Last year, a little before Thanksgiving, I saw a picture of a turkey stuffed with brisket. It was a clever riff on turducken, which, as most people know, is a boneless turkey stuffed with a boneless duck, which is in turn stuffed with a boneless chicken. The picture inspired me to come up with my own interesting stuffed bird, and what emerged was a chicken stuffed with both macaroni & cheese and meatballs. Once rolled into a cylinder the size of a deflated basketball, the entire assembly was wrapped in bacon, then trussed. Once roasted, we cut slices from it. It was pretty good. Here are pictures.
This week I caught the bug again. To stuff a chicken, but with what?
On the inside there needs to be a core of delectability, like my meatballs or that brisket or short ribs or a whole foie gras – something worth excavating. But that delicious core must be wrapped like a birthday present, held in place by a layer of edible cement such as cornbread stuffing or, say, macaroni and cheese. What’s the Holy Grail?
For my Mother Lode I considered sweet & sour pork, corned beef & cabbage, and breaded southern-style fried shrimp. Half of a pork tenderloin could work as well. Or maybe a couple of boned quails or a lobster tail. This was the decision that required the most time and thought, but in the end I went with the shrimp. Butterflied, breaded shrimp like we used to have all the time in Texas.
(There haven’t been many times in life, by the way, that I’ve bought animal products out of a car parked on the side of a highway, but Gulf shrimp in Texas I’ve done and would do again. There are no better shrimp anywhere, or at least they were before BP got their hands on them.)
Oh, and because I had some hazelnuts in my pasta/rice/beans/chocolate/nuts drawer I tossed some finely-chopped roasted hazelnuts in with the bread crumbs.
Next I had to decide what to use as a case for the shrimp, as insulation. No pasta; been there, done that. Mashed potatoes seem so plebeian; the joy is only bite-to-bite. Gratinéed potatoes would work, but not so well with the shrimp. Need something a little softer. If I’d made sweet & sour pork then rice would have made sense. Noodle kugel? I just this second thought of that, to be honest, but another time…
What is tender but has substance? What holds its shape and won’t suffer from being cooked more than once? What tastes good?
I think the answer came to me during a Saturday afternoon nap: egg foo young, or 芙蓉蛋 in the mother tongue. Texture, flavor, malleability, heat-forgiveness – everything I needed.
Fried shrimp, encased in egg foo young, inside a boned chicken. Very good but that’s a lot of beigeness, in terms of both color and flavor. What could add a little zing, both color- and flavor-wise?
Pesto is a bit obvious, though there’s definitely something to be said for that nutty cloak of bright green. Mustard? Spinach? Not this time.
Buffalo wing sauce. I tossed the fried shrimp in buffalo wing sauce before arranging them in a cylindrical heap down the center of the egg foo young mattress.
Rolling is a simple process if you know what you’re doing. Roll and tuck, roll and tuck.
In last fall’s production I applied strips of bacon around the bird but if you recall there is to be no bacon now. It’s delicious but cliché yet something must hold the roll of poultry closed.
For this part of the equation I considered calling it a day and roasting the thing as is, or was. I could use metal or wood skewers, or even raw pieces of spaghetti, but those all struck me as inadequate. The Savile Row suit needed a pocket square.
Pastry! Pastry in all its forms does a fine job of encasement or whatever the word is. Pot pies, Danish, cherry turnovers, ham & cheese croissants, Beef Wellington – pastry holds things in.
Beef Wellington! Beef tenderloin – the sweet, essential core – wrapped in mushroom duxelles and puff pastry and then roasted. Eureka! This part became obvious.
But before any wrapping could occur it was necessary to give the outside of the chicken a little color and texture. Soft, pale chicken skin – even hot – is not especially desirable. I browned the package in a litte oil and butter.
Then I made puff pastry.
And then I made mushroom duxelles. But this wasn’t enough; the duxelles had to cement the pastry to the chicken. I found a can of French duck pâté in the cupboard and this duck pâté happened to contain a fair portion of foie gras in it. I mixed this stuff into the mushrooms, producing a sufficiently sticky paste for the purpose at hand, or at fowl.
After rolling out the pastry I spread my mushroom/duck pâté/foie gras paste over it, and onto that I set my chicken.
From here it was just a matter of wrapping everything up and sealing it.
It’s never a bad thing to coat pastry with egg wash so I did that, and we were now ready for the oven. For all my fussing over process I tend to worry only a little about temperature so I won’t get into that here. 350, 400, 425, whatever.
The chicken stuffed with buffalo-sauced, hazelnut-crusted fried shrimp and egg foo young, encased in puff pastry and mushroom duxelles and duck pâté and foie gras, went in to bake. There is no recipe for such a thing so I had to wing it.
35 minutes later…
Here is the time when a baby is about to enter the world. All our hopes depend on the next few moments. We know that something unique is about to come into being but we don’t know the details.
It’s standard practice to let a roasted anything rest before slicing it so that’s what we’ll do here.
Behold a stuffed chicken.
PS: It will be served with blue cheese dressing.