Milking a Chicken
Since this issue is devoted to the area’s dairy industry I thought I’d take a look back to a favorite place to take kids (or adults like me), who never really visited a farm. It was the glass-enclosed milking parlor at Dann’s Dairy in Painted Post, and the dates of my visits had to be pre-flood 1960s and 1970s. I could watch those girls giving their all for hours. Well...maybe half-hours.
After giving the subject of dairy some thought, I became aware of just how important milk and cream and yogurt and, of course, cheese are to cooking. A splash of heavy cream can make a dreary soup taste like ambrosia, especially when it’s made the trip from refrigerator to microwave too many times. Soup for one is not the best idea in the culinary world. But milk as a more or less major ingredient? And then it hit me.
I thought back to a week several years ago that I spent in San Francisco assisting the late, great Italian cook Marcella Hazan. She was giving cooking classes at a friend’s school out there and I happily took vacation time to learn, learn, learn. My job was to slice and dice and, on command, hand her something stronger than wine every now and then (she was allergic to the tannins in vino.) Do the initials J.D. bring something to mind? (And to think her husband, Victor, wrote the best book on Italian wine.)
I look back at how fortunate I was, and at one recipe in particular, that she prepared for one of the classes. There was a bit of murmuring on the part of the students when she announced her menu.
The centerpiece of the class was to be Pork Braised in Milk Bolognese Style. Yup, milk. And I have thought about that evening with pleasure ever since. The dish was delicious, and so, when I’ve felt in a certain coo-coo mood, I’d yell “thank you” to the cows I happen to pass every time I visit my friends who live near a dairy farm in the environs of Chester County, Pennsylvania.
Pork? Chicken? Your Choice!
Marcella uses a pork rib roast in her recipe, using both the meat and the bones that you have the butcher remove. That’s for better flavor, and it was delicious. I have made the recipe one or two times since. For some reason I never checked out this technique with my other favorite Italian cook, the Englishwoman Elizabeth David, who wrote this in her 1953 book Italian Food (highly recommended for the Italian food lover, and worth searching out in second-hand bookstores or on the Web): “In central and northern Italy there is a highly commendable way of stewing meat or poultry in milk. These dishes are well worth a trial. The milk finally emerges as a creamy sauce. The stages of its transformation are fascinating to watch.”
I shouldn’t have been surprised that the English chef, Jamie Oliver, came up with a recipe called Chicken in Milk. The technique for “milking” the bird is somewhat different than the one for the piggy. In both cases, though, you want the meat to be nicely browned before the milk goes in and the simmering begins.
Marcella’s recipe is simplicity itself: butter and vegetable oil, the pork rib roast, salt and black pepper, and then the 2-1⁄2 cups (or more) of whole milk. Heat oil and butter, brown the roast, add milk, and let simmer away. Jamie’s version adds some flavor boosters. And I have to add that they really perk up the dish.
Jamie Oliver’s Chicken in Milk
- 1 whole chicken (3-4 pounds)
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1⁄4 c. unsalted butter at room temperature
- 1⁄4 c. extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small cinnamon stick
- 10 cloves garlic, skins left on
- 2-1⁄2 c. whole milk
- 15-20 fresh sage leaves*
- 2 lemons
Heat the oven to 325-degrees F. Season the chicken aggressively with the salt and pepper. Place a pot that will fit the chicken snugly over medium-high heat on the stove and add to it the butter and oil. When the butter is melted, and starting to foam, add the chicken to the pot and, using tongs, brown the bird, turning every few minutes, until it has browned all over.
Turn the heat down to low, remove the chicken from the pot, then drain off all but a few tablespoons of the fat from the pot.
Add the cinnamon stick and garlic to the pot, and allow them to sizzle in the oil for a minute or two, then return the chicken to the pot along with the milk and sage leaves. Use a vegetable peeler to cut wide strips of skin off the two lemons. Add the peels to the pot.
Slide the pot into the preheated oven, and bake for approximately 1-1⁄2 hours, basting the chicken occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through and tender and the sauce has reduced into a thick, curdled sauce. If the sauce is reducing too quickly, put a cover halfway onto the pot.
To serve (and I’m quoting Jamie), “use a spoon to divide the chicken onto plates. Spoon sauce over each serving. Goes well with sautéed greens, pasta, rice, potatoes, bread.”
I like to bake smallish red potatoes in a separate pan along with the chicken. Just give the spuds a good squirt of oil and bits of butter then toss everything together. Use a thin-bladed knife to check when they’re done. Keep them warm under a foil cover until the chicken is done. When ready to serve, smash the potatoes on a heatproof platter with a heavy fork, and then spoon the chicken and sauce over the top. Chopped parsley finishes it off and I can promise you, your family and guests will finish off the dish!
*One of the many reasons I love this recipe is that I am celebrating the second birthday of a bay leaf bush that has remained hale and hearty for two full years. Well, haler-r and hearty-r than the owner!
To get Marcella’s complete recipe for her pork dish turn to page 417 of her marvelous book Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. It’s just plain essential for every good cook’s bookshelf, and Hazan’s recipes are truly definitive.