Monday, 16 April 2012

Spit Roasted Poussin

Marinated in rosé, lemon, garlic, rosemary and dried chilli

 Poussin is not a bird that I cook very often. These tiny chickens are a very special treat and just ideal for the slow sizzle on a spit over charcoal embers. It's a bit like a mini version of the commercial 'Rotisserie' seen all over France; loads of chickens on large spits inticing passers by with their amazing aromas.

This special occasion was a weekend visit by our friends Lynn and Gary who had come up from Eton to stay. The previous weekend we stayed with my sister in law and were treated to roasted poussin, so it seemed the perfect indulgence and an opportunity to do something a bit different on the garden rotisserie.

I bought four poussins, each weighing about 450g which would, at a push, just about sqeeze together on my spit. The marinade made a perfect base for the light rosé wine sauce.

The meal kicked off with potted smoked trout and baby Yorkshire puddings as an entreé (from Jamie's  Great Britain), then the pousin with slow roasted vine tomatoes and a warm salad of green beans, asparagus and wild rice. For dessert, I made a decadent rosewater panna cotta with pink champagne and strawberry jelly.

INGREDIENTS (For the poussin and the rosé sauce)

- Four poussins (1 per person)
- 1 bottle of rosé (1/4 for the marinade, 3/4 for the sauce)
- 8 cloves of garlic (4 whole, 4 crushed)
- 2 lemons
- 2-3 dried red chillies, crumbled
- 2 tbsp of olive oil
- 2 tbsp of finely chopped rosemary
- 1 cup of good quality chicken stock
- 1 onion finely chopped
- 30g butter
- 1 tbsp plain flour

Weber chimney starter


Start by marinating the poussins in a large bowl or sealable plastic bag with the wine, oil, grated rind of 2 lemons, the crushed garlic, rosemary, chilli flakes and juice of one of the lemons. The night before in the fridge is ideal, but for no less than 3-4 hours at room temperature at minimum. Before assembling the spit, insert 1/4 of a lemon and a whole clove of garlic into the cavities of each bird. These were on the rotisserie for about two hours. I was using fast burning British charcoal, it was fairly breezy and a chilly ten degrees outside, so regular charcoal top ups were required. (in the oven they would take 45-60 minutes at 180 deg C).

0 hrs 5 mins

1 hr 0 mins

Once the poussins are on the fire (or in the oven), the sauce can be pre-prepared and re-heated just before serving. To make the sauce, melt the butter in a large saucepan and sauté the onions until soft. Add the marinade juices and wine, then reduce down by about 3/4 over a medium heat. Strain the redution through a sieve and allow to cool a little. To finish the sauce, whisk in the flour after it has cooled, then heat gently, whisking constantly. Slowly add the chicken stock as the sauce thickens until you get to your preferred sauce consistency.

2 hrs 0 mins

These little babies were just soooo tasty. Thanks to the long slow sizzle, the meat just fell off the bones and the little fiery kick from the chilli flakes was delightful. They were fun and messy to eat and the carnage left on the plates is now in the stock pot...

Crystalized rose petals for the panna cotta
The decadent rosewater panna cotta - with pink champagne and strawberry jelly

Monday, 2 April 2012

Spit Roasted Pork Belly

Cooked over a charcoal fire

This meal was prepared in honour of a visit from my parents in law from Hertfordshire, and my sister in law and family from south Wales. It's the begining of the Easter school break and our house was the meeting point for two young cousins to go off and spend a few days with their grandparents. It's not often that we are all together at our place so this special event called for some extra special effort.

I had a large piece of pork belly in the freezer that had been sitting waiting for an occasion just like this. It was also the first time I'd put pork belly on my outdoor rotisserie and I couldn't wait to see how it would come out. Intuitively I thought it ought to be ideal. It's the right size and shape and has plenty of skin to crackle up nicely and keep the meat moist on the inside.

