Our Land

This section focuses largely on game meats and poultry.

Smoked Quail

Quail, kombu, Eastern Hemlock needles, maple wood chips, Tub o’ Duck Fat, sake and sugar

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We’ve been taking things a little slower nowadays as we’ve completed most of the recipes that involve in-season produce and meat. We are going to start focusing on some of the stranger recipes that require more hard-to-find ingredients. This isn’t really one of those recipes as we knew from previous experience where to find the fir, although this time we opted for the Eastern Hemlock needles as they are easier to source and, in our opinion, equally delicious!

We started this recipe by creating a broth with kombu seaweed, water, sugar, and sake. This was fairly simple–we simmered water, sugar and kombu for approximately 15 minutes to infuse the flavours.

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After the steeping time had elapsed, we removed the kombu. The broth almost tasted very similar to almond extract mixed with simple syrup but had a strong mushroom smell (kombu is high in MSG)–it was unlike anything either of us had ever tasted, that’s for sure! At this point, we added the sake and returned the broth to a low simmer.

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Having already preheated the oven, we briefly bathed the quail in the broth, baked them for a few minutes, and then repeated this procedure a few times. Our best guess is that this broth is meant more to act like a glaze than anything else, and the repeated procedure created a pretty thick sticky glaze surrounding the bird inside and out.

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Next, we used the Eastern Hemlock needles and maple wood smoking chips to smoke the quail. If you remember back to our Mock Smoked Salmon post, we previously took a different (and slightly more dangerous) approach to smoking that may or may not have jeopardized our damage deposit. I recently acquired a Smoking Gun, so this smoking this time around was much less dangerous and way more controlled!

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We cut up the Eastern Hemlock needles and combined them with maple wood chips. Then, with the naked, sticky quail in hand, we loaded the Smoking Gun with the mixture and inserted the nozzle into an upside-down bowl.

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Needless to say, this was so much more convenient and efficient than our previous smoking attempt! It literally took under 30 seconds to fill the bowl with smoke. I think last time we spent about 45 minutes heating up our make-shift stove smoker.

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Finally, I cooked the quail in a Tub o’ Duck Fat until they looked golden and crisp.

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Last time we went on our forage for Balsam Fir, we made something the book refers to as Fir Sugar. It only required blending Balsam Fir with sugar, so we used the excess Balsam Fir needles to make this and have kept this in our fridge up until now. It actually turned out to be an excellent accompaniment to this dish both in terms of flavour and aesthetics!

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The quail was delicate and smoky! It was sticky and sweet, with the now familiar taste of duck fat, but with a background taste of smoke that added a subtle little something that made the flavour really interesting. We ended up pairing this with a sweet potato puree and a sprinkle of balsam fir sugar. The mix of potato and fir-sugar was simply amazing! Fir-sugar will now be a standard on sweet potato, forever.

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This recipe was definitely one of the easier ones and I would consider making this for a dinner party! The only thing I would change is that next time I would smoke the quail a second time (after cooking) to really bring the smoky taste to the forefront of the dish. Otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed the familiarity of the flavours–it reminded me of a sweet Chinese chicken dish, but with a sophistication that forces you to take your time to savor every bite.

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Montreal Sausage à la Brasserie T!

Pork shoulder, pork fat back, duck gizzards, white wine, nitrite salt, black pepper and hog casings

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‘Tis the season for sausage making and since Melissa gave me sausage-making supplies for Christmas, I figured it was time to try this recipe! Having never made sausage before, I had to do a lot of research into the proper methodology and did some trial runs with different sausage recipes. The first (and most frustrating task for this particular recipe) was to find a large quantity of duck gizzard. I had only ever encountered duck gizzard as part of that package of giblets in a frozen duck and had never consumed them! Melissa and I went to a number of likely places to try to find this (a few Asian/international markets), but ultimately we came up empty handed. As a result, we had to use the package of giblets from our Christmas duck (there’s been a slight delay in writing up this post!).

The book mentions that their recipe is based on the classic Toulouse sausage, so we decided it would be fun to make the classic Toulouse sausage in addition to the Toqué version to compare them side by side. The recipe we used for the Toulouse sausage we took from the Fatted Calf’s cookbook, In the Charcuterie. There are quite a few notable differences, so we were excited to see how the Toqué version stacked up against the original!

Toqué Toulouse
Pork shoulder/neck
Pork picnic or shoulder
Pork fat back
White wine
Duck gizzard
Black pepper
Course Salt
Cloves
Nutmeg
Allspice berries
Minced Garlic
Nitrite Salt

I first made a call to my butcher to set aside some pork fat back and pork shoulder, which I cut up into manageable chunks and stored in the fridge.

