Chicken in Beer & Malt
With mushroom tuiles, an exploding celeriac, and medieval cookbooks.
Welcome to another issue of Le Cordon Bong, a newsletter about recreating Michelin star meals at home. You can get in touch with me via the comments or by email. All of the previous content is up on the website (which I personally find to be a more enjoyable reading experience than the email format).
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Week 9, vol. 1
Setting the Table
Welcome to the penultimate week of our little journey with the Hand & Flowers cookbook.
A huge thank you to everyone who messaged this past weekend to say they were cooking recipes from the blog (the Treacle-Cured Chateaubriand was quite popular) - keep them coming! Also, please feel free to spam my inbox with pictures of your cooking, I absolutely love to see them.
The usual recipe adaptation will be delayed to later next week, as I’m currently a little preoccupied with wrangling a whole pig’s head into submission.
If you’ve been here before, skip ahead! For the benefit of first-time readers, write-ups are structured thusly: (1) Amuse-Bouche - the history and provenance of the dish; (2) Starters - an intro to the fancy Michelin version of the dish I’ll be cooking; (3) Main Courses - the actual cooking process; (4) Desserts - thoughts and conclusions on what worked, what didn’t, and most importantly, what tasted good; (5) Petit Fours - footnotes and references.
This week’s recipe is a marriage between roast chicken and beer, so I guess I’ll talk a little bit about both.
Roast chicken is really just combining fire and chickens, so unsurprisingly, it’s a very ancient1 dish. Some of the earliest depictions we have come from various medieval texts, which also include recipes.
If you’re interested (and read Latin2), you can check out the 13th century Italian cookbook, Tractatus de modo preparandi et condiendi omnia cibaria, which translates to Treatise on the preparation and composition of all kinds of food, and contains the brilliantly titled chapters of: (1) Wine Compositions, (2) Fowl and Meat, (3) Fish, (4) Delicate Dishes for Noblemen, and (5) Diverse Foods.
A few more titbits from Tractatus de modo etc.:
There’s a whole section on what foods nobles and peasants should eat (partridge, pheasant, and rabbit for the rich / salted pork, beans and bread for the poor). According to the author, rich and noble people are the most important (‘cum nobiles et divites semper sint honorandi’), so consequently, the cookbook will mainly provide recipes for this group of people.
Its companion text, Liber de Coquina, contains the first ever recipe for mac ‘n’ cheese (‘de lasanis’).
Moving back to the present day, the other dish I thought of when reading this recipe was beer can chicken - a tasty, if somewhat inelegant method of grilling a chicken upright by shoving an open can of beer up its cavity. The French have a far more refined version of this (because of course they do) in the form of Coq à la Bière - a lesser-known variation of the famous traditional French dish, Coq au Vin.
According to Kerridge, this recipe is based on his first childhood memory of eating at a restaurant, which was a half chicken with chips and peas at a Berni Inn3.
Now, either the food at Berni Inn used to be much fancier 40 years ago, or Tom doesn’t have a very good memory, because I have absolutely no idea how his childhood meal can possibly bear any resemblance to what I cooked. There aren’t even any chips in this dish! (Unless you count the oak chips that are used to infuse the sauce.)
Aside from the chicken cooked in beer, this dish comes with: (*deep breath*) (1) Celeriac royale topped with celery jam, (2) Oak sauce, (3) Salt-baked celeriac, (4) Crispy chicken skin, (5) Vanilla mayonnaise, (6) Deep fried thyme sprigs, (7) Confit garlic, and last but certainly not least, (8) An Isomalt and powdered mushroom tuile wafer topped with toasted breadcrumbs, puffed pork skin, and thyme. If you have no idea what that last thing is, don’t worry, neither do I.
So yeah, just a regular item from the kid’s menu at the pub.
I started off by doing some light chicken surgery - French trimming the knuckles and wings, then removing the breastbone and backbone to halve the bird.
This was followed by a quick yoga session to contort the chicken into a weird backbend where the thigh twists around the back of the chicken so that the leg bone meets the end of the drumette. So kind of like an urdhva dhanurasana, aka wheel pose.
I then dry brined for 4 hours in the fridge (the recipe calls for a 10% wet brine that seemed too aggressive), before cooking sous vide in an ale reduction and a tiny muslin bag of hop pellets (ordered from a home brewing store). A minor issue with sous vide here is that the ideal temperature for light meat is 60°C, while dark meat needs to go to 66°C, which meant cooking the chicken breast at a slightly higher temperature than I usually do. I finished off the chicken skin with a blowtorch, which is always fun.
Celeriac Two Ways
It’s a very fine dining trope to prepare the same ingredient in multiple ways - it highlights different aspects of the ingredient and showcases the chef’s ability. The problem is, I don’t like celeriac (there are so many better-tasting root vegetables), so having it twice isn’t exactly going to improve my meal experience.
