Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Roasted Guinea Fowl en Crèpinette de Byaldi with Pan Jus

One night, when I was 9, my best friend's mom made ratatouille for dinner. I'd just had warm ambrosia salad the night before, which made me gag because it tasted and smelled like my bottle of Gee Your Hair Smells Terrific threw up into my bottle of Coppertone, so I wasn't really all that excited to try yet another new dish in such a short timeframe. I mean, c'mon, I was NINE. Being culinarily adventurous at that age was having my daily peanut butter sandwich on wheat bread instead of white. But, I knew I had to be polite and try whatever that globby red mess was on the plate in front of me, and not spit it into my napkin when no one was looking and run to the bathroom to dump it into the toilet. Not that I've ever done that. Ahem.

I remember how great the ratatouille smelled, but I remember not really liking it at all. I didn't like tomatoes back then, and the eggplant was gooey. I'd always liked zucchini and summer squash, so I picked out those pieces and chowed those down. Ditto for the onions. Everything else, I kind of pushed around on the plate until it looked like I'd eaten a lot of it. I remember wiping up the sauce with some bread, which was really good, but the rest of it kind of looked like it had already been eaten when it was served to me, if you catch my drift. Luckily, the adults opened another bottle of wine, so my friend and I snuck into their pantry and swiped a few granola bars (they were far healthier than my family, which really sucked that night because some Oreos would've hit the spot) to get rid of the lingering hunger pangs.

I waited another twenty years until I tried ratatouille again, and have had it a few times since then, too. You know what? I was never blown away by it. It's always too tomatoey or overly thymey, or just not balanced or good enough for me not to be bitchy about it. I've never made it myself (which tells me that I should), but when I bought The French Laundry Cookbook and Bouchon, I was intrigued with the Byaldi dish, and actually have been looking forward to making it ever since I started this project.

Byaldi is described by The French Laundry Cookbook as "a refined interpretation of ratatouille." Additional research shows that Byaldi is a derivation of a Turkish eggplant dish called "Imam Bayaldi" (meaning, loosely, "the imam fainted, it was that good"). You know that I don't post recipes from the book on this site, but I'll direct you to this link to the LA Times web site, which offers the Byaldi recipe in case you want to try it.

So, how about I stop with all the rambling and start writing about how gross, yet utterly fascinating, caul fat is, and why you should always have stunt tomatoes waiting in the wings.

Wanna see some pretty vegetables?

I heated some oil in a large skillet and lightly cooked the onions and peppers (which I'd sliced) and the herb sachet for about 20 minutes.

I then took my next batch of lovely vegetables...

... and sliced them on my new, bitchin' Benriner mandoline.

What I don't have is a photo of what happened when I tried to slice the lovely Roma tomatoes I so carefully picked out to ensure they were the same diameter as the zucchini, yellow squash, and Japanese eggplant. One slice in, and they were complete and total mush. Has that ever happened to you before? It's happened to me once or twice -- you buy tomatoes that look and feel great, and then a day later, you slice them and the insides are gloppy and foul-smelling. Thankfully, I had some regular-size tomatoes I was planning to use in a dish the next night that could fill in at the last minute. I was kinda bummed that the dish wouldn't be as pretty and perfect as I'd hoped, but them's the breaks, I suppose.

I took the vegetable slices and tomato chunks and started covering the cooked pepper and onion mix, beginning at the outside of the pan, layering them, and working toward the center:

I can hear you judging me and my chunk-ass tomatoes. "Oh Carrrroollllll, even a freakin' cartoon RAT can get this right, but you couldn't?"

Bite me.

I sprinkled some minced garlic and thyme with a little olive oil on top, and covered the pan with aluminum foil. I sealed it tight and put it in a 275-degree oven for 2.5 hours. At that point, I removed the foil and let it cook another 30 minutes, until the vegetables were so tender I wanted to eat them right then and there. But, alas, I did not. I let the pan of byaldi goodness cool to room temperature, and then refrigerated it until I was ready to serve it with the rest of the finished dish the next evening.

If ever there was a case for Smell-O-Vision, that was it. I, however, am using my best squinting skills to try and make the tomatoes look like they're just as pretty as all the other vegetables. Poor things. I suck.

The next day, I got the guinea fowl ready, since I knew the sauce would be a pain in the ass to make. I will admit that I kind of... well, more than kind of half-assed this part of the dish. I probably should've taken more care to clean the bird's bones in making the sauce, but I was so ready to get everything done so I could spend time with my dinner guests, that I did not pay as much attention to detail as I usually do.

Here's the guinea fowl:

I removed the breast meat from the bird, as well as the thigh meat, since that's what was going to be used in the final dish. The rest of the carcass and the bones I threw into the pot to start the sauce. I know. I suck. Don't remind me.

