Chicken. Now in the South the chicken is ubiquitous. It is known by many different terms, among them cackle and yard bird. Most of the online dictionaries must be done by Yankees or other less educated folks. The online dictionaries define yard bird as:
a. An untrained military recruit.
b. A soldier confined to a restricted area or assigned menial tasks as a punishment.
2. A convict; a prisoner.
Now we must be sure that we understand that real Southern is a language straight out of 18th century English. There are many linguistic relics to be found. Yankee is a polyglot predominantly derived from English, Italian and Polish, with other bits of this and that thrown in.
Anyway, yard bird is a perfectly good description of a chicken. Anyone who has ever been on a rural Southern farm has seen chickens out scratching in the yard. If it was a bit of an upper crust farm, you would see Guineas instead of plain old cackles. Guineas were a better alarm than any dog that ever lived.
Now, people are funny about meat. Some don’t eat it a’tall, they get queasy about the whole thing. Some are total carnivores and will eat any meat not nailed down. Then there are those who really like red meat, but are a little iffy about chicken (that’s me). A good friend’s mother was the opposite. She would eat a chicken just about any way that you can think of to cook it. She was a little iffy about red meat. She and I never really understood each other’s culinary preferences.
If you are a yard bird lover, you probably know more about cooking them than I ever will. I only recently learned to like the critters, mostly because Herself loves them and I needed to find ways that I could stand. The preceding discussion does not apply to quail. That’s wonderful stuff. More on quail at a later date. Back to yard bird.
My problem with most fowl is that if you get if done enough so it’s not red at the bone, the meat is too dry. (I hate dry meat). If you get the outer meat good, then the innards are raw. You don’t want raw bird. So, flatten it, it will cook more uniformly. There are several recipes which use flat bird. So let’s flatten the thing. You might get your butcher to roll skinless, boneless breasts flat. If so, good, that’s the easiest way. The other way is to sandwich the breast between a couple of pieces of plastic wrap with a sprinkle of water between the meat and the plastic wrap. Now gently pound it flat with a smooth faced meat mallet. You want to get between 1/8” and ¼” uniform thickness. If you go too fast or too hard you will probably tear the meat – not good. The other way we get flat yard bird in the South is off the nearest highway. I don’t particularly recommend this method.
Oh yeah – you know the drill – if it touches chicken it has got to be washed. That means your hands too. A lot.
Chicken Kiev –
This is a French dish, not Russian or Ukrainian as the name implies. Take a stick of room temp butter and add 1 teaspoon each parsley, tarragon, and kosher salt. Add several grinds of fresh black pepper. Mix it up thoroughly and put on waxed paper or plastic wrap and roll up into a tight log shape. Pop into the freezer until it gets solid. This should be enough for 4 breasts. Put each flattened breast on plastic wrap, add salt and pepper and a spread a generous pinch of the bread crumbs of your choice, and put about ¼ of the log on it and roll it up tight. Plop it into the refrigerator for a couple of hours so it will hold the shape. Beat up an egg with a teaspoon of cold water. Roll each breast pack around in the egg mixture and then dredge through a plate of breadcrumbs. You might want to try Japanese Panko for a very nice different taste. You’ll want to use your electric skillet with enough oil, peanut is good, to come halfway up on the breast. Hold the heat steady at 375°. Ease the breasts in seam side down. Make sure not to put so much in the temperature drops. Cook about 5 minutes (or a little less) per side. They should be nicely golden brown. Put them on a rack to drain and set after cooking. About a 10 minute rest is good. Now, you want to make absolutely sure that your seam does not leak out the butter goodness, so be very careful when you wrap them. Make sure you get lots of egg mixture and bread crumbs along the seam. If necessary, use pieces of wooden toothpick to keep it together. If it’s a total mess, you can tie it up with kitchen twine. You should have a nice packet that will have a molten core of butter mix and will squirt the first time you cut it, so be careful. I find this really good with some rice. Try true Oriental rice instead of the instant junk. If you make a bit extra of the herb butter, plop it on the rice. It is a great mix with the cackle and herb butter.
Another nice flat yard bird is kind of Japanese in flavor:
After flattening the breasts to about ¼” cut them into 1” strips the long way. Take some scallions and wrap a strip spirally around 2 or 3 for each bundle as snug and secure as possible. Tie them off with kitchen twine or stab a couple of toothpicks in to hold them. Make a marinade from ½ cup sake, ½ cup mirin, 1/8 cup soy sauce. Smash and mince 3 cloves garlic and equal amount fresh ginger root. Add sugar or honey to taste, mix it up and then soak the chicken/onion bundles in the refrigerator for a few hours. Don’t let it go more than 8 hours.
Mix up a dipping sauce while things soak. ½ cup soy, ½ cup mirin, splash of water, sugar or honey to taste. Add a little sake if you want the taste. Whisk gently while simmering until it thickens.
Heat up a little oil in a good skillet to about medium. I like good olive oil. If you want a bit more Japanese flavor, use some neutral oil like peanut or saffron with some sesame oil for flavoring. Sauté the bundles gently, getting them nice and brown. You could also grill over medium heat for a hibachi-like experience. If they need a little more cooking after they are good and crusty, you can pop them into a hot oven for a few minutes. Let them rest a few minutes and then serve with the dipping sauce.