Monday, July 18, 2011

Truffle Stuffed Roast Chicken ala Joel Robuchon

Sasha the Wonder Dog, and Truffle Lover

Snort . . . snort, snort . . . snort!  What the . . . ?  Was that Sasha the Wonder Dog snoring or had some crazed vermin found its way into the house?  When my head cleared a bit, I realized I had been dreaming about one of life’s great pleasures:  Tuber, or the fruiting body of an underground mushroom, better known as the “Truffle.”  Sniffed out by truffle hogs or truffle dogs, the “diamond of the kitchen” (as so described by 19th-century French gastronome Brillat-Savarin) have been prized as a source of sustenance and culinary magic (and perhaps mind altering experiences as well) for many millennia.    

Among the criteria for culinary diva membership are (a) recognition that Joel Robuchon is a culinary genius and that his Las Vegas restaurants are the best that town has to offer and (b) an addiction to fresh truffles.  Should you happen to be a culinary diva on a budget-- what a nasty word; who invented that anyhow--skip the restaurants and delve into your copy of The Complete Robuchon.  Unless you live in Europe and own your own truffle hog or truffle dog, I am going to assume that, like me, you will need to outsource your truffles.  For the price of two gourmet coffees a day, you can indulge in fresh summer black truffles.   Seriously, do you want an overpriced, overhyped, over-prepared coffee or a summer black truffle?  It is a no-brainer for a true culinary diva.

We are currently knee deep into the summer black truffle season.  This is an occasion not to be missed, just as you would not miss the special anniversary sales at Nordstrom during which triple rewards points are given. White truffles are the most rare and fragrant and sell for thousands of dollars per pound.  The record price per pound is greater than the median home sales price in California these days.  Think of them as that little black Chanel dress you have always wanted.  Summer black truffles are more affordable than their sister, the white truffle, and pack enough aroma, flavor and texture to enhance almost any entree.  Think of them as the little black dress by Kate Spade.

I was eager to dig into my batch of summer black truffles that had journeyed overnight from Italy in the cool confines of a FedEx jumbo jet (white truffles ride upstairs in first class by comparison).  While Italy produces 20% of the black truffles, France produces 45%, so I looked for inspiration and guidance among the cookbooks from my favorite French chefs.  How could I go wrong seeking the wisdom of Hubert Keller, Alain Ducasse or Joel Robuchon, the holder of more Michelin stars than any other chef on this planet? A winning trifecta, most assuredly!!!  

In the end, I went with Joel Robuchon who described the gentle placement of truffle slivers under the skin of the chicken in near orgasmic gastronomic terms.

What follows is my adaptation of two recipes found in The Complete Robuchon.  This book is surprisingly user friendly and was designed so anyone can enjoy his creations at home.  I combined a roast chicken recipe with a roast potato recipe and added celery and carrots to the mix.  The result is a one-dish feast in which the succulent chicken, oozing with the flavor and aroma of summer black truffles, is complimented by vegetables that are knock-your- silk stockings-off great!

Truffle Stuffed Roast Chicken – a la Joel Robuchon

All you need to make the perfect truffle roast chicken

Kitchen Items:

Roasting pan

Kitchen string and scissors

Bottle of French wine (for consumption while prepping and cooking)


Fresh summer black truffles - slivered and lightly soaked in olive oil (not extra virgin - just plain, high quality olive oil)

Blanched tarragon leaves

Blanched parsley leaves

Softened unsalted butter (3-4 tablespoons)

Fresh thinly sliced mushrooms (optional)

Whole organic chicken (about 3 pounds)

Olive oil (3-4 tablespoons, regular, not virgin, plus what is needed to soak the truffles)

Potatoes (quartered and not peeled)

Carrots (peeled and quartered)

Celery (quartered)

Salt and pepper

Fleur de Sel (yes, I know salt is listed above, but you also need Fleur de Sel)


(Please note, I have not intentionally left off the amounts for the majority of the ingredients.  They simply were not provided by Joel Robuchon.  So this is a bit of an intuitive recipe, and you know a woman's intuition is never wrong!)

Important Tip when Roasting Poultry:  Do Not Preheat Oven!  Turn oven on just when you put the roasting pan in.  The gradual rise in temperature will leave the meat more tender and moist.  In addition, Joel Robuchon roasts his chicken on each of its two sides first as this is the thickest portion of the chicken and takes the longest to cook.

Blanching the Parsley & Tarragon


After the chicken is thoroughly cleaned and patted dry, and before it is trussed, carefully slide your fingers between the skin and meat to create some space.  Be gentle so as not to break the skin or completely remove it from the meat.  Start at the neck and go all the way to the tail, gently working one or two fingers between the skin and meat, pulling apart ever so gently.  Continue this process with the breasts and thighs.  Then into the space you have created slip slivers of truffle, fragrant mushrooms (if desired), blanched tarragon and parsley leaves, and softened butter.  

Ice Bath for Blanched Herbs

Slivered Truffles, Blanched Herbes and Olive Oil waiting their fate


1) Remove the chicken and butter from the refrigerator 20 minutes in advance.  Thoroughly clean the chicken, inside and out, and pat dry.

2) Generously grease the roasting pan with softened butter.  

3) Season the cleaned chicken generously and evenly with salt and pepper, inside and out.

Seperating chicken skin for stuffing

Stuffing the chicken with slivered Truffles, blanched herbs

4) Use the technique described above to stuff the skin of the chicken with truffles, mushrooms (optional), parsley, tarragon, and softened butter.

5) Truss the chicken.

6) Drizzle olive oil on the outside of the chicken and lightly season again with salt and pepper.

7) Placed the trussed chicken on its side in the middle of the roasting pan.

