This recipe has excited a great deal of enthusiasm in my classes. It seems to be possessed of a multitude of virtues, the ease of its preparation and the beauty of its presentation being not among the least; the breasts, moreover, being both protected from the direct onslaught of heat and nourished by the melting fats of the stuffing, remain moist and are delicately perfumed; the skin, basted from within as well as from without, crispens evenly to a rich golden brown, a miracle of beauty and flavor; it is elastic and, unlike stuffed flesh, will not shrink in contact with the heat, splitting beneath the pressure of a swelling forcemeat. I have often packed as much as a 2-inch thickness of stuffing between most parts of the flesh and the skin with perfect results.
Carving presents no problem, and it would be a pity not to carve it at table. A fairly large, stiff-bladed boning knife, which is, nonetheless, a good bit smaller than the usual carving knife, is the easiest to work with; split the bird in two (the breast bone, wishbone, and collar bone, having been broken and partially separated when the bird was flattened out, offer little resistance); delicately cut through the skin and the stuffing with the knife tip, in an arc described by the leg joint and the contour of the thigh, from the split edge to the outside extremity of the thigh; slip the knife beneath the thigh, loosening it, and far down, at the point of its contact with the backbone, cut through the fragment of vertebra—the breast and the leg will slip apart.
The stuffings I find most interesting are a cheese and fresh sage ravioli filling (3 ounces ricotta or other fresh white cheese mashed with 4 tablespoons softened butter, an egg beaten in, seasoning, several finely chopped fresh young sage leaves, chopped parsley, and, finally, a large handful of freshly grated Parmesan and a small handful of breadcrumbs), spinach (same recipe as the filling for stuffed crêpes), zucchini (recipe following), and mushroom (like the preceding recipes, the vegetable being replaced by 8 or 10 ounces of mushrooms, finely chopped or passed through the medium blade of a Mouli-juliènne and sautéed in butter over high heat until dry, a bit of lemon added). A handful of rapidly parboiled little peas or skinned tender broad beans is an attractive addition to the mushroom stuffing, or it can be treated to more fanciful variations: A quantity of unpeeled garlic cloves gently stewed with eggplant in olive oil until both are purée-tender, the two sieved together and incorporated into the cheese and mushroom mixture is quite spectacular; shredded prosciutto may be added, as may be dried morels, soaked and butter-stewed; retaining the sautéed juliènned mushroom base, the cheeses may be eliminated, the mushrooms mixed only with breadcrumbs and softened butter—fines herbes will help—or soft crumbs soaked in heavy cream; mushrooms, crumbs, and snail butter mashed together, and so forth . . . An egg binds but is not absolutely necessary. If the vegetable preparations are added still hot or warm to the butter and cheese mixtures, the whole becomes soupy and difficult to manage; cool them or chill them first.
The stuffing may often be sufficient garnish in itself; a potato paillasson is a perfect supplementary garnish.
To Prepare the Chicken for Stuffing
Note: The following directions are for chickens as they are usually dressed, throat and abdomen ripped open, for the American market; in France, chickens are bled from the beak and the intestines are unraveled through the anus before being marketed, the skin being punctured at no point. If you have the good luck to find an unemptied chicken (Kosher butchers sell them), singe it, cut off the head, the oil duct above the tail, and the feet at a halfway point, leaving about 1½ inches beyond the drumstick heel (the extra length makes it much easier to secure the leg ends in the abdominal slits); slit the neck skin along the back, detach it from the neck without tearing it, cut off the neck and split the chicken down the back before emptying it; the abdominal skin thus remains intact, as does the neck skin, which serves as a flap that folds over the throat opening and is tucked beneath the stuffed chicken, sealing it.
Split the chicken the entire length of the back, beginning at the tail, using heavy poultry shears, and cutting it, as nearly as possible, through the center of the backbone. Open it out on a chopping board, skin side up, the joints joining drumstick and thigh forced inward, facing. With the flat side of a mallet or cleaver—or with the heel of your hand—flatten it out with a firm (even violent) whack, fracturing breastbone, ribcage structure, collarbone, and wishbone (don’t try to remove any of the broken ribs from beneath—they are attached to thin sheets of flesh that help contain the stuffing).
Only at the summit of the breastbone, at the extremities of the drumsticks, and, to each side, the length of the spinal column is the skin securely attached to the flesh by tendons; it should remain so at these points. Elsewhere only fragile and easily ruptured membranes keep skin and flesh together. Take care not to tear the skin (intact, it is supple and resistant to tearing but, once a section is torn, the flaw transforms itself easily into a gaping wound): Work, first with fingertips and, as the skin is progressively loosened, with your entire hand, reaching in through the throat cavity and separating the skin, first from one breast, then from the thigh, and, finally, from the drumstick. Before you have the drumstick in your hand, your fist and wrist will be nearly lost to view (proof of the skin’s supple resistance); repeat with the other breast and leg. If the butcher’s original damage was serious, now is the time to patch things up with a needle and some kitchen string. Cut off the wing tips at the second joint, leaving shoulder section attached—or fold them under.