Hogswatch Feast – The Meat of the Meal


… Then the Whos, young and old, would sit down to a feast. And they’d feast! And they’d feast! And they’d FEAST! FEAST! FEAST! FEAST! They would start on Who-pudding, and rare Who-roast-beast…

In lieu of rare Who-roast-beast, we did duck and two little chickens.  For the duck recipe, we used the cooking method from Alton Brown’s recipe.  We were winging it a bit on the chickens, and used the cooking instructions we found here on foodtv.com, with our own prepwork inspired by a variety of foodtv shows. 

Flattened Roast Duck

Ingredients

One Duck (head and feet optional), 5 to 5.5 lb

            ¼ cup Kosher Salt (we used less than called for)

            Carrots and Celery and Onion, enough to support the duck within the baking dish

Instructions

If your duck has its head and feet, follow the instructions in a previous blog post to remove these items.  Put them aside or discard them – it’s your choice whether you want to add them to your future stock. 

Cut the spine out of the duck.  To do this, arrange the duck, breast-side-down, with the tail towards you.  Use kitchen shears (or any clean, sturdy pair of scissors) to cut up one side of the spine.  Rotate the duck, so that the tail is away from you, and repeat the process down the other side of the duck.  Try to stay as close as possible to the spine and avoid cutting into the thigh.  Press down on the bird to flatten, and make a shallow cut along the breastbone to further flatten the duck. 

Remove any excess skin around the neck, and any extra pockets of fat.  There will be some pockets right near the base of the tail, on the inside of the duck. 

Turn the duck breast-side-up, and make a long slash in the skin and fat of each breast.  To do this, press the flat of a sharp knife against the breast, and slide it flat along the surface.  This should slice though the skin and fat while avoiding cutting through to the skin. 

Sprinkle both sides of the duck with kosher salt.  Place the duck breast-side-up in a roasting pan lined with paper towels, and leave this uncovered in the bottom shelf of the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days, or until the skin is dry and has the consistency of parchment.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Brush off any remaining salt on the duck and remove the paper towels from the bottom of the pan.

Put enough cleaned and whole carrots and celery, and chopped onions, in the bottom of the pan to support the duck (breast-side-up).  This will allow the juices and fat to drain away from the bird without it sitting in the drippings.  You can put it on a grate in the pan instead, or in a broiler pan, but the carrots and celery will come in handy when you are making stock later.

Put the pan in the middle of the oven and roast for 30 minutes.  Rotate the pan and continue to cook until the thigh reaches an internal temperature of 180 degrees F on an instant read thermometer, about 30 more minutes. 

NOTE: My duck took about 40 minutes after the first rotation to reach this temperature – the instant read thermometer was really useful, and I definitely recommend getting one, or borrowing one, for this type of purpose.  They range from 10 to 50 dollars, from what I can tell, and you can get either digital or analog.  Ours is nice in that it has a thermometer attached to a long wire that connects to the display – this means I was able to put the thermometer in near the end of the cooking process and close the oven door, reading the temperature from the display panel sitting outside the oven.  This was the first time I’d used one of these, and I’m sold on the entire idea – you can check the temperature of the thickest part of the meat you’re cooking, to ensure that it has reached the required temperature for cooking – it takes away the urge to cut your meat before it’s had time to rest (to ‘check’ if it is still raw inside), as well as the urge to add 10 minutes to the planned cooking time to ‘be on the safe side’.  The meat was so tender and juicy – if I’d taken it out when the recipe suggested I should, it might have been cooked through after being left to rest… but it might not have.

Remove the duck from the oven and increase the heat to 450 degrees F.  Once the oven has come up to temperature, return the duck to the oven and roast until the skin is golden brown and crispy, about 10 minutes.  Remove the pan from the oven and leave the duck to rest for a bit.  This gives it time to cool enough to seal the flavours and juices in before you cut into it.

