One of our favorite parts of the Fiera del Fungo (Mushroom Festival, or as my husband affectionately calls it the “Fungus Festival”) is the “Cooking Show Pavilion”. Here there are multiple cooking demonstrations and tastings throughout the days of the festivals. We are treated to local artisanal beer tastings, wine tastings, a demonstration by the students in the local cooking school, chefs from restaurants in the region, demonstrations on how to clean and store mushrooms, and tomorrow we’ll even have a contestant from Masterchef Italia showing us his stuff.
Today we had a special local treat, as one of our favorite local chefs, Fabio Giulianotti of Ristorante Al Fondo (and a 2nd or 3rd cousin of my husband), gave us a demonstration of a simple chicken dish that could have been made by the local farmers/peasants here for generations.
Here’s a little picture of Fabio getting ready for some major mushroom prep!
As an aside, my Tennessee family were farmers, living out on the land, and even though my grandparents had “day jobs” in town, they also kept chickens and pigs, both which were intended for the table! The pigs took more lead-time (we had home-cured ham and sausage for breakfast most days), but there were plenty of days when my Grandmother would send one of my uncles out to “get dinner” in the backyard, and they would come back with a chicken, freshly killed, ready to prepare. My Mom was a bit too gentile for this task! Truth be told, I don’t think I ever saw my mother dress a fresh chicken. She escaped country living at a fairly young age, and generally got her chickens at the supermarket!! If you are squeamish about where your poultry comes from, now’s the time to go read our post about dinner last week instead. Otherwise, read on to see a very “old school” way to oven roast a chicken!!!
Fabio tells us that he’s ready to cook a chicken. But not only cook this chicken, he’s going to show us how to prep this bird from start to finish. Well not actually from “start”. I’m sure it would have taken too long to actually pluck the chicken, so we’re not going to be able to watch him for that portion of the prep work!
First, one chicken.
I did not manage to get pictures of every step, so I’ll just have to give you some narrative as we go. First off with the head. Now, the head didn’t go directly into the waste pile, and actually there will be some interesting developments here, so stay tuned. The feet were also discarded. From personal experience though, I can tell you that chicken feet are awesome! You can make some of the most amazing chicken broth with chicken feet. They are full of wonderful gelatenous components that makes mineral and vitamin rich stock. But I digress. After removing the feet, the wing tips were also removed. It was noted that these should not be thrown away, and can make great wings, but they have a tendency to overcook when cooked with the rest of the chicken!
Once the head, feet and wings were removed, Fabio was chatting about various chicken “wonders” while he manually reached in and removed the wishbone. Then he pushed his hand up under the skin to make a pocket throughout the entire body of the chicken, so that it could be stuffed with some goodness. This is a mushroom festival after all, so I’ll bet you can guess what was getting stuffed under the skin! Salt and pepper, a little bit of string to tie it up, and it will be ready for the pot!
The pot was perhaps the most fascinating part of the procedure. Line the bottom with some rough cut red onions, shallots, leeks and potatoes. Add a sachet of fresh herbs (rosemary and thyme for example, tied together with string for easy removal). Place the chicken, breast side up into the pot. Add a good amount of oil and white wine.
The most interesting part was yet to come. Fabio started talking about the “pasta” and pulled out a large ball of fresh dough. For non-Italians, when you hear the word “pasta” you immediate think “oh – he’s making noodles of some kind”, but this was pasta in its most basic meaning – dough. He stretched this dough out into a strip, and then started wrapping it around the edge of the pot. I was a bit confused, and also intrigued.
Once the dough was fully wrapped around the top of the pot, a large lid was smacked down on top of it. It was demonstrated that this made an air-tight seal. The lid would not easily lift when tugged at, and now this very simple ring of dough had suddenly become the sealing agent for the pot. Off to the oven for about 45 minutes, and soon we’d have chicken!
In the meantime, there was still a neck and head lying on the kitchen work table. Hmm. With deft precision, Fabio rolled up the skin that surrounded the neck and cut the neck bones away, leaving the head and a skin “tube”. He then pulled out a piping bag filled with a type of mushroom paste, and filled the skin tube with the mixture. Apparently sausage was (is?) an acceptable filling as well. That was also put into the oven to cook, for a special treat!
In a pavilion filled to overflowing, there were only 5 small portions of this “neck sausage” to be shared. Interestingly enough, there weren’t that many volunteers, but heck yes, we raised our hands!!!
We didn’t actually have to wait 45 minutes for the chicken. Another pot of oven roasted chicken was ready and waiting, and only 35 minutes from the beginning of the presentation, we were eating chicken with porcini mushrooms, onions and potatoes. Magic!
Only one day left of our fabulous festival. Thank goodness we do a lot of walking here! I’ll need to get some exercise in after these past two weekends!