The whole meal was a bit of a feast for the ten of us. In addition to the pork belly, I had a whole chicken in the Weber and some quality chipolata sausages along side. In the oven went roast potatoes plus home made balls of bacon and herb stuffing. Steamed carrots and green beans finished of the plates.

I'm a bit of a puritan when it comes to mixing meats and I wouldn't normally serve more than one meat at a time. Pork and chicken, however is a rare exception. The sauce that comes from a combination of pork and chicken stock also works very well.

Having defrosted the pork belly the night before, the first task was to remove the rib bones so I could roll the belly around the spit. I used a small sharp Opinel knife and kept the bones to make a stock for the gravy. I could have easily asked the butcher to do this for me, but at the time I didn't think to. It was fairly easy as it happened, it just took a bit of time.

Like any garden spit roast, you need plenty of time. This one took about 3/4 of an hour of preparation from starting the charcoal fire to assembling the pork belly on the spit. Getting the fire on at the right time is critical. You want the coals to be white hot when the pork goes on and this can take 20-30 minutes depending on the charcoal you are using. I normally focus on getting the charcoal started, and then use that time to prepare the spit. This spit roast was over the coals for three and a half hours.

A few musings on charcoal. I used high density imported lump wood charcoal as it is readily available and has a good burn time. Charcoal, when packaged and transported gets a bit of a hammering and you always get a good quarter or so of the charcoal as tiny bits or powder as a result of this. I do my best to separate the decent sized 'chunks' from the small bits and pieces. The chunks are perfect for starting a hot charcoal fire as the gaps allow plenty of oxygen to get between them. The bits and pieces I then sprinkle over the established coals using a small gardening trowel when it's time to add a bit more fuel.

After the first 20 minutes - Crackling starting nicely

For this spit roast, I used 2 to 2 1/2 kg of chunks at the beginning, and about an hour or so later started adding the small bits to keep the fire just hot enough to maintain a gentle sizzle on the pork. At the beginning, the white hot chunks are pumping heat at about 1000 deg C (1,800 deg F), then this reduces fairly constantly as the charcoal is consumed. After the first hour, the coals had died right down and definitely needed topping up. I added some more sprinklings around the edges every further 30 mins or so to keep the temperature fairly consistant.

After 50 minutes

And now a few musings on my outdoor rotisserie. I bought this almost three years ago in May 2009. It came with a small battery powered motor that takes two large 'D' sized batteries, the type frequently used in torches. Just before writing this article, I trawled through my photos, blogs and notes to work out exactly how many times I have used it since. On average it has been used about four times a year, between April and October. Each use means about 3 to 3 1/2 hours of continuous rotation. The original two batteries are still going, 13 uses and 45 hours later. I still can't believe it and even when I ran it yesterday it wasn't giving any signs of letting up. I've had a pair of batteries on standby since I bought it.

1 hr 15 mins - First topping up of charcoal


COOKING TIME: 3 and a half hours

INGREDIENTS (serves 6 as a generous main course):

- Pork belly (de-boned) - approx 30cm x 20 cm x 2 cm thick
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 large sprig of rosemary

2 hrs 40 mins - Our first guests arrive


First prepare the charcoal fire as above, then rub the pork with olive oil and salt before rolling around the spit with a large sprig of rosemary in the centre. Tie firmly with kitchen string. Arrange the charcoal around the edges so that there is none immediately beneath the meat. Otherwise the dripping fat will ignite and you do not want thick, sooty flames destroying your meal. Place the spit over the hot fire for the initial intense sizzle at the beginning, then after the first 45 mins to an hour when the coals have gone right down, add small amounts of additional fuel regularly to keep the pork at a gentle sizzle.

Carve into thick rounds and serve with a light gravy made from the stock from the bones.

My intuition proved correct. Pork belly is perfect for this type of cooking. The crackling cooks quickly at the beginning, and protects the meat inside to allow it to slow cook beautifully. All in all it was a winner and will definitely grace our table again. And again.

 3 hrs 30 mins - Ready for carving

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