Conclusions

the Duck, cooked

I was shocked at how well our duck turned out.  Since this was my first time cooking anything whole, I wasn’t at all sure what to look for in the cooking process, I had figured that something would go wrong.  It wasn’t perfect, but it is definitely on its way.  One of the major things I would change is reducing the salt – I entirely forgot to brush off the excess salt on the duck, so my duck’s skin was very over-salty.  The duck meat was also saltier than I would have preferred, though considerably less than the outside surfaces.  Alton Brown suggests approximately 3 tsp of kosher salt per pound of duck.  For us, that would have been approximately 1/3 of a cup, but we reduced that to ¼.  Next time, I think I’ll sprinkle salt on until it seems coated adequately, rather than focusing on the measurement.  We also added some regular salt the day before cooking, in hopes of helping dry the skin a bit faster (since we didn’t have the duck drying for nearly as long as it needed), which probably added to the saltiness of the meal.  However, the meat was tender and very flavourful, and it tasted better than any duck at restaurants I’d had before.  Of course, that opinion could be a bit clouded by the amount of work I’d put into the duck – after butchering and cooking the duck myself, I’ll be damned if it tastes anything less than amazing!  K agreed with me on the taste, though, so I’ll take that as reasonable proof of how good it was.

Flattened Roast Chicken

Ingredients

One chicken, approximately 4 lb

Seasoning Option 1

1 lemon, sliced thin

Olive Oil

Salt and Pepper to taste

Seasoning Option 2

1/3 cup chopped Fresh Parsley

1 tbsp each dry Basil, Rosemary, or whatever herbs you prefer.  If fresh herbs are being used, increase quantities.

2-3 cloves Minced Garlic (or more, to taste)

Olive Oil

Salt and Pepper to taste

Instructions

We cut the spine out of the chickens and lay them flat to cook.

Cut the spine out of the chicken.  To do this, arrange the chicken, breast-side-down, and use kitchen shears (or any clean, sturdy pair of scissors) to cut up the side of the spine.  Rotate the chicken, and repeat the process down the other side of the spine.  Try to stay as close as possible to the spine and avoid cutting into the thigh.  Press down on the bird to flatten, and make a shallow cut along the breastbone to further flatten the chicken.

Starting at the neck, slide your hand between the skin and the meat of the breast.  The skin should peel back easily enough, though you may require a sharp knife to help separate the skin from the breast along the breastbone.  The skin isn’t being removed, just separated slightly from the breast, so that ingredients can be stuffed in the opening.  Find the separation between skin and flesh at the thick end of the thighs, and repeat this process, separating the skin as much as possible without peeling it off entirely. 

Herbs and Lemon are stuffed under the skin in order to flavour the chicken

Mix the seasoning together (in the case of the lemon chicken, simply drizzle olive oil on the slices of lemon), and slide the mixture down in between the skin and the flesh of the chicken.  This process allows you to flavour the meat itself, with the skin holding in the moisture and flavour of whatever you stuff the chicken with. 

Note – these are the ingredients I used for these chickens, but you could choose to do something else entirely – orange slices would work, and would add a different type of flavour.  You could also do a combination of herbs and lemons, or an entirely different mixture of herbs.  Avoid fresh herbs with woody stalks (eg, rosemary), because you will have to pick those stalks out from between the meat and skin before you serve your chicken.  The lemon slices pretty much dissolved in my chicken, so that they were soft enough that I didn’t need to remove them before serving.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F

Put enough cleaned and whole carrots and celery, and chopped onions, in the bottom of the pan to support the chicken.  You can put it on a grate in the pan instead, or in a broiler pan, but the carrots and celery will come in handy when you are making stock later.  Put the chicken in breast-side-up.

Roast the chicken for 45 minutes.  Increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees F, and cook until an instant read thermometer stuck into the thigh registers 160 degrees F, about 15 minutes more.  Take it out and allow it to rest, tenting tinfoil overtop.  See Note in the duck recipe for my views on the usefulness of instant read thermometers.  In this case, I found that the times in the recipe were exactly what I needed (though the recipe on foodtv.com was meant for a stuffed little chicken, not a flattened one.)