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Next, for the Toulouse sausage, we ground up some cloves, garlic, allspice berries, nutmeg, and black pepper in a mortar and pestle.

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After portioning the meat and fat into 2 portions, we added white wine to one, and the spice blend to the other.

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The next step was to fully incorporate the spices and wine and then allow for them to sit in the fridge overnight. For the Toqué sausage, we cooked the duck giblets in what the book refers to as “Tub o’ Duck Fat”. This was made back in the Quail Confit recipe and involved cooking duck fat with a mirepoix, which we have since stored in the freezer.

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Finally, we chopped the giblets into uniformly sized cubes and incorporated it with the white wine pork combination.

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After allowing the mixtures a few minutes to cool in the freezer, we started the process of grinding the meat. We tried making sausage earlier and found that this significantly improves the texture of the resulting sausage.

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The ground meat was then mixed with the dough hook attachment for the stand mixer until we observed a homogeneous mixture.

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I think the most difficult part of this process is just feeding the sausage casing onto the nozzle of the stuffing attachment. The actual process of stuffing the sausage was surprisingly quick and painless (I employed Melissa to man the plunger so I could ensure the sausages were stuffed properly). This really is a two-person job!

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After all the stuffing was done for both batches of sausage, I portioned out the sausages using a piece of butcher’s twine as a reference.

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Finally, I made sure to prick each sausage on both sides to allow excess air out. This minimizes the risk of experiencing an “exploding sausage”, something I hear is quite unpleasant!

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When all was said and done, I tried both sausages side by side. To prepare them, I boiled them for approximately 5 minutes, pan-fried them until golden and served them with a wild rice blend with tomatoes and green onions.

I really enjoyed both sausages, but I have to give my vote to the Toqué sausage! Despite its markedly simpler recipe, the salty, iron-y flavors made this an instant favorite of mine. It’s possible that I portioned too much garlic into the Toulouse recipe because I found it to be a little too strong for my taste.

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This experience has taught me a few things:

  1. Put the meat in the fridge/freezer before starting the grinding or stuffing processes! This will ensure the texture is not mealy.
  2. Making sausage is a technique intensive activity and requires a little bit of practice before making large batches.
  3. Apparently there is a “sausage making season”, which falls shortly after Christmas where your general grocery store will sell large quantities of pork shoulder, pork leg, and other favorites! At this time, our store also carried hog casings, beef casings, curing salt, and everything else we could possibly need!

After having made quite a few batches of sausage and stocking my freezer to its capacity, I’ve decided this is something I want to keep making and (once I deplete my current supply) will be trying some recipes for rabbit, duck, and other pork sausages in the near future!

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Cinderella Pumpkin Ice Cream with (Caramelized) Roasted Seeds

Pumpkin, cream, egg yolks, sugar, pumpkin seeds, and caramel

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One thing we are trying to ensure we do is to complete recipes when their ingredients are seasonally available. We’ve missed the boat on some of the berry and recipes, so we will try to catch those next season. For this season, we are trying to complete all of the gourd, potato and pear recipes. Since pumpkins are openly available, we jumped at the opportunity to make this recipe!

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Before we get into describing the procedure of the recipe, we wanted to note a very important deviation from the initial recipe and our rationale for doing so. We used a New England Pie pumpkin variety in place of a Cinderella pumpkin. In terms of the rationale, have you ever seen a Cinderella pumpkin? Their size would have yielded more pumpkin ice cream than the two of us could consume. Our research into the Cinderella pumpkin variety uncovered that it has a creamy consistency and sweet flavour that is sought after for use in pies. As the New England Pie pumpkin had a similar flavour profile but was 1/8 of the size, we opted for this.

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We cut the pumpkin in two, removed the seeds (and some pulp) and placed them in a bowl of water.

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The halved pumpkin was placed onto a baking sheet (skin side up) and baked until tender. Next, we removed the flesh from the pumpkin and blended it with honey until we were left with a smooth purée.

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Next, we combined the pumpkin purée with cream and set it aside.

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In another bowl, we whisked egg yolks and sugar until they turned a creamy white colour. Below is a picture of the mixture before and after whisking.

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In yet another vessel (this recipe resulted in a lot of dirty dishes!), we heated some milk and cream over low heat. We tempered the egg mixture with a little warm milk and combined it with the warmed milk. This was cooked until the custard coated the back of a spoon and then passed through a conical strainer. Finally, we combined the custard with the pumpkin puree and allowed for it to cool.

