Dirty Bird

This pirate is not much of a sports fan.  I like sports … just don’t have the time or bandwidth to follow them fanatically*.  But Louisiana has this fabulous tradition of cooking the opposing team’s mascot — mostly a college football thing, they roast a Cochon de Lait when they play the Razorbacks, alligator when it’s Florida, etc.  And when the Saints play the Atlanta Falcons even the pro rivalry joins in — you make a Dirty Bird … boneless chicken stuffed with dirty rice.  A sports match up with a menu?  This Galley Pirate approves!  (* Exception obviously made for America’s Cup … it’s every 3-5 years, events are over FAST, and keeping abreast of stats is reading about sailing … that I can follow fanatically!)

That said, this pirate failed to get around to a Dirty Bird in time for the Saints-Hawks match-up on the 10th.  “What’s the rush?” I thought … Saints 7-and-1, Hawks 1-and-7 … why pile on?  I fell for it … horrible, punishing, embarrassing loss.  But we play them again on Thanksgiving Day, so this bitter repast is a repentant bit of Thanksgiving voodoo, if you will … stick a knife in it and hope for payback.

Dirty Bird (Chicken stuffed with dirty rice)

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For Dirty Rice
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound chicken livers
1/2 pound pork sausage, removed from casings and crumbled
1 cup diced onions
1/2 cup diced celery
3/4 cup diced bell pepper
1 tablespoon diced garlic
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups chicken stock
2 bay leaves
5-6 cups cooked rice, chilled

For Bird
Whole chicken, 4-5 lbs
1 cup white wine or stock, and 1 tablespoon cornstarch, if making gravy
Greens (mustard or collard) and okra, to serve

Friends, I will not lie: you will need to embrace your inner serial killer to appreciate this post, but it will be worth it.  To begin with, dirty rice — which is a little bit of comfort food heaven — is essentially made dirty by chicken livers.  Oh, sure … on a harried weeknight I’ll make the Zatarains boxed version with just hamburger or sausage meat, but real dirty rice — and it is a serious cut above — calls for livers.  This is a good time for an Ulu, because you liver-loathers really want them chopped up fine to blend with the sausage and then evenly through the rice, so you won’t get a real bite of liver and its intense flavor.  For the sausage, you can use anything uncooked; if it’s in casings just squeeze the meat out of them.  We are Tennessee Pride people, and I like to use the hot variety here — note you will only use half of the standard pound package; if you cut the top off, as I have here, you can squeeze half the meat out and then fold the plastic tubing down over the rest to keep.  “Is that the Trinity in the background?” our astute followers will ask … why yes, it is … this is a Cajun dish, after all.  Heat two tablespoons of the oil and saute the meats for about six minutes, until browned; this should give you just enough time and cutting board space to chop up the Trinity and garlic.

Add the last tablespoon of oil, then the onions, bell pepper, celery and garlic to the meat along with the chili powder, salt and pepper and saute another 5-6 minutes until vegetables start to soften.  Then add the stock and bay leaves and stir to combine and loosen any browned bits on the bottom of the pan.  Push the bay leaves under the liquid, bring to a boil and reduce the heat to simmer for about 5 minutes.

Add the rice and stir well to combine; cook about five minutes until heated through.  THIS, by itself, is DELICIOUS — this dirty rice recipe, alone, or served alongside a nice spatchcocked and roasted chicken would be a lovely meal, with most of the culinary virtues of this post … AND MUCH EASIER.  But if you are dressing to impress, or to comply with superstition and set a rival up for defeat … continue on to the deboned and stuffed version.I had never deboned a chicken before now, and read several descriptions and watched multiple videos on the internet, that purported  to make it totally clear and easy. Mind you, once down in the galley and with only two hands that required cleaning any time I wanted a photo, I was not able to hew closely to those instructionals; when faced with the chicken and not recalling the videos in detail, I went back to what I knew … spatchcocking (1st frame…backbone up).  I cut up one side of the backbone (2nd frame) and just exposed the carcass, then proceeded with my best knife to sort of carve it out, leaving as much meat intact and skin uncut/punctured as I could.  It was relatively straightforward to cut around the main carcass and breast-bone (3rd frame), and then the thigh bones were fairly exposed as well (4th frame).  At this point, I had sustained enough injury (5th frame) to not care if deboning made it easier for a helmsman to eat, or the Saints to win … I left the wings and drumsticks intact (I’m the only one that eats them anyway, and it tends to be gnawing over the galley sink).

Once deboned, stuff the chicken with dirty rice by piling as much as you can into the cavity and pulling the skin back over and together in the most chicken-shaped manner you can.  Here’s a hard-earned tip: I had habitually but mistakenly cut off all the extra skin around the neck … it’s nothing but fat; but you should leave it on as it will be helpful here with enclosing the stuffing up top — see in that middle frame where it looks like the chicken’s wearing a scoop-neck?  If you hadn’t cut the fat off, you would have a nice mock-turtle to work with.  Truss closed with kitchen twine and bake at 375 degrees, covered with foil, for about 45 minutes, then uncover for another 20-30 minutes, until breast meat reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

This is great served with greens or smothered okra, and make a quick gravy using the drippings in the roasting pan (deglaze with a cup or so of white wine or stock, then mix in a slurry of 1 tablespoon cornstarch whisked with 3 tablespoons cold water; boil until thickened).  I decided to present it atop pretty, raw mustard greens, as well … uncooked they are very bitter … LIKE SAINTS FANS THIS WEEK.

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