Birds of a Feather

Dear readers: please be advised that some may find this post objectionable as it skirts the very edgy topic of guns. No, I’m not writing about the latest gun-related tragedy nor is it a rant on gun control.  I’m just waxing nostalgic, because guns have not always been defined by mayhem and murder.

I grew up in the mid-part of the 20th century when guns were a big part of our existence. My dad was a marksman, an avid hunter, and was very proud of his gun collection and the many trophies that surrounded us.  We belonged to a gun club where we regularly took turns at target practice and skeet shooting.  He saw to it that I had my own .22 rifle and later a .410 shotgun; I learned how to care for them, to use them responsibly, and I became a pretty good shot. It never occurred to me that they could be used for violence against another person. At our house, guns were a form of recreation and largely related to delicious food—our freezer was well stocked with bear, deer, quail, pheasant and whatever else was fair game that year.

My mom was an excellent cook and prided herself in knowing how to best prepare whatever game came through the door. Those meals were highly anticipated events and deeply appreciated by everyone.  As I think about it now, one of my particular favorites was her Pheasant Cacciatore.

Since pheasant can be quite lean, she would soak the pheasant ahead in an herb and red wine marinade to moisten, tenderize, and remove any potential gaminess. Sometimes she would start with a bit of bacon and then brown off the pheasant.  She’d proceed to develop a hearty sauce with plenty of mushrooms, onions, carrot, tomatoes and capers—perhaps she’d throw in a little green pepper, celery, or olives.  I suspect she’d combine the pheasant and all the trimmings in a heavy covered pot and gently braise it in a moderately slow oven.

The recipe has long since been lost, but that’s my best recollection.  I recently reflected on those fabulous meals while preparing my easy mid-week Chicken Cacciatore.

It is made effortlessly with this Instant Pot treatment, yet it is a distant second to my mom’s ‘classic’ version.  When nearly done, mine became a one-pot meal with the addition of a few handfuls of penne pasta!  Still, with those flavors and few favorite pieces of plumb chicken, you really can’t go wrong.

Chicken Cacciatore, PC

Although this is presented in Instant Pot format, directions are included for standard stove top preparation, too. If using dry penne pasta on final, more liquid maybe required.

Ingredients
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 to 6 chicken thighs (bone-in)
1 onion, slice
1 carrot, chop
2 ribs celery, chop
1 pasilla pepper, seed and chop
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, mince
½ teaspoon thyme leaves
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ pound mushrooms, trim and slice
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 cup chicken stock, water or other liquid
1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes with juice
2 tablespoons capers
2 cups approximate, dry penne pasta
Garnish:  ½ cup parsley and 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. If using an Instant Pot, set it medium Sauté, and heat 2 tbsp. oil. Pat the chicken dry, season with salt and pepper, and place in the hot pot. Brown 4-5 minutes per side and remove to a holding plate. Pour off excess fat.
  2. Add the remaining tablespoon oil and sauté the onion until soft. Add the carrot, celery, pepper, the fennel, rosemary, thyme and red pepper flakes, and cook 4-5 minutes.
  3. Add the mushrooms, garlic and a pinch of salt and pepper to the pot. Stir to loosen the fond in bottom of pan with the liquid released from the mushrooms. Increase to medium if necessary, cook 6 to 8 minutes.
  4. Stir in 1 cup chicken stock or water, the tomatoes and the capers.
  5. Return the chicken to the pot, nestle the pieces into the tomato mixture to barely cover them and bring to a simmer.
  6. Lock the lid, set pot to high Pressure for 12 minutes. (If using standard stovetop preparation, cook for 30 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is tender.) When time is up, turn off the pot, disconnect, and let rest 10 minutes. Carefully release any remaining pressure and open.
  7. There should be enough liquid in the pot to also cook the penne pasta. Set the pot to medium Sauté and bring back to a simmer.  Add 1 handful of pasta per serving (about 2 cups) and simmer for 10 minutes, until al dente.  Adjust seasoning and dust with fresh parsley and Parmesan cheese.  Serves 4

Wings

I discovered a forgotten package of turkey wings stranded in the back of the freezer that need cooking. I decided to roast them ahead for snacking and mid-week dinners.

chilled turkey winglets
chilled turkey winglets

Perhaps it is some sort of atavistic throwback to my ape heritage, but I love gnawing on roasted chicken or turkey wings.  Divided into three parts, the turkey wing tip is great finger food and the middle section with plenty of white meat, makes a great serving portion. The largest piece is paramount to a huge leg; there is plenty of dark meat for sandwiches, tacos, and makes a convenient protein for a pasta dish.

Turkey really benefits from a good soak in brine: it removes any impurities and tenderizes the meat.  I  let the wings partially defrost, submerged them in lightly seasoned brine, then socked them away in the refrigerator for an overnight stay in a zip lock bag.  Occasionally I would flip them and give them a little massage to encourage even defrosting and brining.

Later the next day I drained the wing pieces, patted them dry, rubbed them with a hearty paste of smoked paprika, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil—and popped them into the oven for a good roasting. It wasn’t long before the entire house was filled with mouthwatering aromas of smoked turkey.

This is such mindless cooking that I am always amazed at how delicious the turkey turns out, whether it is thighs, legs, breasts or wings.  I ask the same question:  “Why did I wait so long?”

Roast Turkey Wings

 Ingredients
2 turkey wings, cut into 3 pieces each
Brine:
½ cup salt
2 bay leaves
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
½ tsp red pepper flakes
6 cups (approximate) water to cover
Smoked Paprika Paste:
1 Tbsp smoked paprika
1 clove garlic, minced or crushed
Juice of ½ lemon
½ tsp salt
1 tsp olive oil, approx.

Directions
1.  Wash and cut up the turkey pieces.
2.  For brining:  In 2 cup container combine the salt in about 1 cup of hot water to dissolve;  add the bay, garlic and red pepper flakes. Place the turkey pieces in a large zip lock bag or container, pour in the brine and enough water to barely cover the turkey.
3.  Refrigerate overnight, turning occasionally to brine evenly.
4.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a roasting pan with foil and spray or wipe with oil.  Remove the turkey from brine, rinse lightly and pat dry.
5.  Combine the smoked paprika, garlic, lemon juice, and salt with enough olive oil for a paste. Rub this evenly over all turkey surfaces.  Place on baking pan and roast for about 2 hours, turning every 30 minutes, until the skin is well browned all over and crispy.   Serves 2 to 4.