First up was the salt-baked celeriac, which involved making a salt crust dough, wrapping it around a whole celeriac, baking for 2 hours, cracking it open, slicing the celeriac into wedges, and pan-frying in a yeasted butter. Nothing too crazy, until it came to cracking open the crust, because the whole thing *LITERALLY EXPLODED* in my face and nearly took my eye out. I knew I disliked celeriac for a reason. On the plus side, some of the celeriac was disintegrated in the explosion, which meant less of it had to be eaten.
The second preparation was a celeriac royale, which is just a fancy word for a custard. It’s a technique that pops up several times in the book, and involves mixing egg yolks into a celeriac purée, and heating it precisely to 80°C so the eggs set. It’s a cool technique but difficult to get overly enthused about given it’s still celeriac, aka the vegetable that just tried to murder me.
This was by far the most enjoyable part of the cook, as I got to use a couple of fancy specialty ingredients - Isomalt (a sugar substitute), and Sosa Air Bag Porc Granet (a magical pork popcorn we’ve seen previously).
Isomalt is a sugar substitute that doesn’t caramelise, and is extremely stable. If you’ve watched the Great British Bake Off, it’s used to make things like stained glass windows in gingerbread houses.
The Isomalt gets melted down and mixed with dried mushroom that have been ground to a powder. The mixture gets spread thinly on a silicone mat with a palette knife, forming thin wafers as it cools down again. Really cool stuff
I painted the tuiles with a layer of glue made from ale reduced with barley malt, and decorated with the magical pork popcorn, toasted sourdough breadcrumbs, and fresh thyme leaves. Basically a little edible arts & craft project.
Many Other Things
Everything else was broadly fine - here’s a quick rundown:
In classic haute cuisine form, the recipe called for the confit garlic to be blanched from a cold start and shocked in ice water five times, so that was totally fun and not Sisyphean at all. I mean, who doesn’t love spending half an hour endlessly boiling garlic cloves?
The sauce was a standard chicken stock enriched with chicken wings that’s reduced and infused with roasted oak chips. It’s a little worrying that since I started this cookbook, I’ve now mentally internalised the idea that spending 90 minutes making a sauce is a completely normal and acceptable thing to do (it absolutely is not).
The celery jam was a bit of a fail - I ended up making candied celery, which still tasted good, but it was not jam. I usually try not to blame the cookbook but I’m pretty sure the ingredient measurements were off.
The crispy chicken skin instructions were also a bit of a fail, but luckily, I’ve actually made these before, and the trick is to sandwich the skin between two parchment-lined baking sheets, preventing curling in the oven.
Thankfully, there was one easy component, the vanilla mayonnaise - I simply adapted the 2 minute immersion blender method that I’ve shared before.
Firstly, I am never making that entire dish ever again, which took about six and a half hours of almost non-stop cooking. Total madness. The last 20 minutes of cooking are still a blur in my head, where everything just came together on the plate somehow.
But wow, what an utterly gorgeous dish - the boule shape of the half chicken, the detail of the mushroom tuile, and the verticality of the crispy chicken skin shard, mayo, and fried thyme sprig. It’s all so pretty.
My tasting notes:
WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER. The flavours pushed this to the next level - the beer, malt extract, and hops in the cooking liquid are so unusual, but they work. There’s so much complexity coming from all those ingredients - sweet, bitter, savoury, floral, herbal - you simply don’t expect that depth of flavour in a roast chicken.
The texture of the chicken was obviously going to be fantastic. After all, it’s sous vide, the undisputed king of chicken cooking methods that results in a smooth, buttery texture every single time. My fears about overcooking the chicken breast were unfounded, as the salt brine kept everything juicy and tender.
Surprisingly, the tuiles were my second favourite component. When I taste tested the tuiles on their own, they were a weird and not particularly pleasant combination of sweet (from the Isomalt) and bitter (from the dried mushrooms). But with the malt glaze, breadcrumbs, olive oil, pork puffs, and thyme, every bite was a symphony of flavour. I’d happily eat a whole plate of these.
The whole meal was delightful, and I’ll even admit the celeriac wasn’t completely terrible, although the royale was so rich that I actually couldn’t finish it.
Did it justify over six hours of cooking? Probably not.
But it was still delicious.
I wasn’t really planning to write an adaptation this week because of how complicated this recipe was. However, the flavours on that chicken were so sensational, and that gave me a few ideas - I’m thinking something like a sous vide chicken breast cooked in an IPA reduction to replicate the hops. I need to do some experimenting, so the recipe won’t be out until later next week. Until then, happy cooking!
P.S. Just in case you harbour any doubts over how I feel about this chicken, this clip should sum it up.
Petit Fours (aka the footnotes)
Roast chicken is ancient, but apparently not as ancient as cockfighting, which is widely believed by archaeologists to be the original reason why chickens were initially domesticated up to 10,000 years ago).
I don’t read Latin, so some of this content comes from the fantastic Coquinaria, which is all about historical cooking.
For UK readers, Berni Inn is the precursor to what is now the Beefeater chain of pub-restaurants often found attached to a Premier Inn. For non-UK readers, a Beefeater restaurant is where you eat a greasy breakfast to alleviate your hangover after attending an out-of-town wedding in the middle of nowhere.