Up In Flames
It all started innocently, with a can of beautiful foie gras that a friend brought us from France. That, and an invitation to a French-style potluck-type dinner with a group of old friends that we hadn’t seen in a while. For a true first-world problem, I’m trying to clean out the pantry before we move, and I wanted to use up the foie gras. But because it’s not every day that I have foie gras that needs using, I wanted to make something truly special with it. And because I hadn’t seen these friends in a while I wanted to dress up a bit. As any moron knows, dressing up and cooking are non-compatible activities, but still, I forged ahead.
I conjured up a dreamy dish, chicken roulades with a mushroom and Madeira duxelles stuffing and a foie gras and Madeira sauce. And yes, it was as delicious as it sounds, and yes, of course, I’m going to give you the recipe. But this is a cautionary tale, and so I must tell it from its optimistic beginning to its ignominious end.
I decided to use chicken thighs, since I don’t really enjoy the breasts, but I wanted them with the bone out and the skin still intact. Sure, I have a boning knife and I know how to use it, but it occurred to me that boning 14 thighs would be a chore and that the butcher might be persuaded to remove the bones for me, and happily this was the case, since I thereby avoided the opportunity to stab myself in the hand and miss the evening altogether.
I found a nifty trick for the duxelles in my online research, one I’ve now added to my permanent repertoire. After chopping the mushrooms up fine in the food processor, you drop them into a tea towel and squeeze with all your might and main, thus expelling an astonishing amount of liquid, and ending up with dry mushroom crumbles that look a lot like kasha or kibble.
I then proceeded to make the stuffing, stopping only for tastes and a little ecstatic yumming, trimmed off extra chicken fat for rendering, and stuffed the now-boneless thighs before tying them up with twine. It occurred to me that removing the twine after cooking the chicken at the party might be a splattery sort of affair, and that perhaps my dress-up scheme was ill-adapted, but no worries: I assigned the de-twining operation to Shel. Next I made the sauce, which was about the most enticing thing I’ve ever tasted, got dressed up, packed the food into the car, and hopped on the ferry. There were actual whitecaps on the normally placid crossing to Seattle, and perhaps I should have taken that as an omen of rough times to come, but no.
Once happily installed at the party with a heady cocktail in hand and a happily chattering group around me, I noticed that the before-dinner gougères, prepared by a very accomplished cook, had fallen flat as pancakes, perhaps under the prodigious weight of the three cheeses they contained. Nonetheless, they were pronounced delicious and vanished with a rapidity that belied any fault.
And then, as the before-dinner oysters were being shucked, this one appeared: no oyster inside at all, but instead, a tiny mussel nestled into the oyster shell. This too, might have been a portent, but the rest of the oysters and their absinthe dipping sauce and the freely-flowing cocktails perhaps clouded the face of my worry meter, and I popped my chicken in the oven, twine and all. Later, after the leek soup and its paired wine, and the pear and gorgonzola salad and its wine, and the mussels with Pineau des Charentes and their wine, I blithely, perhaps a bit too blithely, went into the tiny kitchen to finish and serve my chicken dish.
The host had made spaetzle to accompany my chicken, and so he and I jockeyed for space around the stove, he frying spaetzle, I stirring my foie gras sauce, over the electric burners. He took the pan off the stove, I removed the chicken from the oven, and Shel started snipping the twine, to save my lovely flowing top from getting grease on it.
I turned back to the stove, reached across the burner-formerly-used-for-spaetzle, to get my foie gras sauce, and my clothes went up in flames. Did I mention a flowing top? Did I even think about the fact that it was rayon? Did I even know the flash point of rayon or that a burner that’s not even red could set rayon on fire?
Fortunately, I somehow put out the fire before any more damage occurred other that filling the kitchen with the acrid smell of burned cloth instead of the lovely smell of the chicken. Oh, and the fact that I can never wear that now-holey top again. But the chicken was fabulous, and I’ll certainly make it again the next time I get my hands on some foie gras. I hope you’ll make it too, but always remember and never forget, this recipe comes with a dress code.
Chicken Roulades with Duxelles Stuffing and Foie Gras Sauce
8 chicken thighs, bone removed, skin left on
1/2 lb crimini mushrooms
2 T duck fat, or use butter
2 large shallots, finely diced, divided use
1 tsp thyme, divided use
3/4 cup Madeira, divided use
1 cup dry white wine
2 T butter
3/4 cup heavy cream
4 oz foie gras, mi-cuit
salt and pepper
First make the stuffing. Remove the stems from the mushrooms and whiz the mushroom caps in the food processor until you have fine crumbs. Place an old tea towel over a small bowl, dump the mushrooms into the towel, and twist tightly, squeezing, until no more juice drips out.
Melt the duck fat in a nonstick pan and sauté 1 shallot until translucent. Add the mushrooms and 1/2 tsp thyme, salt and pepper, and sauté, stirring constantly, until they begin to brown. Add 1/4 cup of Madeira and sauté for a couple of minutes until it is all absorbed by the mushrooms. Taste for salt and pepper. Set stuffing aside to cool.
Preheat oven to 450°. When stuffing is cool, open each thigh and put a spoonful of stuffing inside each piece and roll it closed, tying with twine into neat roulades. Place the chicken in an oiled roasting pan. Sprinkle the chicken liberally with salt and pepper, and the remaining thyme. Pour the white wine into the pan and bake for 45-50 minutes.
While the chicken is baking prepare the foie gras sauce. Melt the butter in a small saucepan and add the remaining shallot. Sweat the shallot gently over low heat until translucent. Add the remaining Madeira and simmer to reduce by 1/3. Add the cream and continue to simmer, reducing again by about 1/2, until you have a lightly thickened sauce. Remove the pan from the heat and crumble the foie gras into the sauce. Let it sit for a few minutes to melt the foie gras, then whizz it all with an immersion blender until you have a silky smooth sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve over the chicken (after removing the twine).
You may want bread to mop up the sauce, or then again, you can just lick the plate. And be sure to save the juices in the roasting pan, which will make the base for a killer soup the next day.