Chicken, balsam fir and citrus
One of the things we really enjoy about this book (so far) is that it sometimes seems like the ingredient lists will be easier to obtain than they are. For example, here in North America, the Balsam Fir is common–so common that we decided to forage for this ingredient. This task was fun but frustrating, we studied up in advance, bundled up and brought our dog out to the woods. It turns out that not only is the Balsam Fir not super common in suburban areas, but it is equally uncommon in the stretch of wooded area that we surveyed for over 4 hours. After a long trek through the woods and seeing our fair share of deer poop (and a beautiful white-tailed deer where the poop likely originated) we started our voyage back through suburbia. It was here that we actually located a Balsam Fir! At least now we know where to go to find a Balsam Fir in the future–this book uses a lot of it.
Back at home, we temporarily freed the chicken of its butcher twine shackles, washed it and patted it dry. It was covered in kosher salt and left for a few hours to season the skin, lightly cure the meat underneath and draw some moisture out of the skin.
While the chicken was curing, we made a luting paste using some flour, egg whites and water. Luting paste, what a brilliant idea! In all our years of reading cookbooks, studying them, memorizing the techniques used, and watching cooking shows, we have never come across luting paste. A few weeks ago, I was cooking beef tongue in a red wine braise. I made sure that I followed the recipe exactly, and put the tongue in a cast iron Dutch oven for 3.5 hours to braise. About two hours in, the room started to smell like burnt tongue, acidic wine and failure. Our autopsy concluded that the cast iron pot did not have a tight enough seal and the liquid evaporated at an unexpected rate. Against Melissa’s advice, I decided that it would be a waste not to taste the partially cooked dish I had spent hours preparing. If only I had known about luting paste at the time, I might have spared myself some frustration–not to mention the night of incessant vomiting that followed.
After its cure, the chicken was washed, patted dry and placed into its cast iron cooking vessel. A traditional mirepoix (leek, carrot, and onion) was browned in a pan, then stuffed into the chicken along with some of the foraged Balsam Fir, Greek thyme (from our home garden), orange and lemon wedges.
The chicken casserole was then sealed into the pan with luting paste and set into the oven to bake.
After 45 minutes of baking, the apartment was filled with a really nice piney scent (technically it was more of a “firry” scent, but that sounds funny…).
After an hour and a half in the oven, we took the chicken out to rest. While sitting on the table resting, the casserole luting paste sounded like it was crackling (probably due to the weight of the heavy cast iron lid that had been raised over an inch from the base). Once the meat was fully rested, we had to MacGyver a way to break into the casserole dish since the luting paste was hard as rock. This required a hammer, a screwdriver, and a bread knife–and a resulted in a pretty bad burn to my hand. The chicken was trapped for a good 20 minutes while we chiseled, hacked and sawed our way to the food. The final result was definitely worth the extra effort–the chicken was tender and delicious!
The meat of the chicken was actually very interesting. The outer layer was stringy and chewy from the salt cure while underneath the flesh was extremely moist and dripping with juices. It tasted mostly of the mirepoix and citrus. It was surprising that the Balsam Fir had a strong aromatic presence, but that in the sauce, it was very much a background taste that added some extra interest to a meat we’ve all eaten hundreds of times before.