all bets are off, and I throw down my silverware and just start sopping and supping with complete abandon.  The richness of the sauce and yolk are offset by the salty bacon and deeply caramelized sprouts, and the potatoes add just the right amount of starch to the plate.  This was a dinner that was lovely to look at, but even better to eat.

Breaded Pork Chops, Lemon Butter Risotto, and Chorizo Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Now that September is well underway, Clayton and I are deep into school (albeit him from the student perspective, and me from the administrator p.o.v.), the air is cooling, the leaves are rusting, and football is back on the Sunday tube.  As I await the Pats/Ravens game, I reflect upon tonight’s repast: a juicy/tender pork chop encrusted with panko and parmesan, some buttery citrusy risotto, and searedsilky Brussels sprouts with hotpeppery sausage crisps.  Autumn demands filling flavors, and this plateful of pork topped off my tummy with “Damn that’s good!” deliciousness.

Breaded Pork Chops, Lemon Butter Risotto, and Chorizo Roasted Brussels Sprouts

2 6-8oz pork chops (ideally with tenderloin still attached)
1 egg
3 tbs water
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/2  cup flour
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
12-16 Brussels sprouts, trimmed
5-7 slices spicy sliced chorizo or pepperoni
1 small onion
1 cup risotto
3 cups chicken stock
1/3 cup (2-3 splashes) white wine
4 tbs butter
1 tsp fresh grated lemon zest
EVOO, sea salt, cracked black pepper, snipped scallions

I start by trimming my sprouts, splitting them in half, and tossing them with EVOO, salt, and pepper.

Then I layer them, cut down down, on a baking sheet, spilling all the spiced EVOO over their mounded bits, before laying my slices of rich paprika’d chorizo sausage over the whole lot.  This goes into a 350°F oven to roast for 20 minutes.

At the same time, I get my chicken broth heating on one eye, and 2 tbs butter melting to frothy in a large saucepan on another.

First, I saute my onion, which I’ve minced very finely; then I add my rice, which I stir with the hot fat and translucent veg until it’s almost toasted; then I add my wine, which I reduce to a vapor; then I add 3 oz of chicken broth at a time, stirring well and often and constantly, evaporating each addition before adding the next batch of broth, until my rice is silky smooth, tender on the tongue, and steeped in rich white gravy — about 20 minutes.

This meal is tricky because it requires several things doing at once.  While my sprouts are roasting and my risotto is being juiced and stirred, I also need to pound out my pork chops until they are thin and tender.  I place them both (after rinsing under water and drying with paper towels) in a large plastic bag, sandwich that bag between two layers of dishcloth, and then smack the flat into each chop with the heavy dull edge of my sharpening steel.  Using a cross-hatch pattern, I tenderize both slabs until they’re begging for a tongue to melt upon.

Here’s my breading: flour, panko breadcrumbs, 1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese, and a dash each of salt and pepper.  First, each chop gets dredged in egg whipped with water, then dredged until dry in the pankoflour mix.

I get 2 tbs butter and 1 glug EVOO frothing over high heat before layering in my flattened breaded pork chops.  4 minutes on the first side, until golden-browned.

Then 4 minutes on the flip side, at least — or until it is also a crunchy, stiff golden brown.

Just before plating, I fetch my sprouts from the oven.  The sliced meat has sweat its peppery oils into my nubs of green goodness, which have caramelized on the pan in the spicy drippings.  Crispy seared chorizo and crispy faced sprouts…

… paired with rich risotto seasoned right before plating with the zest of one fresh lemon and 1/2 cup of shaved parm…

… accompanied by a perfect pork chop topped with snips of green onions for freshness and snap.  A wholesome, fulfilling, stick-to-your ribs supper perfect for an autumn night filled with studying and New England football.  As the cool breeze wafts through the windows, I contentedly anticipate my season of jeans, boots, and denim jackets… my meals filled with warmth and richness… my senses full of color, scent, chill, and late-season flavors… and my days peopled with both good old friends and new young friends as company.   And to you, my dear readers, I wish nothing but an abundance of the very same.

Spicy Pepper-Skin Chicken and Sprouts with Farmstead Cheese Gravy

The Busa farmstand, on Lexington Road, has been my husband’s domain all this year.  From there, he’s brought me most of the vegetables that have been featured in posts of this summer’s past – all sown and grown by his handsome self.  It’s been a successful year… so successful, in fact, that they’re considering expanding their business next, to include bacon from the veritable Blood Farms, perhaps local cheeses, milk, and eggs and fresh, free range chickens, turkeys and capons from Seven Acres Farm in North Reading, Massachusetts.  We’re in sample mode these days, and Farmer Fran brought Clayton and I one of those free range chickens — so fresh kill’t I swear it still had some life in it.  This zaftig beauty’s breasts put Sofia Vergara to shame, and her tender plump thighs were so packed with oozing flavor that I swear I fell in love.  My idea was simple: use the block of farmstead cheese Clayton brought home from Codman Farms the other day, and the Brussels sprouts in the fridge, and the leftover pepperoni from a couple meals ago.  The result: a crispy-skinned, pepperoni-laced roasted chicken, with crispy-edged, pepperoni-topped sprouts, drizzled with a rich creamy cheese sauce.  It was simultaneously pork spicy, chicken juicy, and earthy sweet green, all basking in a blend of drippings, paprika oils, and nutty velvet cream.  So simple, so sinful, so good.


