To add to your tortured food collection, one of my favorites, I have made it several times for upscale picnics and loved it each time.
If you don’t want to go through the trouble of the tricky part of boning the chicken you can use boneless chicken breasts and thighs and cook it in a meatloaf pan as you would a meatloaf.
(Poulet de Charente à la Melonaise)
Julia Child & Company 1978, Knopf
“Boned and stuffed chicken formed, in its own skin, into a pate the shape of a melon. You can perform this operation on a small frying chicken, but it is far more impressive, and serves far more people, when you find yourself a large roaster of capon. In fact, there is no reason why you could not use the same system on a turkey – but heaven knows how long a 20 pound (10 kilo) bird would take in the oven. Not me!
(My fanciful French title, Poulet de Charente à la Melonaise, was suggested by the small sweet spring melons from the Charente district of France, plus a corruption of à la Milanaise, a classical appellation from the old school designating a cheesy Italianesque concoction from the region of Mila. Of course, this chicken contains neither melon nor cheese, but it might describe to a knowing gastronome some conception of the dish. We have to have a little fun with this sort of thing, I think!)”
For 14 – 16 servings
A 6- to 7-pound (2 ¾- to 3 1/4- kg) roasting chicken or capon
For the stuffing:
(to make about 5 cups (1 ¼ liters)
4 cuts (1 L) ground chicken meat – salvaged from the boned chicken, plus 1 or more skinless and boneless chicken-breast halves if needed
1 whole egg plus 1 egg white
1 ½ tsp salt
9 grinds of the pepper mill
2 Tb minced shallots or scallions
A big speck nutmeg
½ tsp fragrant dried tarragon
2 to 3 Tb Cognac
1 cup (1/4 L) chilled heavy cream
Garniture for the stuffing:
1 chicken breast, cut into ¼ -inch (3/4 –cm) dice
2/3 cup (1 ½ dL) boiled ham, diced as above
5 Tb shelled pistachio nuts (I have omitted these due to my intolerance and friend’s allergies)
Salt and pepper
1 Tb finely minced shallots or scallions
1 Tb Cognac
Pinch fragrant dried tarragon
Salt and pepper
Drops of Cognac
Several Tb melted butter
A very sharp boning knife; a large ball of plain white string (butcher’s corned-beef twine); a trussing needle – a mattress of sail-makers needle; a square of washed cheesecloth about 20 inches (50 cm) to a side
BONING THE CHICKEN
Your object here is to remove the carcass from the chicken leaving the skin intact except at the openings at the back vent and the neck and along the backbone. The meat of the chicken will go into your stuffing, and the skin will be the container for the pâte mixture.
Proceed as follows:
First, for easy removal of meat from the skin after boning, slip your fingers between meat and skin at the neck opening, and loosen skin all around breast, thighs, and as far down the drumsticks as you can – being careful not to tear the skin.
Then, turn the chicken on its side and make a slit down the backbone from neck end to tail end. One side at a time, scrape down backbone, severing ball joints of wings at shoulder and of thigh at small of back and continuing down rib cage and side of breastbone until you come near its edge, at top of breast. Stop! Skin is very thin over ridge of breastbone and easily pierced. Do the same on the other side. Finally lift carcass and scrape close under ridge of breastbone (not against skin) to free the carcass.
To remove the wing and leg bones easily, chop off wings above elbows and chop ball joints off ends of drumsticks. Then remove wing, thigh, and drumstick bones from inside the chicken. Carefully cut and pull as much of the meat as you can from the chicken skin without piercing it.
Sprinkle inside of chicken skin with a little salt and drops of Cognac. Reserves bones and carcass for chicken stock. Dice once breast-meat half and reserve for stuffing garniture, using second breast-half and rest of meat to grind up for stuffing.
(If you do not have a food processor, grind up the meat, then beat in the rest of the ingredients.) Cut the meat into 1-inch (2 ½ -cm) pieces and purée in the processor in 2 or 3 batches. Then return all to food processor, add the rest of the ingredients listed for the stuffing, and purée for a minute or so until finely ground.
Sauté a spoonful in a small frying pan, taste, and add more seasoning (if you think it necessary). Toss the garniture chicken, ham, pistachios, and seasonings in a bowl and let sit until you are ready to stuff the chicken, then fold into the stuffing.
STUFFING THE CHICKEN
Thread your trussing needle with a good 16 inches (40 cm) of string, and you are now ready to make a pouch, with drawstring, of the chicken skin. To do so, sew a loose basting stitch around the circumference of the chicken skin and draw up the two ends of the string slightly to make an open pouch.
Fill the pouch with the stuffing (not too full), pull the string taut, and tie. Dip the cheesecloth square into melted butter, spread out on your work surface, and place the chicken, tie side up, in the middle. Tie the 2 opposite corners of cheesecloth together over the chicken, then the other 2 ends, to enclose the chicken in a ball shape. Cut off extra cheesecloth. Then, always from the central tie, wind successive rounds of string around the ball to make the melon pattern. (Hold one end of string taut as a guideline and twist free end about it to secure each loop as you wind it around the chicken.) Chicken is now ready to roast.
It may be prepared a day in advance and refrigerated; may be frozen but thaw before roasting.
ROASTING AND SERVING
(So that chicken will brown nicely on the top as well as the bottom, but so that it will not lose its juices, start it tie side down and turn after 25 to 30 minutes, before any juices have managed to escape from that side.)
Preheat oven to 350 F / 180 C. Set chicken tie side down on a lightly buttered pie dish and roast in middle level of oven for 25 to 30 minutes to brown top nicely, then turn tie side up for the rest of the roasting. Baste occasionally with accumulated fat in dish.
Chicken is done at a thermometer reading of 170 F / 77 C. (Total cooking time is 1 ½ to 2 hours.) Remove and let rest 20 minutes, then carefully ease off the cheesecloth and string without tearing the chicken skin.
Serve hot with pan juices and béarnaise sauce. Or let cool to room temperature, cover and chill; serve as you would a paté, as part of a cold lunch or as the first course for a dinner.
To carve, cut into wedges, starting from the center, as though cutting a thick pie.