Conclusions:

Lemon Chicken

Once again, I was shocked – the chicken was as perfect as I could imagine it being.  Unlike the duck, I don’t have any particular changes to the recipe that I want to try next time.  Apart from mixing up the types of ingredient I’ll stuff under the skin, I think this one is exactly where I want it to be.  It doesn’t take long, and the chicken turned out moist and flavourful because of the olive oil mixtures I stuffed under the skin.  Using the meat thermometer ensured that I didn’t overcook the chicken, and also ensured that I didn’t undercook it.  The chickens were the same amount of work as many of my recipes that call for chicken breasts or kebabs, and really had a good presentation

Note: Jamie Oliver had an interesting point on cutting roast chicken.  The standard Chicken carver will start slicing, parallel to the outside surface, and take off big pieces right up until they get to the ribcage.  What this means is that some of the pieces have the seasoning (and are a bit dryer, because they were the closest to the surface), and other pieces are more moist, but haven’t come into contact with any of the seasoning you used.  He suggests cutting the entire breast off, starting from the breastbone or spine.  Once you’ve got the breast off and onto the cutting board, cut the breast into slices perpendicular to the skin, so that every piece gets a bit of skin and seasoning, and a bit of the juicier inner-meat.  I didn’t get it 100%, this being the first time I ever carved a bird, but I think it worked out really well.  With a bit of practice I’ll be able to give it that really nice presentation, and it did ensure that everyone got that herb or lemon flavour kick without having to forage for the one big outside piece. 

Gravy

Mix a quarter cup of flour with 2 tbsp of summer savoury and 2 tbsp of poultry seasoning in the bottom of a warmed pot with some butter.  Add stock and drippings from the pan, equivalent to a carton of stock and a can, and stir briskly to avoid clumps.  If you want a clearer gravy, substitute cornstarch for the flour.           

Stock

We used both the chicken carcasses and the duck carcass, including the chicken backs, duck back, duck feet, and duck neck (that had all been roasted in the pan with our actual roast fowl) in our stock. 

Once the carcass has been cleaned of all the meat you want to eat off it, put it in a big pot, along with the remaining drippings, and all additional parts.  Add all the vegetables that were in the roasting pans, and if you don’t think there were enough, add some more for good measure.  Put in two bay leaves, 2 whole cloves garlic, peeled, some fresh thyme and parsley (or other herbs you prefer), and pour water in until the carcass is entirely submerged.   

Put the pot over high heat until your stock starts simmering (small bubbles breaking through the surface of the liquid, not a rolling boil), and turn down the heat to medium-low. Adjust the heat until your stock maintains a low simmer.  Simmer for approximately 6 hours, and then strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer and discard the strained material.  The stock should be relatively clear – if it isn’t, strain again, through a finer strainer.  Cool, and remove solidified fat from the surface.  When the stock is cooled, it should have a slightly gelatinous consistency – this is a good thing, and the consistency will revert to broth consistency when you heat it up again.  It can be stored in your fridge for a few days, or frozen for a few months.  We find that ice cream containers are very effective for storing stock – just make sure to cool it before putting it in these containers.    

The meat was the most stressful part of our Hogswatch plans – it was a dive straight into the unknown.  Neither K nor I had ever done a whole roast bird of any kind – K had never even eaten duck before, so this was even more of a leap for her!  Both Hogswatch meals K and I have made, my parents spent the entire day doubting that we’d finish, doubting that we’d made enough food, doubting that it would be edible (as if we both hadn’t spent time living on our own and successfully feeding ourselves!) and doubting that we had the ‘situation’ (as they refer to the hogswatch meal) under control.  I think it was even more of a shock to us that the chickens and duck worked out so well than it was for my parents – I had been hoping that, at best, they would all be edible with enough gravy on them, and make good stock later.

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2 Comments

  1. Oh, duck. How I love thee. About the kosher salt–chefs like Alton Brown and Thomas Keller tend to use Diamond brand kosher salt, whereas non-chefs (like me) tend to use Morton’s or another nice crunchy one. The problem is, you need less than half as much Morton’s by volume to equal Diamond in weight. 1/2 cup of Diamond brand, that is, weighs as much as a scant 1/4 cup of Morton’s. It has a different flake shape and therefore the same effect as packed versus unpacked brown sugar. My advice? Salt it ’till it looks and tastes right to you. Ignore what the chefs say; they aren’t the ones who are going to eat it, after all.

    • I’ll have to check at home now to find out what type of salt I used – I’d never thought of the differences in types of Kosher salt. I agree, though – use the amount of salt necessary to give the duck good coverage, and make sure to wipe off the excess before putting it in the oven (the part I forgot that definitely added to the saltiness of our duck).
      Thanks for the information!

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