Spicy Pepper-Skin Chicken and Sprouts with Farmstead Cheese Gravy

1 3-4lb fresh chicken
4 cloves garlic, peeled
12 Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
40 slices pepperoni (the spicier and oilier the better)
2 tbs butter
1 tbs flour
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 lb fantastic farmstead cheese — this is like a cross between a swiss and cheddar
paprika, garlic powder, oregano, black pepper, sea salt
EVOO

I’ve used the “stuff-stuff-under-the-skin” technique before — using fresh herbs, or compound butters, or slices of apple, or minced garlic and chopped rosemary — all with great success.  And recently I tried the idea of floating pepperoni slices on top of halved Brussels sprouts to spice and oil them as they roast, resulting in caramelized faces, steamed and flavored interiors, topped with spicy porky crispy chips.  (I heard you could do this over home-roasted nuts, too.  I have purposefully not purchased any nuts to test that, for I am afraid.  Afraid of uncontrollable snack-love.)  Anyway, I thought, well, if them ‘ronis can pepper and sizzle over sprouts, they can certainly do so under a roasting skin.  So, using my fingers and hands, I loosen my bird’s skin from her flesh, and tile a single layer of pepperonis between the membrane and the pink, covering as much real estate as I can across the breasts, in the thighs, and along the sternum.

See?  This takes about 20 slices of meat.

Before I tie my bird’s legs together at the ankles, I trim the excess fat from the cavity and chuck it into a large hot skillet.  I figure, why not use the chicken’s own fat, instead of butter or EVOO, to sear everything?  I render this…

… yielding me about 2 tablespoons of perfectly clear drippings.  I remove the fat chunks from the pan (and, I admit, take a wee nibble of rich yummy cracklin’)…

and then layer my sprouts, cut side down, in a single layer along the outer rim of the hot pan.

I then layer my pepperoni over all my sprouts, trying to make sure all each veg is covered by super-spicy salami.  (Kind of looks like a Christmas wreath, doesn’t it?  Happy Holidays!)

Into the center of this my precious of deliciousness, I place my trussed chicken.  Oh yeah — I’ve inserted a few peeled, crushed cloves of garlic in the cavity, just to scent from within, and I’ve salted, peppered, and EVOO’d the skin generously.  Into a hot 425° this goes.  About 35 minutes later, I temp it at 140°.  I crank the heat up to broil before putting the bird back in the oven for a final 10 minutes to crisp up on the outside.

 Meanwhile, I start my cheese gravy.  This special product hails from Robinson Farm, who supplies their lactic lusciousness to several great locations around Boston.  The Prescott, today’s variety, isn’t one of their regular offerings, but I would describe it as a nutty, sweet, raw-silk textured cross between a cheddar and a swiss cheese.  It was the perfect choice for tonight’s meal — not too aggressive, not too sticky, light and flavorful.

It grates perfectly.  I have to keep slapping away Clayton’s pinching fingers.

I add two tablespoons of butter to a large saute pan, then make a roux by tanning a tablespoon of flour in the hot fat.

I add my heavy cream to the roux and bring to a simmer over medium heat before whisking in the cheese.  When it is smooth, thick, and creamy, I season it with paprika, garlic powder, and oregano (to compliment the likely spices in my pepperoni) and bump it with salt and pepper until it’s just right.

My chicken is PERFECT.  It temps at 160°, and my skin is so crisp it hits hollow when I tap it with my knife tip.  But when I pierce it with my knife tip — oh, that’s the real sexy.  Clear, steaming juices rush out… quivering white meat snuggles within, and a crunchy seam of spice and pepper pork is threaded throughout.  I slice this bird right in half.  What?  We’re HUNGRY!

 This saucy bird has got it all: pep, cream, green, and golden brown skin.  She’s tender and sweet, but still has a spicy edge to her, too.  Her roasted sprout halves and toasted meat slices add savor to the white cheese slather that bathes and bastes her ripe and ready body.

As I dig in with my fork and my daintiest knife (it’s that tender!), the juices from the chicken dribbles into the creamy sauce, depositing puddles of red spicy oil that makes my mouth water.  What a delight!  I wish I had company tonight — ‘cuz this was definitely a company dinner.