To Live, Love and Learn: A Cookworm's Tale
It’s not just me. A lot of people I know watch MasterChef, be it the brilliant Australian version, the excessively competitive American one or the more dramatic Indian one. I have always loved the Australian MasterChef more than the others (I watch the US version just for Gordon Ramsay, and watched the 3rd Season for Christine Ha). Despite all the difference due to the availability of ingredients, trying out things made in the MasterChef kitchen is always an experience. Understanding this obsession that I have, my brother gifted me a copy of Cook With Us by Gary Mehigan and George Colambaris on my 25th birth day.
I must admit I have gone quite gaga since then.
It’s the way they discuss classic techniques that’s blown me away completely. I honestly found Julia Child too intimidating. But since I’ve gotten this book in my hands, I’ve boned a chicken, cleaned, scaled and filleted fish, and a few weeks back, I made my first chicken ballotine. It’s made me confident about my own ability to cook savoury dishes more than anything else.
I found the ballotine recipe by George Colambaris perfect for my family. Its basically poached chicken, and I don’t think anything could be healthier. Of course I had to twist it a bit: nobody serves a pale looking chicken in my house, no matter how healthy it is. So I seared the chicken rolls in a pan to give it some color. George served it with citrus vinaigrette, but I put it up with stir fried vegetables the first time and capsicum butter the second time I tried it.
Lay the breast fillets flat on a chopping board or slab. Cut each one in half widthways through the centre, cutting almost all the way through and leaving one long side uncut. Open the fillet out like a book (this is called butterflying). With the cut-side facing upward, lightly pound the chicken with a meat mallet (or rolling pin) to flatten out a little.
Cut the thigh fillets lengthways into thick strips. Pull out a 30cm sheet of plastic film on the chopping board without cutting it off the cardboard roll. Lay a breast fillet lengthways across the plastic film. Place one-third of the thigh fillet strips evenly across the centre of the breast fillet. Sprinkle with salt. Using the end of the plastc film as a guide, lift and fold the breast fillet over the thigh fillet pieces to form a log shaped roll, folding over the plastic film firmly to hold the log together.
Continue to wrap the chicken log in plastic film about 10 times, then trim off the plastic film from the roll. Twist the ends of plastic film tightly, squeezing out any excess air, then keep twisting to seal well. Transfer the chicken parcel to a zip-lock bag, squeeze out the excess air and seal.
Bring a large saucepan of water to boil over medium-high heat. Gently place the zip-lock bags in the water, then cover with a tea towel to weight the chicken parcels down and keep them submerged. Quickly bring the water back to a rolling simmer, then turn off the heat and leave the chicken to poach in the water for 40 minutes.
Meanwhile, have a large bowl filled with water and plenty of crushed ice. Remove the zip-lock bags from the pan and plunge them into the iced water to stop the cooking process and quickly cool the chicken down.
When the chicken is cold, remove it from the zip-lock bags, then carefully remove the chicken from the plastic film. You can pan-sear it to give it some color like I did. Once that is done, slice the chicken into 1-1.5 cm thick rounds.
You can serve the ballotine on a bed of vegetables, or a thick sauce (like capsicum butter) or a gravy. I did both. The second time around I also stuffed it with cheese.
This was quite a success with my family. The chicken was tender and juicy (and so healthy), and it went well with parathas as well as bread. I’m going to keep cooking this one till mine is perfect like George’s. It needs a lot of hard work…but it’s so worth it!