Stuffed Chicken Skin
(also known as Franken Chicken)
This recipe was done out of curiosity. I mean really how often do you go to a dinner party and say “OMG…that chicken is a STUFFED chicken?! ” In period for a really excellent high end dinner this is exactly what they did. They made castles out of pastry and sugars, meat dishes with out meat (Romans’ were famous for this) and re-stuffing a chicken skin or a pig skin was nothing. This type of over the top cooking showed how refined and well to do the host was. This was known as “conspicuous” quality of creation.
Translation from Wusla:
There are a couple of varieties:
First Recipe: Take a chicken, scald it with boiling water and do not split either it’s belly or it’s crop. Push a meat skewer (mirwad) into its neck between the skin and the meat and use the skewer to separate the two. Blow hard into the neck (orifice) to detach all the skin from the meat. Whenever you find a little piece still attached (to the skin) which will not be freed by the blowing, use the skewer to detach it. Then use a thread to anchor the skin to the leg bones and split the bird along its back (from) the tail to the base of the neck. Remove the meat, leaving the leg bones including the thigh bones, in position. Likewise cut the wing tendons inside the skin. Stuff with rice, meat, chickpeas and onions, chopped as for stuffed trip (sakhatir). The wings are left as they are (their meat) not being separated from (their) skin, so as to complete the illusion of a (real) chicken. The skin is sewn back together and the neck is attached firmly…also being sewn up. Cook in water with stuffed tripe. This can also be fried afterward, if desired, or it can be left to finish cooking in the water.
2nd recipe: With a stuffing of pounded meat as described abofe: take the meat of a chicken prepared as above and that of another chicken, leaving a skin wich can accommodate the meat of both chickens. Cook in water and then pound thoroughly in a mortar. Place in a cooking pot with a little chicken fat and sesame oil, some olive oil, hot seeds and parsley leaves and fry until the meat is golden. Add some minced onions and some mint. When the stuffing is cooked, fill the chicken skin with it, sew up and secure firmly at the base of the neck, after replacing the sternum in its proper place in the breast so as to give the impression of a real chicken. Cook in water, then fry and place any remaining stuffing with the chicken.
(Medieval Arabic Cookery, Rodinson, pp. 162)
1 whole chicken 1 onion ¼ cup fresh parsley (or 2 tbs dried)
1 Tbs sesame oil, olive oil and chicken fat, 1 Tbs mint 1 Tbs dried peppers
1 tsp salt (or to taste).
When teaching classes on how to do Middle Eastern or Roman redaction, I can not stress enough on the necessity to read and re-read the instructions several times. The first read through is to get a feel for the ingredients. The second read through is a better understanding of HOW a dish was put together. In this case…how a dish was disassembled then reassembled.
I took a fully thawed fryer and scalded in boiling water for 30 seconds. The scalding tightens the skin, which helps with the skin removal process. Do not fool yourself on this part. The skin is still paper thin and extremely fragile…the scalding just helps tighten it up a bit; this does not make the skin impervious to damage.
I inserted a metal skewer, one I had laying around for kabob’s, into the neck and started to gently separate the skin from the meat by severing the connecting tissue between the two. I did not blow on the skin. (Even though the chicken was well rinsed prior to the scalding, I am not willing to put my lips on what is still mostly raw chicken!) Remove the tail of the chicken if this is included on your fryer. I was not particularly graceful in the skin removal as I would have liked; there were several holes in the skin by the time I was done.
As you can see the skin looks properly deflated. Rather embarrassed in fact as if I had caught the skin just stepping out of a hot tub. (I know…I just couldn’t help myself on that one!)
