lady of leisure bucket list: debunking deboned chicken

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Last week, my friends and I made chicken ballotine, just for giggles

This photo of a deboned, stuffed chicken (a chicken ballotine) my friends and I delicately roasted makes me so happy.  It reminds me of fall dinners, of intimate gatherings with friends involving bottles of wine, and of the types of dinners that leaving you feeling special, just because of the effort preparing it required.

And, after the events that transpired last week in order for us to accomplish such a beautiful, happy sight, this photo will always remind me of mangled chicken parts strewn across my kitchen and sweating our little hearts out as we tried to separate poultry from bone.

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Top left: our victims lay awaiting their fate; top right: one of the first steps is removing the wishbone; bottom left: peeling the meat and skin away from the carcass is a little unnerving; bottom right: stuffing the bird with cooled stuffing

Honestly, I’m not exactly sure how this day came to be, but I think it all started back in April, when two girlfriends and I got together to make macarons and to cure some salt pork.  We had a blast attempting — and succeeding marginally — to make those delicate little French cookies, and we’ve talked about experimenting with more new recipes ever since.  One of the advantages of being an international lady of leisure is that I’m in good company; there’s a whole community of interesting women here in Kuala Lumpur who also find themselves with the luxury of time and a good cocktail recipe on their hands.  Using some of that time to figure out a cooking technique that we’d otherwise never try seemed like worthwhile venture.

For me, deboning a chicken has always been one of those party tricks I’d love to be able to pull off but never had the nerve to do it by myself, not since I saw a 30-minute episode of Jacques Pepin butchering six or seven chickens over the course of an hour.  The jaw-dropping part of the show for me is the part when he masterfully debones one of the chickens in about 18 seconds, narrating his movements the entire time.  It’s not in this video clip, but after finishing deboning his beautiful chicken, Mr. Pepin pours himself a glass of Burgundy for a job well done and continues sipping it for the rest of the episode while simultaneously doing other unthinkable culinary things to whole chickens.  He is my hero.

My girlfriends and I decided that we’d debone six chickens total (two each) to get a good feel for the process, and we’d stuff and roast two of them for dinner for ourselves and our husbands.  We also had grand plans to try making some sticky lemon rolls, which now, looking back, is laughable, considering we didn’t start the butchering process until after we’d had a little lunch and gab session first.  It turns out that deboning chickens is messy business, resulting in loose bits of skin, meat and bones flying about while you try to get a good enough grip on the bird to separate parts of the meat and skin from the bone.  That being said, it’s also not impossible to do.  The first round of birds took us close to an hour, but the second round went much more smoothly and took us about half the time.

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Top: our stuffed and tied birds ready for roasting; bottom: the finished product, before slicing

For the stuffing, I wanted to stay true to Jacques Pepin’s process and reproduce the spinach and mushroom stuffing he uses in his video, but his recipe buried on this site didn’t seem terribly exciting or descriptive.  Instead, we decided to up our game a little by stuffing our bird with … more meat.  We made a sage and onion stuffing and a sausage and apple stuffing, which ended up being enough stuffing to fill five of our deboned birds.  After tying up the birds, we roasted them for about 1 hour 30 minutes in a 350 degree oven, until the internal temperature registered just under 180 degrees Fahrenheit.  I made sure to keep checking the birds so the skin wouldn’t scorch, and ended up tenting them for the last half-hour or so. I also basted the birds starting at about 30 minutes in, when the juices started to escape a little.

When we pulled the finished birds from the oven, I knew we’d done something good.  It got better when we sliced into the birds and had a gorgeous layering of skin, meat and stuffing in every slice.  The chicken itself absorbed a good amount of the juices from the stuffing and from its own fat.  We all agreed that despite the sweating, self-doubt, and chicken carnage, the effort had been well worth it.

After dinner, we started discussing whether we’re brave enough to try making a turducken for Thanksgiving this year, based on our newfound skills.  I’m tempted to do it, because the overall effect of just pulling our deboned chickens out of the oven felt like we’d really accomplished something special for dinner.  I can only imagine the high that would result from stuffing that chicken into a duck, then into a turkey.

I get dizzy just thinking about it.

For more information, watch Jacques Pepin’s video on deboning a chicken here.  For a description of Julia Child’s deboned duck wrapped in pastry, click here.  For the stuffing recipes we used, click here.  For instructions on how to make a turducken by Paula Deen, click here. For the sticky lemon roll recipe we didn’t make, click here.