Chicken Ballottine

Half a dozen Dunkins’ glazed donuts in hand, a gift from someone passing through the Singapore airport and a nice taste of home, I was on my way to a friend’s house to order take out and binge on the three episodes of Doctor Who. My dad called, a short, gruff statement. “He’s been shot.” He followed up with a  terse explanation that my cousin, a cop, was at the hospital with all my family, that I should check CNN and call later, and then hung up.

At first I thought my dad was joking. This week has been so stressful, so much has happened, that I could at least count on all my family and friends being safe back at home. I had read a little bit, Friday afternoon, about the lockdown in Watertown, the MIT cop being shot, and decided to stop looking at all the news because of all the misinformation, the twitter feeds full of random accusations. Two of my cousins are in law enforcement, one in my hometown, one with the transit authority. I was vaguely worried, but thought about it, and decided that, the FBI, the State police, Cambridge and Watertown cops must have it pretty under control. But then the transit cops rushed to respond to the Cambridge and Watertown calls. he must have been one of the first to respond. As I’ve been told and read on the news, at some point, shots were exchanged. My cousin was engaging the suspect in a firefight, and was hit in the leg, trashing three major arteries. By the time he was brought to the ER, he had lost all the blood in his body and his heart had stopped.

Thank god for WeChat. I just downloaded it last week, and made my sister do the same. We sent each other a barrage of texts and voice messages as we started finding out more about the situation. By the time I got to my friend’s house I thought I might vomit. I can only imagine how my family was doing. They hadn’t caught the guy yet. As many as could get there of my family were gathered in the hospital. The rest were hunkered down at home, waiting for news. I grew up close with him and his siblings, they’re like older brothers and sisters to me. He got married right after I left for China, and had a baby son last year, who I met for the first time this Christmas.

I arrived shaky and shocked and Ginny put a whiskey down in front of me while I called everyone I could on my computer. Being able to be instantly in touch with people on the other side of the world hasn’t stop amazing me yet. After talking to my family, it was easier to calm down, and mindlessly watch the eleventh doctor, and comfort myself by eating three donuts immediately. I spent most of the weekend glued to my computer, scouring the news, checking in on family members. Woke up early to positive news on my cousin’s path to recovery.

Life continues. Humanity shines through in moments of tragedy and horror, and then we pick up and move on with our daily lives. We pull together and stand strong, but you’ve got to eat, got to pay the bills, go to work, go for a run. Small triumphs and petty annoyances, I remind myself it’s ok to go and enjoy a drink with friends, to get upset that my fridge is still broken and the ice packed in the freezer to keep everything cold has melted and leaked out all over my floor. It’s ok to be irritated that my landlord won’t replace the fridge until next weekend.

So yeah. My fridge decided that life wasn’t worth living and gave up in the middle of the week. I had to throw out most of the stuff in the fridge, but saved some condiments and unopened packs of cheese and various other things by immediately buying bags and bags of ice to fill the freezer, and replenish them every other day. I frantically cooked everything I could, and was then faced with the problem of having to eat copious amounts of cooked food with no place to keep leftovers.

I saw a post on this technique for deboning a chicken. It included a link to watch Jacques Pepin explain deboning and then creating a chicken ballottine. I love Pepin, mostly because his accent is just absurdly wonderful. It makes me giggle. And I could use a good giggle these days.

So, Pepin demonstrates with a couple miniscule knicks of the knife at the proper joints, and a few fluid motions, he removes the carcass from the meat and does so perfectly and beautiful. It looked so simple. Go, find the video on youtube. It’s beautiful. I thought, huh, that doesn’t look so bad. Actually, the way he explains it, it’s easy. You make four cuts, scrape a little bit, pull here and there and voila. I could totally replicate that easily.


I was mistaken. Trying to follow along after watching three times in a loop, I still managed to slice the wrong side, cut where I shouldn’t, and take twenty minutes, but eventually, I had a deboned chicken. I’m not going to even try to describe the process, but in the end, the chicken was free of the bones, I straightened it up, rearranged, the batter meat, and made a quick stuffing. This was a great dish to make because I had a whole chicken, frozen vegetables, cheese, and ground pork that was all going to rapidly spoil, and instead, I could throw it all together, invite a friend over, and enjoy a fancy little dinner.

From my freezer I pulled out a thawing ziplock of blanched baby spinach, chopped onion, and chopped celery. I sauteed the onion and celery with some minced garlic, added in the seasoned ground pork, and once that was browned and broken up, the spinach and about half a cup of panko with a splash of white wine and stock. I sprinkled the opened up chicken with salt and fresh ground pepper, then packed in the stuffing.

Deboned chicken with an even layer of spinach-pork stuffing

Deboned chicken with an even layer of spinach-pork stuffing


Then I closed it up and trussed it together with cotton twine. It wasn’t exactly the pretty and neatly wrapped package that Pepin creates, but it would do. I popped the rolled up bird into the oven for an hour at 400F, then removed, sliced and served. It was pretty tasty, makes a fabulous presentation that impresses guests, and is very easy to serve at a table, instead of trying to carve a whole roast bird.

Slicing the chicken to serve

Slicing the chicken to serve

In other news, my office has officially banned chicken or turkey sandwiches from being ordered for any of our events. I read this memo while sitting at my desk, having just had an intern order 40 chicken and turkey sandwiches, eating my leftover chicken dinner, and pretending I can’t see my Chinese coworkers giving me the stinkeye.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. charrrrling
    Apr 22, 2013 @ 23:50:32

    wait whats the problem with chicken in china?


  2. haparobot
    Apr 23, 2013 @ 01:39:27

    The newest bird flu, H7N9 or something, is currently killing a few old people/young kids, and no one really knows how its transferred yet.


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