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Next, we washed the pumpkin seeds, coated them with olive oil and roasted them in the oven until they were golden brown.

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While these were cooling, we prepared a caramel by combining 1 cup of sugar with approximately 1/4 cup of water and heating the mixture until it was a golden brown (this wasn’t part of the recipe, this was something we decided to do to make the plating look more unique).

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We then combined the caramel with the roasted seeds and poured it over a silicone mat to cool.

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Turns out, coating pumpkin seeds in oil makes them harder to coat in caramel! So this process required pushing the seeds down with tweezers until the caramel was cool enough to keep the seeds suspended.

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In an effort to ensure that our pictures don’t all look the same, we deviated again from the recipe (only slightly!). We’ve read online that another option for creating a creamy ice cream is to freeze the mixture and then run it through a food processor (instead of running the mixture through an ice cream machine). We liked the idea of having something that looked visually very different than our other ice cream posts though, so we plated the ice cream straight out of the freezer (after freezing the mixture in an ice cube tray).

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The resulting “ice cream” had larger ice crystals than typically expected for an ice cream, but it was visually stunning when paired with a roasted pumpkin seed caramel shard.

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We blended some of the ice cream cubes in our food processor to try as well, and this yielded the expected ice cream texture. We didn’t bother to try placing the resulting ice cream into the ice cube tray though, because it would have been very difficult to remove them from the tray.

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The ice cream tasted like a sweet pumpkin soup and paired really well with the bitterness of the caramel. We poured the caramel a little thick, so if we were to try this again, we would aim for a thinner caramel. All in all, this was a delectable autumn treat that we thoroughly enjoyed!

Quail Confit

Quail, lemon, thyme, garlic, and duck fat

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Oh duck fat… I’ve seen it called liquid gold–it has the magical ability to make pretty much everything a little more delicious than if you used butter or oil. Today, I had the pleasure of filling an entire saucepan with duck fat, cooking a few small birds in it, and subsequently eating them. Suffice to say, I had a pretty good day!

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The recipe started with brining the quails in salt, sugar, peppercorns and basil. We really had fun with this picture–after some trial and error with different containers, we ended up going for a scientific specimen jar look.

Next up, we prepared a mirepoix that contained onion, carrots and leeks.

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With most of the prep done, I turned my attention to the duck fat. The tubs o’ duck fat were slowly melted in a saucepan.

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The mirepoix was added to the saucepan of duck fat (which I found interesting) and the mixture left to simmer on low heat for a while. The vegetables turned a really nice golden brown and added flavour to the duck fat. The addition of the mirepoix also formed a cushion at the base of the saucepan to keep the quails from scorching the bottom.

The quails themselves were taken out of the brining liquid, patted dry, and stuffed with some lemon and thyme before being plunged into a golden bath of duck fat.

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As this cooking process was new to me, it was very fun to experience for the first time. The heat was set at a temperature in order to keep the fat at a low simmer and after the initial (and expected) spatter phase of cooking, the quail simmered gently.

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When cooking was done, the quail were taken out of their bath, and patted dry to remove excess fat. The first thing I noticed was that the skin was completely rendered. My second observation was that the meat was surprisingly dry and stringy. This probably had more to do with the vendor at the farmer’s market having frozen the quail than with the actual cooking method. The meat tasted delicious–the flavour of thyme and lemon really shone through and it was not even remotely too oily or fatty.

All in all, I really enjoyed cooking this dish! It seems like this cooking technique is something that would be worth my time to practice and perfect, because honestly, everything tastes better when submerged in duck fat!

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Head Cheese

Pork, red pepper, chives and lemon

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Since first opening the Toqué! cookbook and looking through the recipes, I have really been looking forward to making this head cheese. One of the things I wanted to accomplish with this project was to learn how utilize ingredients we would not normally buy, cook with, or eat. A pig’s head certainly fits in this category!

 

We were able to get an incredibly fresh pig’s head (butchered that morning) from our favorite butcher at the local farmer’s market. We brought the head home and I thoroughly washed it. Thankfully, the butcher had recommended that the head be sliced in two, and it turned out even our largest pot at 18 quarts could only accommodate half of it.

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To begin the cooking, half of the pig’s head was put into the pot, along with 7 liters of water, juniper berries, bay leaves, black pepper, carrots, onions, and a pig’s foot (at the recommendation of our butcher, who makes a lot of head cheese himself). The stock was then brought to a boil, and left to simmer for about 4 hours.

