If you’re sensitive about eating anything that’s still at baby stage, except carrots, don’t read this. It contains a detailed description about boning, cooking and eating baby chickens and may offend some people. These tiny little critters sit in the palm of your hand so boning them is going to be like microsurgery. Chef Paul shows us how it’s done so minimum flesh is lost and the skin remains whole because we are stuffing these tiny scraps of meat with goat’s cheese, tying them up with string and roasting them. We’re doing two each and he offers one-on-one tutelage for the first one, but for the second we’re on our own.
I’ve boned heaps of chicken over the past year and it’s the same process for poussin except in miniature. The first bit is easy, wings off, wishbone out, legs off – and then the tricky stuff starts. Down the backbone and round to the breast. It is a delicate procedure and I need a bit of help from Chef to get the breast plate out (at least I think that’s what it is) without damaging the skin. We’re cooking the wee legs too so I take out the thigh bones. One poussin down, one to go. I can tell by the sounds in the kitchen (there isn’t time to look) that others have already completed the task. I don’t let it spook me but keep full concentration on separating the bird from it’s carcass. When it’s done I place a solid ball of the very best goat’s cheese on the birds’ breasts, fold up all the skin and tie it together with string. The result is two neat little parcels with the ends of the wing bone sticking out.
We’re serving the poussin with baby beetroot roasted in garlic, thyme, honey, balsamic vinegar and oil and polenta croutons which are reasonably straight forward. We’re turned the carrots and turnips and they are gently simmering away in butter and sugar, and the beetroot is ready. I go to turn on another gas ring for the zucchinis and it won’t light. Other students are having the same trouble. Someone reminds Chef that the gas, and the air con, goes off at 10pm. I think they must be joking. There’s a hive of activity as Chef gathers up an array of hot plates and we form anxious queues to finish off our main dish. Clearly there’s an expectation that no students in their right minds would still be cooking at 10pm but our demonstration didn’t start until 3pm and it’s after six o’clock before we get into the practice kitchen. Luckily the dessert is a “raw” chilled cheesecake with raspberry jelly and it’s been safely in the fridge for some time.
It’s all worth it. The food is truly delicious. The baby chicken is very tender. The beetroot is shiny and sticky. The roast chicken jus has just the right depth of flavour and is speckled with very finely diced capsicum. The carrots and turnips are slightly sweet. And it all sits on polenta croutons laced with truffle oil and parmesan.
The cheesecake is one of the nicest I’ve tasted. It’s not too sickly sweet and the raspberry mirror on top has turned out reasonably well for a first attempt. It’s been a fun and satisfying class but we’re a weary group of students by the time the cleaning up is done and the food is safely stored in our take home containers.