Saturday, December 26, 2015


Planning a dinner party menu, I surveyed the possibilities at the supermarket. This time of year, the choices are amazing. I decided to pass by the wee suckling pigs, great hunks of beef roasts, haunches of brined pork, whole salmon, lobsters. 


It was the poultry display that roped me in. There were several types of boned and stuffed birds—whole turkey, breasts, chickens. I like the ease of boned-out roasts, but I’ve never cared for the butcher’s stuffing mix, usually too much ground pork and too much salt for my taste. Nor did I want to spend time boning a bird myself.

Mini-chickens at top, center; partridge on the right; capon, duck.
A whole turkey would be way too much. Same for those gorgeous whole capons. Whole duck presented the opposite problem—not much meat on one duck (as the carcass is heavier, proportionately, than chicken or turkey) and it gets pretty expensive to buy two or three. (I did pick up a couple duck breasts, magret, to stash in the freezer for my own delectation.) 

In the small-bird section, I found partridges, quail and mini-chickens, called picantones. Weighing about 16 ounces/450 grams each, one bird would serve one or two persons. Stuffed with raisins, apricots and nuts, they would be special enough to serve to guests.

Small chickens, stuffed and roasted, make individual servings.

My recipe, actually, is for squab, which are young doves or pigeons, once a common bird in Castilla and La Mancha, where every farmyard had a dovecote. Besides providing an excellent source of guano fertilizer, it yielded tender young squabs for the stewpot. In fact, it’s what Don Quixote had for dinner on Sundays—"y algún palomino de añadidura los domingos"—"some squab on Sundays as well."

I prepared this recipe with four 1-pound small chickens. Squabs, if available, weigh slightly less, so figure 6 to 8 birds for the same quantity of stuffing. Cornish game hens (which are not wild game, but another sort of small chicken) weigh between 1 ¼ and 1 ½ pounds, so three birds would work for this recipe.

The recipe calls for a medium-dry Sherry, such as amontillado or oloroso seco . You only need a half cup—but the wine is so fantastic you’ll be delighted you sought out the bottle (serve it with toasted almonds, Spanish ham and sausage, mushroom croquettes). Otherwise, use dry fino Sherry.

Walnuts, dried apricots and raisins go into the stuffing for small birds.

Dinner serving, with roasted pumpkin and rainbow chard from the garden.

Squab or Small Chickens Stuffed with Raisins, Apricots, and Walnuts
Pichones Rellenos

Serves 4 as a main course or, if each bird is split in half, 8 as part of a larger menu.

4 1-pound chickens
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
1 lemon
¼ cup seedless raisins
½ cup chopped, dried apricots
½ cup medium-dry Sherry, such as amontillado or oloroso seco
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup chopped shallots
¼ cup diced bacon
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
¼ cup chopped parsley
Pinch of thyme
½ cup white wine
1 cup chicken broth
¼ cup cream

Rinse the chickens and pat dry. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grate some of the lemon zest into a bowl and reserve. Squeeze lemon juice into the cavities of the chickens. Allow them to come to room temperature, 30 minutes.

Combine the raisins and apricots in a mixing bowl with reserved lemon zest. Add 3 tablespoons of the Sherry. (Reserve remaining Sherry for the sauce.) Macerate the fruits 30 minutes.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a small skillet and sauté half of the shallots on a low heat until softened, 5 minutes. Add the diced bacon to the skillet and sauté 1 minute.

Add the shallots and bacon to the raisins and apricots. Add the bread crumbs, walnuts, parsley, ½ teaspoon of salt, pepper, and thyme. Combine well.

Bondage--truss the chickens.
Fill the cavities of the chickens with the stuffing mixture. Skewer the openings closed. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine.

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet. Slowly brown the birds on all sides, 8 to 10 minutes. (Brown them in 2 batches if necessary.) Remove when browned and place in a shallow roasting pan just large enough to hold them.

Preheat oven to 375ºF.

Ready for roasting.

Pour the white wine and ½ cup water over the birds and place them in the oven, uncovered, until they reach an internal temperature of 160º, 30 to 40 minutes.

While chickens are roasting, add remaining shallots to oil remaining in the large skillet and sauté 3 minutes. Add the broth and remaining Sherry. Bring to a boil, then simmer 10 minutes.

When chickens are roasted, remove them to a platter. Remove the skewers and twine. Tent the birds with foil and keep warm. If chickens are to be served in halves, place them on a cutting board and cut them through the breastbone and back.

Add ¼ cup of water to the roasting pan and scrape up any drippings. Add to the skillet with broth and Sherry. Bring to a boil. Carefully pour through a strainer into a saucepan. Add the cream. Cook gently 5 minutes.

Serve the squab accompanied by the sauce.

A stuffing of dried fruits and nuts, a sauce with mellow Sherry. Lovely for a dinner party.

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