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As making head cheese is a two day process, I needed to make myself dinner for that evening–so I put the second half of the head in a roasting pan with the same ingredients and spices as the stock, some maple syrup, what was left of the apple we used for photographing, and roasted in the oven for 7 hours on low heat until the skin was crispy and the meat was wonderfully soft and flavorful. That night, I sat down hungry with half of a pig’s head, a knife and a fork. The thing that really surprised me about the roasted dish was how many different textures of pork there were. The ear was so incredibly crispy, the cheek meat was fatty and stringy, the meat around the eyes was dark and soft, and the meat around the neck was very much like the regular roasted pork I’m used to.

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After four hours of simmering, the meat and bones were strained out of the pot to cool, and I discovered first-hand how much of a time consuming process making head cheese really is! One of the skills I have been working on developing in the kitchen is patience. I have been known in the past to undercook meats, under-reduce sauces and even leave out components due to various reasons (usually hunger). I have since discovered that the secret to creating technically correct food is patience–unfortunately my patience is directly related to my hunger. Now I make sure I don’t cook hungry… and my food has been tasting much better as a result!

 

The strained pork head stock was successfully boiled down from 28 cups of liquid to 2 cups (a proud accomplishment for me) while skimming off the impurities as they arose. As the reducing process took quite a few hours, I had plenty of time to separate the pork into two piles: the parts I wanted to eat, and the bits I didn’t.

 

The resulting pork jus was then mixed with the select meat, some finely diced red peppers, chives, lemon zest, salt and pepper. I have some experience making cured meats, and have learned that when something is to be eaten cold, you must over season it while it’s still warm for the salt balance to be correct when it cools. I then poured the mixture into a terrine mould lined with plastic wrap, and left it in the fridge to solidify overnight.

 

The next day, we made some sautéed balsamic vinegar and thyme pearl onions with sunflower seed flatbread as accompaniments to complete the meal.

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The head cheese was delicious: extremely fatty and flavorful. Along with the onions and flat bread, it made for a perfect lunch! One of the aspects of this project that I dislike is that most of these recipes that we try can only be attempted once due to the sheer volume of recipes we will be making for the blog. If I were to make this dish again, I would be more careful with lining the terrine with the plastic wrap to avoid ridges, and take the time to shred the pork into small pieces (as the recipe instructed). The pork jus with lemon was extremely flavorful, which made the large chunks of pork and fat seem a little bit bland by contrast–next time I’ll follow the recipe to a T!.

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Jar of Pigeon

Squab, maple syrup, pine, and citrus

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Maybe this is just the inner-French-Canadian speaking, but generally when I see a gaggle of geese–or a duck swimming in the pond–or a rabbit at the pet store–I think, “Wow, you look delicious”! It is only since doing the Chicken Casserole recipe that I now have these feelings for coniferous trees, they are delicious. I’ve been eyeing a couple of the trees close to my house, and today I went around tasting some of them. One tree was particularly delicious, and while not spot-on with the flavour of Balsam Fir, it was pretty similar! And since the book said any conifer would work, I’ve opted to use this for the Jar of Pigeon recipe.

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This recipe started with butchering squab–something I’ve never done before. The pigeon came from the butcher with a few feathers stuck to it (visible in the picture above), but it was a fairly straightforward process with a very steep learning curve. I found that I’d completely “butchered” one of each appendage… the second went more smoothly. We’ve tried to highlight the squab’s good side in the pictures.

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Next the aromatics were heated up in small carbon steel pan and then placed in a wide mouth mason jar. The squab was seared in the pan to render off some of the fat and crisp up the skin. It was then placed in the jar with the aromatics, and drizzled with some wonderful Abitibi maple syrup.

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Next some luting paste was made in the same fashion as the Chicken Casserole dish, applied as a seal around the perimeter of the mason jar, and placed in the oven to bake.

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I have to say that this dish was much easier to free from it’s containment vessel than the Chicken Casserole, as squab meat is cooked rare the luting paste didn’t have too much time to harden in the oven.

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When I got the lid off, our dog was kind enough to provide some quality control as he has many years of experience hunting pigeon.

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Approved!

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This was my first time eating squab, and it shocked me a little–in a good way. The meat tasted very strongly of iron and and it tasted surprisingly fatty! Since Melissa doesn’t eat meat, I don’t get a lot of iron in my diet–I was shocked to learn that Squab has 3x the iron content of beef! The meat inside was beautifully pink and just cooked past rare. I’m starting to really enjoy the flavour combination of maple and coniferous tree needles. I plan to make pigeon a regular part of my diet!

Chicken Casserole

Chicken, balsam fir and citrus

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The chicken casserole was then sealed into the pan with luting paste and set into the oven to bake.

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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!

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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.