The day I got hold of the most decadent roast chicken recipe I'd ever seen, I was slated to cook dinner at a friend's kosher kitchen, where meat and milk cannot mix. Tossing reason aside, I decided to reinvent the foie gras, brioche, and butter-stuffed chicken so it would abide by kosher law.
This chicken is a thing of beauty and culinary prowess that Chef Daniel Humm serves at his four-star restaurant Eleven Madison Park. Its meat, basted during cooking as butter melts under its crisp, caramel-colored skin, is so succulent that when I ate at the restaurant I was sure Humm made the dish using high-end techniques that I couldn't replicate at home. How wrong I was. Chef Humm demoed the chicken on Martha Stewart, to rampant applause from the middle-aged women in the crowd, and posted the recipe (sans foie gras) online. Other than the unusual step of stuffing a bread-crumb-and-butter mixture under the skin, the procedure was straightforward.
I quickly realized that the recipe would have to be tweaked, not only for reasons of kosher law, but also for financial and pragmatic ones. It proved impossible to find kosher foie gras in New York City on short notice (one butcher had carried it years ago, but it had been so expensive that he'd kept it in his unrefrigerated safe, which led to problems). We also had to nix the "truffle scraps" Chef Humm called for. (Oh, of course! Just throw in any old truffle scraps you have lying around.)
At the kosher butcher, we picked out a nice bird and some challah, which we'd use in lieu of buttery brioche. Instead of recreating a chicken fricassee out of the leg meat, a recipe that called for heavy cream, butter, and mushrooms, we decided to make a red wine mushroom sauce to go on the side. If there's one thing to say for kosher cooking, it's that it forces you to avoid the heavy French style I learned in culinary school. (Butter! Salt! More butter! Cream!)
We toasted the challah and pulsed it in the food processer to make bread crumbs, then mixed in chopped rosemary, lemon zest, a little olive oil, and a knob of margarine, and pushed it all under the skin. (I usually hate to use margarine, but it helped the stuffing achieve the desired consistency.) We stuck some garlic and lemon in the cavity, trussed the bird, sprinkled everything with salt, and put it in a 380 F oven. 45 minutes later, we removed the bird from the oven. It had achieved the same deep caramel color as Humm's bird. It was a sight to behold.
As it rested, we sautéed the mushrooms in the chicken drippings and a glug of red wine, made a simple salad, and sat down to eat.
Here's to you, Chef Humm. Even without the butter, the skin was divine and the meat moist. Of course, a little truffle shaved on top wouldn't have hurt, but you can't have everything.