For a while now, we have been trying a new thing at home with our kids. Each night at the dinner table, we each take a turn in telling the rest of the family, something we tried that day that was ‘new’ to us. This new little family tradition is one that came about by accident… but I absolutely love it. It exists because now that the fruit of my loins are getting older and becoming that little bit more self-sufficient on the daily, they are also beginning to pick and choose what they eat … which also means I see less veggies than I would probably like crossing our table.
However, daring my kids to try some new vegetables (or at least something not slathered in tomato sauce) each night is actually amongst the last of my motives for implementing this new family practice. With a case of wanderlust well and truly beginning to set in (we just got back from a short, yet beautiful, visit to Indonesia and now head off to the US in less than 36 hours), the realisation that I left things a little too late in life to start to really be adventurous has started to take a toll.
But as they say, there is no time like the present, and (travel aside), also possibly no better place to start than the kitchen.
So this minimal version of an existential crisis has ultimately led to the development of this dish. It all came about under the pretense of ‘trying something new’, around about the same time we were due for a traditional weekend roast. It offers a Spring-time twist to the classic roast chicken, with the delicious and earthy addition of mushrooms and truffle, with a sweet burst of roasted Packham’s Triumph pear (in season and in abundance) and a mellow, creamy finish of buttered rice.
This recipe is all about the spring chicken (aka poussin or spatchcock), which is essentially a young, mini chicken; prepared in a way more similar to that of quail – and one whole bird will usually serve one whole hungry person. The all-white meat is tender, juicy and sweet – just like chicken but more delicate and a little leaner. You guys, believe me when I say that if you haven’t tried poussin (pronounced ‘poo-sahn’) yet, you need to get on this!
This elegant poussin dish with its rich and earthy flavours heralds the cessation of Winter and is a nod and farewell to my favourite season (before I start getting into the more vegetable-laden dishes to awaken the tastebuds after winter’s heavier meals). The best part is, it’s really easy.
There’s an almost infinite list of compatible ingredients to match the charm of this bird, but this recipe embraces the wine-friendly flavours of herbs, fruit, gaminess and the alluring funkiness of truffle and mushroom (all so incredibly good with a glass of Pinot Noir).
Some of you may be asking why even mess with the traditional roast chicken? Well, everybody needs a change once in a while, and if you can get just that little bit more flavor out of your bird(s), why not turn tradition on its head? In the hopes that I can encourage you to try this (or any) more flavourful variation of a mostly traditionally cooked bird, here are a couple of little things I did in this simple cook.
Firstly, I brined the chickens before stuffing and roasting them. This is an optional step, but I like to do this with any poultry I cook as it makes the meat exceptionally tender and flavoursome. A simple, seasoned saltwater solution is all you need for this, but I have found that a bottle of store-bought Italian salad dressing does the job particularly well also.
For this dish, I stuffed the birds with a stuffing made on pork sausage (rather than bread). Again, this is personal preference but I have always found stuffing made on bread to be a little off-putting. I find that the fat content in the crumbled sausage works really well to keep the chicken meat juicy and flavourful – a new discovery I think I will now use again and again. The addition of truffle to the stuffing is also optional, but it is pricy so feel free to omit it if you feel it’s just too much (the mushrooms will still work to impart that beautiful earthy flavor and fragrance). I used diced truffle from a jar I picked up at my local specialty grocer. This did the job beautifully and lifted the dish to the giddy heights of umami heaven. If you can get your hands on the fresh stuff, I can only imagine it would be next level.
Finally, you don’t have to serve the spatchcocks whole – quartering them may make them a little easier for your guests or family to handle… but hey, serving them whole adds a whole lot more drama to the table, which I am always down for.
Top it all off with being perfectly cooked (all in under an hour) and paired with a simple yet creative side of buttered rice (with almonds for crunch!), I hope you can agree that it may just be time for a new tradition when it comes to your roast bird!
Pancetta Petit Poussin with Roasted Pear and Buttered Rice
This elegant poussin dish with its rich and earthy flavours heralds the cessation of Winter and is a nod and farewell to my favourite season. The best part is, it’s really easy!
- For the stuffing:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ small brown onion, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 4 pork sausages, casings removed
- 2 teaspoons black truffle, diced (see note)
- 8 Swiss brown mushrooms, diced
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 4 x whole poussin/spatchcock (approx. 350g – 500g)
- 4 slices pancetta
- 20g butter
- 4 Packham’s Triumph pears, peeled and halved
- 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
- Salt and pepper
- For the buttered rice:
- 2 tablespoons butter, plus 2 tablespoons for finishing
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 ½ cups uncooked white rice
- 2 ½ cups chicken stock
- ¼ cup chopped almonds
- Fresh thyme sprigs, for garnish
- Salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 200C.
For the stuffing, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a frypan or skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and fry until onion is translucent.
Add sausage meat and lightly brown while breaking up the pieces with a wooden spoon.Add the truffle, mushrooms and thyme and continue to brown until fragrant and cooked through. Set aside to cool slightly.
While the stuffing is cooling, remove the poussin from brine (if using) and rinse well under running water. Remove any fat/giblets from inside the cavities and rinse well. Pat dry with clean paper towel.
Stuff the poussin with the prepared sausage mixture, and wrap a slice of pancetta around the breast of each bird, tucking a sprig of rosemary underneath. Tie the legs together with kitchen twine and place in a heavy-based roasting pan.
Heat oil and butter in a frying pan over medium heat and cook the pears cut-side down until golden – approximately 5 minutes. Nestle the pears in the roasting pan amongst the poussin.
Drizzle the poussin and the pears with olive oil and season well with salt and pepper.
Roast for 45 – 50 minutes and baste occasionally with juices, until the pancetta is golden brown and starting to crisp.
Remove from oven when the juices of the poussin run clear when the thickest part of the thigh is pierced with a skewer. Tent with foil and allow to rest for 15 minutes. While the poussin are resting, prepare the buttered rice.
For the buttered rice, in a large saucepan, melt the butter over high heat. Add garlic and stir for 1 minute until starting to turn golden.
Add rice and stir until grains are coated with oil (about 10 seconds).
Add the chicken stock, stir and cover. Drop the heat to medium-low, bringing the liquid to a gentle simmer. Cook for 12-15 minutes, folding gently once or twice to prevent sticking.
Remove rice from heat and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes.
Gently fluff rice with a fork and stir through remaining butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Transfer rice, poussin and pears to a platter. Drizzle the poussin with pan juices and top the rice with the almonds. Garnish with remaining thyme sprigs and serve immediately.
The addition of truffle is completely optional, but a really great suggestion if you can spare the expense!