Sunday, November 8, 2009

Challenge resolved

Darling Husband rose valiantly to the challenge I presented him. Namely, to create a meal using pepperjack cheese, a whole chicken, pomegranate, turnips and sweetened condensed milk.

I'm going to pause here to expound upon the ingredients. Whole chicken is daunting. Your first decision is whether to butcher it or roast it as-is, whereupon you'll have to butcher it to eat it (a slightly coarser but none less true way of saying "carve"). We are used to our chicken being butchered for us--or, at least, we are in this house. Mostly we buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts or breast tenders. This being the point of reference, facing an entire bird is a little like working from a 3-D model when you're used to a map.

Pomegranates, too, are a bit of a conundrum. There are multiple methods for extracting the seeds, which sit like tiny bombs packed tightly and vacuum sealed inside oddly styrofoam like sections. I generally slice off the top, crack it in half, then use my fingers to peel apart the membranes and gently massage out the jewel-like seeds. Other methods involve floating in water while you do it (the membrane hunks float, the seeds sink) or whacking the fruit with the back of a wooden spoon on the outside. Whichever method you use, you will still stain your hands with the juice. Hopefully you won't stain your shirt and counter, too. When you are finished, you are left with stunning little gems, resembling corn kernels but ruby red, that are tart and intensely flavorful. Each seed contains a relatively large pip. One generally eats them whole, but I find the pips get stuck in my teeth and crunch oddly. In other words, they carry baggage.

Turnips don't get a lot of love. Like rutabagas, brussel sprouts and parsnips, they are not fashionable and people aren't really sure what to do with them. Our grandmothers did, though, and we need to learn again. Turnips can be bitey and unapproachable in the way radishes are, but they can also be mellowed nicely. Darling Husband found a perfect way and turnips are destined to be a regular visitor to my kitchen. I also like the look of turnips. They remind me of buoys or those spacer things that hold up the ropes that set off lap lanes in pools. Did you know that turnip skin is actually white, but turns purpley where the sun hits it? In this way you can tell how much of your turnip was out of the ground when it was picked.

Sweetened condensed milk is tinned milk which has had much of the water removed and sugar added. As far as I know, it's used to make pie filings and other desserts. Certain parts of the world use it to sweeten coffee, and that sounds like a much better use to me.

Pepperjack cheese isn't all that odd or unusual or even unapproachable. It's just an oddity to mix with other stuff. Personally, I like it best cut into cubes and microwaved until just soft and stringy-oozy-goey, but not so far that it loses shape.

What did Darling Husband make with these ingredients? Well, the turnips he poached in mostly regular milk with a few tablespoons of the sweetened condensed milk, a bay leaf and a bit of allspice. I tried one cooked like this--heavenly, creamy, tasty, wonderful. From this he made a mash and added the cheese.

He cut the back bone out of the chicken and flattened it, then stuffed butter and rosemary under the skin. He seared the chicken skin side down, then finished roasting it in the oven. When it was done, he made a pan sauce out of more of the sweetened milk, some white wine and a bit of cornstarch to thicken.

Lastly, he created lardons out of pepper bacon, then wilted arugula into it and tossed with the pomegranate seeds. It was a beautiful side dish, all gem tones and poppy flavors.

The chicken turned out wonderfully moist and heavily perfumed from the rosemary. It was a bit daunting to serve; I ended up sectioning off the leg/thigh and then carving the breast off the ribcage. The sauce was rather thick, as it had cooled a bit, and also rather sweet. It had taken on a nutty component from somewhere and I kept looking for the nuts in it without realizing quite why.

I loved the greens, although the pip-conundrum was still there. Fortunately everything tasted like yummy bacon. :o) I delicately and discretely (I hope) removed a few of the pips from my mouth, but then gave up and just tried not to bite down too hard. Flavor wise, though, it was marvy and fab.

The turnips? Well, if he had stopped before the cheese I would be praising him to high heaven. As it was, though, I kept wishing the cheese wasn't there. It didn't exactly clash, and the textures weren't too dissimilar... I'm not sure exactly what it was, frankly.

All told, I think we learned some awesome things in this dish. Turnips are not scary and can be wonderfully prepared. Bacon and greens are fantastic. Chickens can be conquered!

1 comment:

  1. I think the thing about the pepper jack, is that pepper jack gets this kind of... almost acidic quality to it? Because of the pickling, or whatever you want to call it, of the peppers. As a bit of cheese, not bad, but melted down... It's a bit of an off note.