The redaction calls for not splitting either the breast or crop area, which is the front of the bird. I had to split the chicken skin along the back as there was no other way to remove the skin from the meat no matter how much skewering or blowing was done. Now here is the tricky part, and a little change to the original recipe. I decided on my first try to keep the wings but do away with the legs. The original recipe calls for the leg bones and wings (with meat) to remain attached to the skin with thread attaching the skin to the legs. Then the leg and wing joints are severed at the body with thread connecting the bottom leg skin to the bottom leg bone, while all the meat was removed carefully to leave the skin intact . This bird was NOT going to be able to do any running when all the stuffing and cooking was done! The theory was that the meat stuffing would refill the leg skin with the leg bones giving shape and definition. Knowing my own limitations for not renting the skin further…I just took the legs off but left the wings.
At this point there was a skin (see above picture) and a very naked bird waiting to be stripped of meat and bones. I took every scrap of usable meat from the chicken and ground it. The redaction calls for “pound thoroughly in a mortor”. I believe this was to render the chicken meat much like ground hamburger, making it easier for cooking then re-stuffing into our skin.
I had all the ingredients on hand and added a bit of salt.
The redaction calls for 2 oils and 1 fat. Sesame oil, olive oil and chicken fat. I had chicken fat on hand (I save the fat from roasted chicken, roughly a cup rendered per roasting) as there are many really good redaction recipes that call for throwing a pudding under a chicken and letting the chicken fat drip into the pudding pan. So save that grease because you never know when the next wonderful recipe will call for a Tbsp or two.
I went with the 2nd redaction as I did not have any cooked rice on hand but I did have onions and parsley from the garden readily available. The 2nd recipe calls for the meat of another bird. I didn’t find this necessary; however if I had actually left the leg skins attached it might have been.
The next step in the redaction calls for throwing the meat into boiling water for skimming. I don’t have to worry about sand, dirt or impurities having collected on my chicken meat so I skipped straight to the “Place in a cooking pot with a little chicken fat and sesame oil, some olive oil, hot seeds and parsley leaves and fry until the meat is golden”. Just like that…then add the chopped onion and mint till the onions are translucent. Take a taste and then add salt.
This redaction could go on any table, for dinner and do a cook proud as it is VERY tasty; however we now get to the complicated messy but interesting part!
While the meat was frying and the onions sauteing in the really heady oil mixture, take a bit of thread (I used a sturdy quilting thread…hey I had it on hand!) and sew up any rents that were made in the skin while removing. The correct thing to do for the chicken skin is to also sew up the neck and back and leaving the bottom opened for stuffing. Unfortunately for me…Murphy and his law showed up and my plans were slightly re-arranged on what should have been done to what could be done.
Keep an eye on the chicken meat while stitching up the skin!! When everything is finished cooking, take the meat and spices and let them cool till you can handle the mixture with your hands. Once the meat can be handled commence stuffing your sewn up skin. Do not over stuff. Any meat that is left over will be used around the stuffed cooked chicken, so as to not go to waste.
This is the stuffed skin after Mr. Murphy showed me that I should have sewn everything up tight prior to stuffing (NOT after) and that the belly/crop skin was so very thin that flipping the bird on to it’s back to hide the stitches was no longer an option (as the skin would split, spilling all the stuffing out).
The next step calls for boiling the stuffed skin then frying. My poor bird was not up for boiling. The skin had not been sewn up tight enough to be water tight so I opted to bake instead. I placed the bird very gently into a pottery chicken roaster (as small casserole dish would work as well) and popped the naked stuffed chicken into the oven at 350 degrees till the wings were thoroughly cooked and the skin was a nice golden brown.
There will be chicken grease at the bottom of the clay pot, as well as a little of the excess oils from cooking the meat. In period a roasting chicken’s grease was used in puddings and other dishes. It would not be going out on a limb by much to say that throwing either couscous or rice at the bottom of the clay pot prior to cooking is out of bounds, adding a wonderful rich meaty/fattiness (you NEEDED those calories in period) to a bland but satisfying carb.
While this looks likes Frankenstein dinner…it’s a very tasty treaty. I am sure that the dinner parties thrown by the sultans and caliphs had cooks who could get a chicken naked in under 3 minutes with out huge tears, I’m afraid at this point this redaction for looks gets a C – while the taste gets an A +!