Monday, March 13, 2006

burnt bird sauce; or, yet another lavender disaster

Mr. Tart has to go out of town again this week, so I wanted to fix him an especially nice dinner since he'll be eating hotel and conference food for the next few days. As the nearest grocery store had cornish hens on sale, I decided to try out a recipe for lavender and thyme roasted poussins. Those herbs inspired me to plan an entirely French meal, so I also made my favorite salade au chevre chaud, roasted some asparagus,and tried Cooks Illustrated's most recent chocolate mousse recipe.

Here's what I do for the goat cheese salad: top baguette slices with rounds of goat cheese and broil them. Make a vinaigrette with one part flavored vinegar, 1.5 parts olive oil, 1.5 parts canola oil, a finely chopped shallot, and a little dollop of French mustard, plus salt and pepper. Spread out baby greens on a plate (not in a bowl) and be generous with the vinaigrette. Place the still-warm chevre croutons on top of the greens. Eat with knife and fork, cutting the croutons into pieces, swirling them around in the sauce, and spearing some greens for a crunchy, melty, fresh-tasting bite. (I've seen this type of salad done elaborately in France, with all sorts of other veggies thrown in, but I prefer it just with the greens.)

The mousse was delicious--and Mr. Tart approved, doing his Chocolate Mousse Apreciation Dance at the table. I don't know that CI's recipe was significantly better than the one I use normally, though. Theirs has more chocolate, no butter, and brandy instead of vanilla, but it calls for so much whipped cream that it turns out looking vaguely anemic.

The roasted cornish hens, however, caused problems.

Although I gave up being a vegetarian a year after college, I've never gotten to the point where I enjoy handling meat, particularly meat that resembles the animal it came from. Frankly, the little cornish hen carcasses grossed me out, particularly when I had to gently separate the skin from the meat and smear butter underneath it. On the other hand, I enjoyed making the compound butter in my mortar and pestle, crushing fresh thyme (yes, it's surviving this Colorado winter in my garden!), lavender flowers, and lemon zest. It certainly smelled good and really did remind me of Provence.

Not ten minutes after the little sweet-smelling birds went into the oven (at 475 degrees), though, did our smoke detector go off: the lemon juice had slid off the outside of the skins and scorched on the bottom of the baking dish. I swapped it out for a fresh baking dish and continued roasting. After two more bouts of yowling from the smoke detector--and a house full of floral birdy smoke--I turned the oven down to 400. Eventually the melted herb butter and the juices from the meat were thick enough on the bottom of the pan to not burn any more.

Now I had to guess how long to cook it, since I had changed the oven temperature, so I kept stabbing the birds with a meat thermometer until they were safely cooked. The next step required deglazing the pan with Sauternes--we used a Riesling because that's all the white we had--and then reducing this sauce. The sauce, in my opinion, was kinda nasty. I tried doctoring it up--adding a little sugar to counteract the bitterness from the lemon juice and the reduced wine, adding water, adding a slurry of cornstarch to thicken it, adding cream--but but this resulted in an equally nasty sauce (just more of it now, and thicker).

So the meal was not inedible, but it didn't quite transport us to Provence, and certainly wasn't worth spending all afternoon in the kitchen. At least it didn't turn out quite so badly as my previous lavender attempt. We have a pile of dirty pans (not as monumental as Melissa's, granted, but still daunting); but at least there are four chocolate mousses left! I bet Ed will dance for me again tonight.


Blogger tara said...

I wonder if the problem was your roasting pan. What kind of pan was it? (I'm very interested in troubleshooting this recipe, see, because it sounds delicious and I'd love to make it. And being the only meat-eater in the house, if I just cut the recipe in half, I'd have a meal plus leftovers for me. Got any Provencal meatless suggestions I could do for Mark?)

That just seems weird for butter and lemon juice to create such a commotion in the oven. I can't figure it out. What if you put carrots, onions, whole garlic cloves, etc. in the bottom of the pan and set the birds on top of that, maybe with a little stock or something so the drippings don't burn? Oh, but that messes up the basis for the sauce you're supposed to deglaze. hmm. But not really, though -- you could still reduce the liquids left in the pan after you've removed the birds and the veggies.

odd, odd. Anyway, I will definitely be making the goat cheese salad soon. I think I have everything on hand right now but the baguette...

11:37 PM  
Blogger tara said...

Made the goat cheese salad for lunch today and it was delicious. This will become a staple in my repertoire. Thank you!

3:10 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Tara, the pan was just a regular 9x13 pyrex baking dish. We do have a turkey roaster, but of course two little cornish hens would just get swallowed up inside. Do you think I need an official chicken roaster for this recipe? I think the commotion was due to having such a small amount of liquid spread out over the area of the pan. If I tried this recipe again with just two birds at a time, I probably would add veggies and stock to the bottom; that could only make the sauce tastier later!

I'm glad you liked the Salade au Chevre Chaud! You can gussy it up by rolling the chevre slices in flavored bread crumbs, sauteeing them in oil, and then adding them directly to the salad.

12:00 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

Oh, and Tara asked about vegetarian Provencal dishes....

You could make a Salade Nicoise without the tuna: boiled potatoes, green beans, hard-boiled eggs, tomato wedges, black olives, doused with vinaigrette, all arranged in little piles on top of greens on a plate.

Or how about pasta: noodles of your choice mixed with goat cheese and veggies (green beans, shallots, tomatoes, for example) sauteed in garlic and oil, then deglazed with red wine. Add lots of salt, pepper, and black olives.

And don't forget Soupe au Pistou, your basic vegetable soup but with zucchini, asparagus, and grean beans thrown in the the mix, plus pasta, plus pesto whisked into the mix.

And finally (for now, at least), there's the Socca from Nice, like a crepe made with chick pea flour.

12:06 PM  
Blogger Gabriella True said...

sorry it did not work. I have cooked a lot with lavender and have a roast chicken - if you dare - with lavender in it.

My Life As A Reluctant Housewife

8:50 PM  

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