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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Mistakes Were Made

Let's face it, everyone makes a cooking mistake or three once in a while.  What is more important is whether whatever you're making actually survives those mistakes.

My parents arrived in Anchorage late Thursday night, and between wanting to cook something nice for them and continue using the CSA produce before it implodes in my refrigerator, I picked a summery, not-too-ambitious recipe from A16 to make Saturday night:  roasted young chicken with radishes and salsa verde.

Let's start with the first problem:  the book calls for young chickens of about six ounces, whereas the local grocery's "young chicken" is a behemoth five-pounder.  Um, no.  I (smartly, I think) decide to change to Cornish game hens, which the meat department tells me I might find in the frozen food section.  Oh boy.  Sure enough, I uncover four Cornish hens from behind a mountain of frozen chicken wings, take them home, and really read the recipe.  Wherein I find that the poultry should have been seasoned with salt the night before and then rubbed with an aniseseed-oregano combination first thing in the morning.  Oops.  It's 1:30 p.m. and I have frozen, unsalted, unrubbed hens.

I threw the hens in a warm water bath and realize that two of them must have been raised on steroids.  These guys must have been terrors on the farm, and I picture them as the Cornish game hen equivalent of Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver:  "You talkin' to me?  Huh?  You talkin' to me?" By 3, these babies are out of the warm water, patted down with salt--which really does have a purpose, to draw out the moisture for a crisper skin--which sits for a scant hour before they get patted off and rubbed with the spices.  After that, it's into the fridge for an uber-quick sit with the rub. 

So far, so good.  Then I realize that to make the salsa verde, I should have homemade breadcrumbs.  Oops again, but nothing I can't remedy.  After that, I throw some parsley (should have already been chopped--oh well), capers, lemon juice, garlic, tiny dried red Italian peppers and olive oil into a prep food processor along with the bread crumbs and pulverize it all.  Delicious gloppy green goodness.  A couple of tablespoons of this gets tossed with thinly sliced red radishes for the side salad.

After some fine jerry-rigging, David got the steroidal hens onto the rotisserie that attaches to our grill.  I'm not optimistic at this point that any of this is actually going to work, so I start on the side dish that I know I can make work:  the A16 braised kale with anchovy and onion soffritto.

No one is more shocked than I am when the hens came off the rotisserie and looked, well, not totally unlike the photo in the cookbook. 

Ignore the fact that the radish salad appears to be emerging from the hen's behind.
 By the time I put the kale in the soffritto (the key to good kale:  undercook it--it continues to cook after leaving the pot), I realize that I have made way more sauce than necessary, but at this point that sort of mistake seems like an afterthought.  I garnished the kale with a little fromage blanc and called it dinner.

We had a ton of salsa verde left, but it tastes good on grilled bread as well as the chicken and radishes.  Frankly, I totally lucked out with this dinner.  Take that, A16!  I didn't even start to think about cooking this until a mere four hours beforehand and it was fabulous if I may say so myself.

Salsa Verde
Adapted from A16 Food + Wine Cookbook

1 cup parsley (I used curly because it was what I had)
1/2 tsp. capers, rinsed
1/2 tsp. dried red chiles
1/2 cup bread crumbs, plus more if the salsa is too thin
2 small cloves garlic
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Salt to taste

Blend the first five ingredients in a food processor until it is the consistency of a rough chop.  Drizzle in the olive oil until it reaches the desired consistency, and add more crumbs if you prefer a thicker sauce.  Give it a few more seconds in the food processor and then add the lemon juice and salt to taste.  Serve with sliced radishes, grilled bread, poultry or anything that needs a little extra pizazz.

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