Roasting Chicken on the side, not resting on veggies

8) The vegetables (potatoes, carrots, celery) are placed around the chicken in the roasting pan.  Do not put them under the chicken.  They are not a nest.

9) Drizzle olive oil and sprinkle salt and pepper on the vegetables.

10) Place the roasting pan in the oven, turn on to 410 degrees, and roast for 25 minutes.

11) Remove the roasting pan from oven and place the chicken onto its other side. (This can be accomplished by using tongs, or sticking a large fork into the joint between the thigh and drumstick - without piercing the flesh - and using the fork and a large spoon to move the bird.  You do not want to lose the juices.)

Ready to flip Chicken to other side for even side roasting

12) Pour 3 tablespoons of water over the chicken and return the roasting pan to the oven for 25 minutes.  Rotate the roasting pan a quarter turn if your oven size allows.

13) Again remove the roasting pan from the oven and place the chicken on its back.  Return the roasting pan to the oven and cook for 10 minutes.  Rotate the roasting pan a quarter turn if your oven size allows.

14) Again remove the roasting pan from the oven and place the chicken on its breast and cook for 5 minutes more.  Rotate the roasting pan a quarter turn if your oven size allows.

Almost done, and the house is filled with the aroma of roast chicken and truffles

15) Remove the roasting pan from the oven and prick the thigh joints to make sure the chicken is fully cooked.  The juices should run clear with no trace of blood. 

16) If done, transfer the chicken and vegetables to a platter and season with Fleur de Sel and pepper.  Tent loosely with aluminum foil and let the chicken rest for 20 minutes, breast side down and with the tail end propped up so that the chicken is almost vertical.

17)  Roast Chicken Perfection!  Serve immediately after opening second bottle of wine to enjoy with meal!  A good Chablis or French-style California chardonnay goes really well with this dish.


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Summer Vegetable Stacks

“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire . . .nips of Jim Beam to keep warm.”  Oops, I'm confusing my seasons, although the holidays are only five months away!  Yes, we are in one of my very favorite seasons.  No, not a Four Seasons as you might expect from prior blogs, but the “Grilling Season.”  One cannot open a food magazine or gaze at a Williams-Sonoma window this time of year without seeing something about or related to grilling.    

I love the Grilling Season for when else can you dirty only one plate in the process of cooking an entire meal?  Clean up is a snap, you can enjoy the great outdoors with a cocktail in hand, and, voila, in 15-20 minutes dinner is done. Use disposable plates and utensils and you have my kind of meal. 

In the past, the Grilling Season meant getting out the Weber, dousing charcoal briquettes with enough gasoline to make a pyromaniac jealous, dropping a match on the saturated pile and hoping your eyebrows remain intact.  Nowadays whole magazines and HGTV shows are devoted to creating the quintessential “outdoor kitchen.”  Throwing some “shrimp on the BBQ” takes on a whole new meaning.

While an outdoor kitchen is hardly necessary for good grilling, the concept has opened our eyes to the possibilities for outdoor cooking.  Hot dogs and hamburgers are no longer de rigueur.  Now the adventurous are cooking pizzas, vegetable dishes and even desserts.  It is amazing how a little char and a smoky flavor enhance everyday dishes.

The following recipe incorporates fresh summer vegetables with that smoky-char that brings another dimension to the dish.  And best of all, it can be done ahead of time, which makes it perfect for entertaining.  I made this dish at Georgeanne Brennan's “Provence in California Class”  and the recipe is found in her recent cookbook, "Cheese:  Williams-Sonoma."  I've made it several times since the class and it has become part of my summer menus.  

The layering of flavors, contrast of textures, beautiful colors and, of course, fresh, quality ingredients, make each bite dance across your taste buds.  I am reminded of long summer days in the French countryside, perhaps the Loire Valley.  It is an enduring dish that gives simple pleasures that make you smile and dream of another place with every bite.

Summer Vegetable Stacks (serves 4):


Grill - charcoal or gas (the charcoal gives a better flavor layer but gas will work if you don't have charcoal)
Plastic Bag
Ice cold cocktail or glass of rose wine (optional, but highly recommended)


4 small eggplants, sliced lengthwise into 3 pieces each
2 red bell peppers, seeded and cut lengthwise into quarters
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling 
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sea salt for sprinkling
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for sprinkling
8 heirloom tomato slices
2-3 balls of fresh mozzarella cheese, preferably buffalo milk, cut into 8      circular slices
Handful of torn fresh basil leaves

Put the eggplant slices and the bell pepper quarters in a bowl and add the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper.  Turn several times, then let stand for 30-60 minutes, turning once or twice.  Meanwhile, preheat a grill to medium-high and oil the grill rack or grilling basket.

Arrange the eggplant slices and bell peppers directly on the grill rack or in a single layer in a grilling basket.  Cook until the eggplant slices and bell pepper quarters are lightly charred, 6-7 minutes for the eggplant and about 4 minutes for the bell pepper.  Turn and cook until the second sides are brown and charred.  The timing will be about the same.  Transfer the eggplant slices to a platter.  Put the bell pepper quarters in a resealable plastic bag, seal closed, and let cool.  When cool enough to handle, peel away the charred skin with your fingertips.

To assemble each stack, place a tomato slice on each plate, then stack the remaining ingredients on top in the following order: cheese, eggplant, bell pepper, and eggplant, seasoning each layer with salt and pepper.  Drizzle with olive oil and garnish with the basil leaves.  Ready to serve!

Georgeanne recommends pairing this dish with a high-acid, crisp white wine like Muscadet, Soave, or Pinot Bianco.  If you prefer a red, she recommends Tempranillo.