Wild Rice Stuffing

Sun, Nov 7 • 0

Tried this in a chicken last week. I’m usually against putting stuffing inside a chicken or a turkey, since it means longer cooking time, and increases the chances of bacteria, but I figured if I didn’t make the stuffing too tightly packed, and if I put it in the bird hot, just before roasting it, I could get away with it. The cooking time did end up being longer than I expected, but that may have been due to the chicken being larger than I usually go with (4½ pounds as opposed to 3). In the end, I think I liked it more than my wife did.

The following quantities are for a 3-5 pound chicken, but you could increase it for a larger bird, like a turkey. The recipe still needs fine tuning, and you could easily swap out or omit some of the items. For example, replacing the onion with shallots or leeks. You could replace or augment the chestnuts with the chicken or turkey’s giblets. (Note: I was enticed into making up this recipe by an article and recipes in the Washington Post food section. In it, they talk about the best place to buy prepared, steamed chestnuts, and that’s apparently Trader Joes. They sell them in skinny maroon-colored boxes, nearish the flour and other baking supplies in my local store.)

1 cup prepared basmati and wild rice mix (fully cooked)
¼ yellow onion, diced
1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
2 cloves garlic, pressed
¼ cup chopped celery (ideally, the light yellow stalks and leave tops from the heart)
¼ cup chopped steamed chestnuts
liquid: vegetable or chicken broth, white wine, vermoth, or water
herbs: sage leaves, fresh thyme, to taste, finely chopped
salt and pepper

Prepare the rice ahead of time, and allow to cool. Avoid adding salt at this stage.

In a frying pan, soften onion and celery in butter or olive oil. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant (30 seconds). Add rice and chestnuts, and enough liquid to moisten, and allow it to  all get quite hot. Remove from heat, and taste for salt and pepper. You want it to be saltier than normal, since it’s going to flavor the whole bird from the inside. Add the herbs at this point, too.

Spoon the hot stuffing into the cavity, being careful not to pack it too tightly. Tie the opening closed with kitchen string. Roast in a hot oven (425°) until the juices run clear when you pierce the flesh near the thigh. Allow the chicken to rest, then cut the string and spoon out the stuffing before carving.


What’s a “Heritage” Turkey?

Sun, Nov 16 • 0

You’ve probably seen this phrase tossed about a lot lately, what with the holidays approaching. Your choices of what kind of turkey to put on the table seems to be widening, and the confusion mounts. Heritage turkeys are heirloom varieties, the ancestor breeds of the much more common but freak-of-nature, broad-breasted white turkey.

Heritage does not denote any specific breed of bird. In fact, you could conceivably buy the same breed of bird, marketed as “heritage” that are raised locally on pasture that you’d buy deep-frozen with the Butterball label on it. Standard breeds of turkey include Black, Bronze, Narragansett, White Holland, Slate, Bourbon Red, Beltsville Small White, and Royal Palm. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy includes all of the standard breeds plus a few others under the definition of “heritage,” including Chocolate, Lavendar/Lilac, Jersey, Buff, and Midget White. The vast majority of birds available for the American consumer are the Hybrid Broad-breasted White, which are bred to meet the commercial turkey industry’s desire for birds with accelerated growth rates and unnatural proportions of white and dark meat.

In 1997, a census by the National Turkey Federation found that 301,000,000 turkeys were produced commercially but only 1,335 turkeys were heritage birds. Today, that number hovers around 10,000.

According to the Heritage Turkey Foundation, all turkeys that are sold as heritage birds must have bodies that allow them to mate naturally, are hardy enough to live their whole lives outdoors, and are allowed to grow at a natural rate. Strictly speaking, the birds marked as heritage are not necessarily free-range nor are they raised organically, but considering the small number of birds that can be classified as such, chances are good that these birds were raised in a healthier and more humane environment than your typical industrial turkey farm.

Be aware that because there are so few birds available on the market, it may already be too late to get one for your holiday table in 2008, and you need to get your orders in by early November. But the good news is, the more people who seek out and are willing to pay a little extra for these special birds, the more will come to market in the coming seasons.


What’s for dinner? Roast Duckling

Tue, Dec 25 • 0

Christmas Duck Harris Teeter had fresh duckling on sale the other day, and I just couldn’t resist.

I used Ina Garten’s technique of lightly scoring the duckling’s skin with a fork, and cooking it in hot chicken stock for 45 minutes, which gets rid of a lot of the fat, letting it dry off for 30 minutes, and then roasting it in a really hot, hot oven (500°) for 30 minutes, followed by a rest for another 30 minutes. Before roasting, I tossed a little salt and pepper on the outside, as well as a little chinese five spice, but if I’d had my act together, I would have made it the way my mom used to … by basting it with some honey and curry towards the end of the roast.

While the duck was resting, I used some of the oil in the pan to fry up some onions and parboiled potatoes. The skin turned out pretty crisp, and not at all flabby. Still, needs more work. Unfortunately, my wife refuses to touch duck, so while I ate duck, she had steak. (Also, I meant to snap a picture before I started carving. Sorry about that!)


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