When I began culinary school in the spring, I noted that whittling potatoes into seven-sided footballs called tornes was the culinary equivalent of hazing. Now I know the real hazing comes in the form of a chicken galantine.
In its simplest interpretation, the galantine is nothing more than a deconstructed chicken. In practice, it is haute French fine dining. “A galantine is an elaborate pate that, instead of being baked in a mold, is wrapped in the skin of whatever bird–usually a duck–is being featured,” Jim Peterson writes in his wonderful book, Glorious French Food. He does not, however, include a recipe for making galantine in his book, probably because it is aimed at home cooks and the home cook who tries to tackle a galantine might swear off the kitchen for good.
Even our cheerfully fearless instructor was rather grim as she prepped us for the day ahead, admonishing us to “work clean.” I think it’s the worst day of the term for her, as culinary students struggle to contain raw chicken, which is handled in many forms. The shit flies everywhere. Here’s how it’s done–keeping in mind that we produced a somewhat simplified version as our first foray into galantine-making.
You start with a whole chicken, removing the skin in one piece so you end up with what resembles a little chicken-skin jumpsuit. Or maybe a chicken-skin hospital gown, since it opens up the back. The instructor likened it to undressing a baby. I commented that it seemed more Silence of the Lambs to me, which prompted classmate to pipe up, “It rubs the lotion on its skin…” Chef was unimpressed by our originality. Okayyyy, set the skin aside, ’cause the fun has only begun!
You start by removing the chicken’s skin in one piece so you end up with what resembles a little chicken-skin jumpsuit. Or maybe a chicken-skin hospital gown, since it opens up the back.
Next, you break down the chicken, removing the meat from the carcass and tossing the bones into a pot with mirepoix to make a stock. Nothing unusual there. The meat goes into a Robot Coupe (a restaurant-grade food processor) to be ground up, along with a splash of cream and an egg (more chicken!) to form a mousseline. The stuff looks finely ground, but it still has bits of carcass and other muck you don’t want, so you have to rub it through a fine-mesh sieve. “It’s like pushing an entire chicken through a window screen,” Chef told us. “Just accept it.” This process took me about an hour and yielded, oh, maybe a 2 cups of fine, sticky chicken mousseline that did not look appetizing to me, though my cat, Moe, who enjoys many of my culinary school efforts, would dig it. The odour of raw chicken that pervaded the lab would have driven him insane.
“It’s like pushing an entire chicken through a window screen,” Chef warned us. “Just accept it.”
Now you take three small portions of the sieved mousseline, mixing them with blanched, pureed carrots, spinach, and mushroom duxelles to form one orange, one green, and one brown mousseline sausage. Wrap each tightly in plastic and poach ‘em in the stock made from the chicken’s bones that has been simmering while you’ve cussed your way through pushing the chicken meat through the sieve. (I quickly fell into cussing, which is my default mode whenever frustrated or bored, and this was both frustrating and dull. But that soon gave way to singing stupid ditties to pass the time.) Plunge the parcooked “sausages” into an ice bath.
Now you’re ready to assemble the galantine. Lay the chicken skin on a work surface, arranging it into a neat rectangle. Top this with a skinless, boneless chicken breast (not from the chicken you’ve just dismembered and ground to hell, but an extra breast–yep, more chicken!) that has been pounded into a thin rectangle roughly the same size. Smear it with a thin layer of plain chicken mousseline. Arrange your tinted mousseline sausages; smear with the rest of the plain stuff. Roll it up like a burrito. Wrap it tightly in cheesecloth and poach it in the chicken stock. Peterson aptly describes it as “bobbing up like something out of Loch Ness.” Once Nessie is done cooking, dunk her into an ice bath.
Sound good yet? Wait, there’s more. You have to gussy it up with a coating of edible chaud froid, which I can best describe as opaque aspic. I don’t love aspic on a good day; it isn’t any more appealing when it’s opaque. You unwrap the cooled galantine, set it on a wire rack, and slather it with a few coats of chaud froid. Chill it until it sets.
When it’s time to serve, carve slices from the galantine–taking care that the slices are presented so they match up to the gross piece, as the heel of this damn thing is called. And, of course, don’t forget to decorate the grosse piece. I crafted a coy little flower out of blanched oregano leaves and eggplant skin, and set it off-center, like a blossom tucked behind a coquette’s ear.
Of course, the logical question is, “How did it taste?” I can’t tell you. Because of scheduling issues, a long weekend separated assembling the galantine and presenting it, and, well, you know, food safety and all… So, sadly, this little girl was just for show. But I’ll bet it would have tasted just like…chicken.