Thursday, October 08, 2009

Roast Chicken with a Wild Mushroom 'stuffing'

Been a while since I posted anything up here - the blasted seasonal flu has struck our house, though not I think the pig variety thankfully - but was back up and running last weekend. And it's mushroom season again, yippee!

I started trying to understand wild mushrooms better a few years ago now, and have been slowly building my knowledge every season till I've now got to the point where I'm pretty confident in the field. There are several edible species which I'm very comfortable with and I know all the common deadly ones easily enough. Last Saturday we were up in one of our usual places and sure enough we found lots of dangerous ones, including Death Cap and Panther Cap, some of the most poisonous of the Amanita family. They certainly don't call it Death Cap for nothing.

Panther Cap just emerging - nasty bleeder

We also found a couple of small hedgehog mushrooms, which I've dried for future stews and soups, and luckily a load of Jersey Cow boletes on an old pine trunk that had been rotting away for some time. I say they're Jersey Cow now (and I'm sure they are) but they took some pondering I can tell you! There was one critical clue that gave them away (often the case with mushroom hunting) but more of that later.

Jersey Cow Boletes

Hedgehog Mushrooms

The Hedgehog is probably one of the easiest to identify, very tasty and often prolific, so is a great find. We know a few spots (mushrooms always tend to return year on year to the same place, provided you harvest them correctly) so we generally know we'll get something, but nonetheless it's always great so see them. They're unusual in that they have spines instead of the gills or pores of other mushrooms, and there are very few mushrooms that have spines, so you can be pretty confident what you've got.

But back to the Jersey Cow's. These were a real mystery for a bit, and although I keep a copy of the mushroom book in the car ("Mushrooms" by Roger Phillips) we still weren't sure. Back home I consulted a few more books (well you can't have too many foodie books in my opinion) and there was one thing that stood out which suddenly made everything clear - compound pores. I won't go into too much detail, mushrooming is not something you can cover in a paragraph after all, but suffice it to say that the pores on these mushrooms were not singular but made up of one big pore with lots of smaller ones inside. Unusual, and given all the other characteristics of the mushrooms that made a conclusive identification.

More pics of the mushrooms and identification:

So, next question, what to do with them ...

We were headed to Ottery St Mary after lunch at a local pub, which is a typical Devon town a few miles away, and I knew it had a couple of good butchers so was quietly confident. I had in my mind a sort of braise with quail, partridge or something similar, the mushrooms chopped up into a sort of stuffing, but the only game on sale was overpriced in my opinion (the London lot can distort things a little) so I settled for a chicken instead. But that meant I had to be a bit more inventive for the stuffing, as putting it inside the bird would take too long to cook - so I decided to try a variation on the 'butter under the skin' trick I've been doing a fair bit of lately. First I made a classic duxelles, which is basically just mushrooms, onions & herbs chopped up and cooked together, and then left it to cool.

Duxelles Mixture with Thyme

I then added some butter to this mixture to thicken it and some small cubes of fresh mozzarella, which I hoped would melt in the oven sealing it together. This was then pushed under the skin of the chicken until it formed a thick layer above the breast. I was hoping that by doing this I would keep the meat moist, flavour it somewhat with the stuffing, and end up with a breast I could take of and slice through with two layers.

Chicken stuffed and ready for the oven. Note the cocktail stick - tore the skin a little, so needed to keep the end together!

This went into an oven at 180ÂșC for about 15 minutes per pound stuffed weight, which is what suits my fan oven, and then rested for about 20 minutes whilst I made a sauce in the roasting tray with a little white wine and some stock.

The chicken just out of the oven, ready to rest.

It actually came out really well, better than I expected, and it was a real pleasure to use freshly gathered wild mushrooms in a dish like this. The layering thing kind of worked, although I probably needed to use more stuffing if I'm honest.

Chicken breast on the plate

I served it with a simple baked potato (odd for a Sunday Roast maybe - but then again why not?), dressed with creme fraiche and chopped fresh chives from the garden.

The finished dish

I think there's a fair bit more experimentation to be done with 'under the skin' type stuffings, so will certainly be trying some other ideas out soon. Would love to hear if anyone else has been experimenting with this sort of thing, and what advice they can offer. Meanwhile it's back to the woods for me, in the hope for more fungi.


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