In these pages three years ago I wrote about some chickens I’d stuffed. My thinking riffed vaguely on turducken. As a reminder for readers too lazy to click on a hyperlink, here are the components of my two previous chickens, which I deboned before stuffing and rolling up into a rough cylinder:
CHICKEN #1 (November 2013)
Macaroni and cheese
CHICKEN #2 (February 2014)
Hazelnut-crusted fried Gulf shrimp, tossed in buffalo wing sauce
Egg foo young
Pâté de foie gras
It is three years since my last stuffed chicken but not because I haven’t thought about it. On the contrary, I often ponder what to cram into a chicken where his bones and innards used to be. Every time I see a chicken in a grocery store there is a spark of cogitation, but it’s the spark of a gas burner that isn’t connected to gas. The spark sparks but the flame never lights. Flick-flick-flick…no flame. The poultry Muse hasn’t sung. Not, that is, until now.
I live in southwest Mississippi, not far from Cajun country, so when the Muse sang, it was with a “Who dat?” lilt.
As always, we remove the bones and splay out the bird skin-down, preparing him for that which he is about to receive. This time, having blabbed with premature confidence about my plans, in the process enticing some people, I stuffed not one but two chickens.
There must be two elements inside the bird, otherwise it’s just a stuffed chicken. A chicken, with or without its bones, stuffed with Mrs. Cubbison’s would of course make for an adequate meal. But I want more.
I want something moist and with adhesive properties to connect the chicken to whatever else goes inside. In my previous stuffed-chicken iterations, macaroni and cheese and egg foo young did the trick. What to use?
In France, boudin blanc is a delicate white sausage made of pork, veal and/or chicken. In Acadiana, however, boudin is rice and pork and more resembles dirty rice than sausage, unless you happen to stuff it into a casing, in which case it would appear at a glance like sausage. It would look like sausage because it is sausage.
Boudin often but not always has pork liver in it, but because I was not in the mood to be handling, grinding, cooking or eating pork liver, I did not put any pork liver in my boudin.
I won’t go into the details of my boudin recipe, mostly because there wasn’t one. I eyeballed everything. It was pork, white rice, onions, garlic, bell pepper and seasoning. I anointed the mixture with Tabasco.
There was a twist, however, that I will discuss because I think it was clever.
Boudin sausages are often grilled or smoked, and I very much like the taste of food that has smoke in it. So instead of boiling or braising the pork for my boudin, I grilled it. The charcoal fire was low — I used sirloin chops that didn’t need a lot of time to cook through — but I went heavy on hickory chunks. After six or eight minutes we were in good shape. The aroma of hickory smoke hung around me and the kitchen until the next day.
Boudin connoisseurs apparently pay a lot of attention to meat-rice ratios. Never having made boudin before, I didn’t have a strong feeling about the subject, but if pressed I’d say it was about half and half.
The most vexing part of the whole affair was deciding what to put in the middle. In earlier chickens the meatballs had worked well, the shrimp not so much. The hazelnut-crusted fried shrimp in buffalo wing sauce should have given me clues as to how the crab-and-bacon bush puppies would perform.
To a basic hush puppy mixture I added some canned crabmeat and five or six strips of bacon. I made the puppies the size of ping pong balls.
Assembly was a simple matter of layering, piling, rolling and skewering closed.
Because the outer cloak to come would not need much time in the oven I roasted the chicken bundles thoroughly, after giving them a generous dash of Creole seasoning and a little color on the stovetop.
I then wrapped the cooked chickens in pizza, which made sense for several reasons. Most important, the crust would be sturdy enough to hold everything within in place, both during cooking and on the plate. The sauce would give a spicy tang. Cheese would help everything stick together. In a nod back to the Cajuns, on the pizza I put not pepperoni or Italian sausage but sliced andouille.
(Andouille on pizza is hardly my creation. Two Boots, the New York chain with branches in Los Angeles, uses andouille, crawfish and other Cajun-y toppings, and I drew from the many Two Boots pies I have enjoyed.)
I made the dough and sauce but used store-bought mozzarella and andouille.
In went a chicken…
Egg wash to help everything stick together…
I mentioned earlier the lessons to have been learned from the 2014 chicken. In that case, the hazelnut crust on the shrimp lost its crunch, I believe both from the buffalo wing sauce and the moist, womblike warmth of its immediate surroundings. If I thought harder about that experience in planning the current chicken, I would have quickly realized that hush puppies, no matter how thoroughly crunchy when they went into the bird, were not likely to stay that way.
There is of course something to be said for cornmeal mush. What, after all, is polenta? But my hush puppies, while crispless, kept their shape for the most part. The crabmeat and bacon in them did not hurt.
I’m thinking about Italian sausage and peppers in the next chicken, which I intend to stuff sooner than three years from now.