James Beard’s Piquant Chicken

When I was making out the menus this weekend, I decided to consult James Beard for some chicken ideas, and the first one that caught my eye was his recipe for Piquant Broiled Chicken Halves.

Then, today happened. It started with a squirrel running under my tire and dying tragically. I hate it when that happens. Poor squirrel. Later on I bought groceries and even though I had my usual compulsively organized (by aisle and type of container) list, I kept having to backtrack for that one stupid thing that was under something else on the list and then there was this…child…I guess it was a child, but it sounded like some kind of electronic sonic weapon used by the government to incapacitate enemies…and I don’t think the child took a breath for 15 minutes. That was a little icing on the squirrel doughnut.

Then there were Highly Charged Issues with a certain son (no longer a child) of mine, involving parking at the Race coming up this weekend (NASCAR, baby!) and the apparent (to him) inability of people who handle these things to know what to do with all the cars that will be showing up there and how we need to get there the day before and stake out a place. O HAIL NO. That was sprinkles on top of the icing of the squirrel doughnut.

So, I decided what was needed was some serious pouting. I pouted. With vigor and the honed skill of a 47 year old Southern Housewife. After shedding a few tears of deep self pity, it was time to focus on something productive, and today’s menu featured this lovely chicken recipe.

James Beard’s recipes tend to be rich…and that was just what was called for since I wasn’t willing to drive the 3 miles to Daylight Donuts and get a chocolate frosted with sprinkles.

Also- I’d never split a chicken before. I can carve one like nobody’s business, but the whole split-it-in-half-take-out-the-backbone thing sounded…complicated. Until I remembered those Marvelous Kitchen Shears (heretofor used only for cutting roses) that my brother gave me for Christmas a few years ago, and sort of recalled having seen something on TV of someone cutting a chicken in half and that was all there was…easy as pie. First,, you cut up either side of the backbone and remove it, just chomp on through the ribs. Then, you fold the spineless bird open and cut through the breast bone. And there it is. No pictures because I had my hands full of raw chicken.

You know, I hate having chicken goop on my hands. I dislike any sort of goop, really. Slimy sticky wet stuff on my hands is gross and when I am working with chicken parts I have to wash the hands several times or become unable to function due to the grossness. I suppose I could wear gloves but that’s just as bad.

Ok anyway, the ingredients are simple and easy to find in any grocery store. That is another thing I like about his recipes. They’re interesting and delicious, but don’t require living in a large city to find the stuff.es

James Beard’s Piquant Broiled Chicken Halves
1 cup ground walnuts
6 shallots, finely chopped
4 tablespoons butter (I used olive oil)
1 teaspoon salt (I’ll use 1/2 tsp next time, it tasted salty to me)
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 teaspoon dry mustard
Tabasco sauce
2 small chickens (2-1/2 pounds or so), split in half with backbones and necks removed
2/3 cup melted butter (I used olive oil)
1 teaspoon paprika

Combine the nuts, shallots, 4 tablespoons olive oil, salt, parsley, mustard, and several squirts of Tabasco to make a paste.

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Loosen the skin on the chicken by siding your fingers between the skin and the meat (then compulsively wash them after each half), and stuff the paste under the skin (again compulsively washing your hands, and make note of the can of Badger Balm on the shelf for later when you realize how chapped your hands are). Put the chicken on a roasting pan, bony side up.

Combine the melted butter (Olive oil), paprika, and several dashes of Tabasco, and brush all over the bony side of the chickens. Put under a broiler for 15 minutes,4 inches from the heat, brushing once or twice while cooking (actually, I didn’t…and it was fine)

Turn them over, brush with the basting mixture, and broil for another 12-14 minutes.

Daisy guards the oven. Good dog.

mmmm that’s skin what needs to be picked.

The skin gets delightfully crusty, the shallots sweeten up, and the nuts are an amazing rich flavor and texture that go so well with the tender small birds. I used the amounts of Tabasco he recommended, and I think it could stand a bit more. Next time I might use half again as much. If you are not fond of spicy-heat, cut back on it a bit, but definitely use it, because the flavor is good in there.

It improved the quality of the day, especially served with a heap of buttery homemade mashed potatoes.

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