As Valentine’s Day approaches, I am more inclined to think of a special dinner to make instead of which restaurant I’d like to visit. I know. Huge surprise. It isn’t that I don’t enjoy eating out — we love to and have done so for years, choosing different restaurants each time just to see how many we can sample.
But it’s such a luxury to prepare a special meal for only two — something I rarely get to do. The last time I went all out for Valentine’s Day, we still lived in our old house. It was a beautiful California Ranch built in 1948 that only one other family had lived in before we arrived, constructed with gorgeous pegged oak flooring that had aged to a deep caramel color and was soft to the touch. I used to hand wax it, believe it or not! In the living room, there were enormous hand hewn beams that supported the roof and ceiling constructed of tongue and groove hand milled cedar. The bricks that lined the large hearth were from antique foundries and varied in color and shape. When there was a fire crackling in it, the room warmed to a golden color, and I could think of no place I’d rather be.
So I set up a table for two in front of the fireplace and made lobster and fennel napoleons to start, and individual beef wellingtons. We enjoyed our dinner with a very dry bottle of Cabernet and candle light. It was completely lovely.
But that was then. As I said, it isn’t often that I get to take the time to pull something like that off. Usually, I’m feeding more like ten or fifteen which isn’t exactly romantic. It is fun though, and I’d truly enjoy it.
So where am I going with this? Sharing. That’s all. Just passing on a suggestion for a great main course for Valentine’s Day. I’ve tried this recipe twice just this past January– amazing in and of itself — and both times, it has turned out excellently to the ummmmms and whoooooaaaaaas of those lucky enough to sample it.
The recipe is one that comes from a source I’ve mentioned a few times in the last month — Saveur. It’s not a challenging recipe at all, which is what makes it that much more amazing. The first time I made it, a crowd was coming. We were going to celebrate as an extended family after we returned from VA this past Christmas, so I wanted to prepare something delicious, but without all the fanfare of a traditional holiday meal. “Poussins en Cocotte ‘Bonne Femme'” or “Poussins with Bacon and Mushroom Sauce” seemed perfect for the occasion.
Since I absolutely knew I wouldn’t be able to get poussins at any of my regular markets on that day and didn’t feel like searching elsewhere, I decided to use organic roasting chickens that I purchased at Trader Joe’s instead– three four to five pounders. Using the basic directions for roasting chicken (convection roast at 325 degrees F 18-20 min. per pound — internal temp. 180 degrees F in thigh), I kept to the directions for the original recipe as closely as possible — even the searing. And you haven’t seen anything until you’ve tried to sear three fat chickens in a roasting pan over four stove burners. Suffice it to say that a sturdy wooden spoon shoved into each orifice of each bird gets the job done fairly well even if it was still a bit awkward!
The photographs are awful because I had left my Canon in VA and was waiting for my sister to ship it. So much for my old HP digital! The difference in picture quality between the two cameras is amazing.
The chickens turned out deliciously — the meat was extremely tender and moist, and the sauce created in the pan was beyond amazing. Truly excellent. So good I knew I had to make the recipe in its original form — with the required poussins which I found at Whole Foods while cruising the meat counter one afternoon.
Here is the original recipe from the April 2006 issue of Saveur, number 92.
Roasted Chicken with Bacon and Mushroom Sauce
3 T butter
1/2 lb. thick bacon, cut into 1/2 in strips
2 1-lb. poussins
2 shallots, peeled and minced
1/2 c. mushrooms, trimmed and quartered
1 c. dry white wine
1 c. beef stock
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Melt 1 T butter in a pot large enough for all three poussins that will work on the stove top as well as the oven and that has a tight fitting lid. Add bacon pieces and cook until dark brown and crisp, about 8 minutes. Remove bacon with slotted spoon, transfer to small bowl, and set aside.
- Pat poussins dry and place in the pot. Sear poussins, turning them as often as necessary, until they are deep olden brown on all sides, about 15 minutes. Using tongs, carefully transfer poussins to a plate and set aside.
- Reduce heat to medium and melt remaining butter in the pot. ADd shallots and cook until just softened, 2-3 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook until just softened, about 1 minute. Add bacon, wine, stock, and salt and pepper to taste. Return poussins, breast side up, to the pot. Cover pot, transfer to oven, and cook for 30 minutes. Increase oven temperature to 375 degrees F, uncover pot, and continue to cook until sauce has thickened slightly, about 50 minutes.
- Remove pot from the oven. Adjust seasonings in the sauce and serve poussins with the sauce and mushrooms spooned over each.
- I cooked for three because I made this for a dinner that included my son. Outside of deciding to transfer the birds to a porcelain baker and using foil to cover during the roasting, I did not adjust the original recipe except to add one additional poussin. They are such very small birds it seemed it would not be necessary to adjust the recipe.
- What I learned is that they are very lean birds, so there was no where near the amount of sauce in this preparation as with the larger roasting chickens. Understandable, of course, but the flavor was different as well. I’m not sure if it’s because the first time you taste something really incredible, it can never be the same, or, that the recipe was more enjoyable with the roasting chickens. Goodness knows it was certainly less expensive. Three large roasters fed about ten people for $24. Three tiny poussins that were picked clean cost the same $24!
- Regardless, the recipe is excellent, leaves room for some experimentation (garlic, some herbs, less fat, a bit of dijon…you name it!) and is very, very easy to put together to impress.
- To complete our meal, I cut some fingerlings in half, heated some shallots and minced garlic in extra virgin olive oil, and set the fingerlings cut side down in the pan to brown over med-low heat with a lid over the pan until tender on the inside and crispy golden brown on the cut side — about 15-20 minutes. I also steamed some very thin asparagus, stalks cut in half, and seasoned with some fleur de sal and a sprinkle of olive oil.
- Beautiful meal in very little time.