I browned these meaty bones for about 10 minutes on each side, then poured off some of the fat from the pan. I deglazed twice -- once with water, a second time with chicken stock -- then added carrots, shallots, onions and leeks to the pot:

After the vegetables had started to caramelize, I added some more water and chicken stock and simmered until the liquid had reduced by about a third. I removed it from the heat, took out the giant chunks of guinea fowl bone, and strained the sauce through a chinois, twice, into a small saucepan. I had about 2.5C of liquid, which I then reduced to about a third of a cup -- it smelled soooooo good. Wow.

I preheated the oven to 350 and got the final steps ready. I'd soaked a sheet of caul fat overnight, and at this point in the process, I removed it from the water and blotted it dry with a wad of paper towels.

Here it is soaking:

You'll see the caul fat in action in the next few photos. It's kind of gross, but I was fascinated by it. It's just slimy and fatty enough to be kind of squicky, but its texture is also so strange that it's cool to hold it and stretch it out a bit.

I laid it flat on the counter and made four small packages of guinea fowl and vegetable byaldi. I seasoned each piece of meat before adding it to the mix, and folded the caul fat tight under each package so it would stay together while I heated it.

I put a small amount of canola oil into an oven-safe skillet on medium heat and placed each little packet of fowl-n-veg into the pan, vegetable side down. I cooked it on that side for about 4 minutes, then gently turned it over to cook on the meat side for 3 minutes. I left the servings meat side down, and put the entire pan into the oven for 15 minutes so that the meat could cook the whole way through, and the vegetables could reheat.

I stirred a little bit of olive oil into the sauce I'd made earlier, and began plating. I'd reheated the rest of the byaldi in the oven, as well, so I put a bit of veg onto each plate and topped it with the guinea fowl and byaldi packets, topped with a little bit of sauce:

I will be the first to admit that it's not really the most appetizing thing to look at. However, it was scrumptious, and I wish I'd made double the amount because I think we would have finished it all tout de suite! The smell of it alone was intoxicatingly good, the bird was cooked just right, and the vegetables were succulent and tender... all in all, a homerun, despite the tomatoes that did not match the rest of the dish (clearly, I can't let it go). Everything tasted great, and from the first bite everyone at the table got silent as they ate. That always makes me nervous -- I'm never sure if people are actually enjoying the food, or wracking their brains to come up with at least one nice thing to say: "Well, it certainly looks like you put a lot of work into it" or "Hmmmm, I can't quite place that one ingredient I keep tasting. What IS that?" In this case, they were enjoying it. I know. They said so. So there.

I'd make that byaldi a hundred times over. The guinea fowl? Eh. It was fine, don't get me wrong. It's just that the vegetables were so damn good. I stashed away a small portion of it so I could have it in an omelet the next morning, which may have been the smartest thing I have ever done. Not like the time I ate huevos rancheros before a big meeting and had a giant wad of black bean skin stuck between my two front teeth. That wasn't too smart. Or the time in 1993 when I started to regale my co-workers with the key moment from an SNL skit and realized much too late into the retelling that the punchline involved the word "vagina" and the president of our company was standing there listening. Also? Not so smart.

Up Next: Artichokes Barigoule

Guinea fowl from D'Artagnan
Produce and aromatics from Whole Foods
Caul fat from Niman Ranch

Music to Cook By: NERD ALERT!!! George Michael; Faith and Ladies & Gentlemen. Dude. George Michael is touring the U.S. this summer. How can I NOT go see this show? The thought of thousands of people (okay, well, 3 or 4 of us at least) singing "Careless Whisper" and "Father Figure" at the top of their (our) lungs is just too good to pass up. I'm secretly hoping he'll do some of the old school WhamUK stuff like "Club Tropicana" and "Wham Rap (Enjoy What You Do)." Let's just hope he stays off the pipe long enough to make this happen because I need to re-enact the "Freedom" video with my girls at the show. That would make the evening complete. Maybe I'll even get the Linda Evangelista haircut for the occasion. Well, goodness me. See how enriched you've become by visiting my blog? We start out with lovely, delicious food and we end up talking about a drug-addled former pop star AND my next haircut. You can't find that kind of range in just ANY food blog, now can you?

Read my previous post: Gewürztraminer-Poached Moulard Duck Foie Gras with Gerwürztraminer Jelly


Anonymous said...

And I am SO singing along with you... no regrets, my friend, no regrets.

Alice Q. Foodie said...

You are soo funny. I know how you feel about the Wham - Duran Duran is coming to town here in San Diego next month!

Anonymous said...

1. That looks delicious. Why are we 3,000 miles apart again?

2. I had the Linda Evangelista haircut back in the day, and every time I see it I want it again.

3. If we are going to reenact the Freedom video at the George Michael concert, I CALL DIBS ON BEING CINDY CRAWFORD IN THE TUB. Because I look JUST LIKE HER whenever I bathe while surrounded by dry ice. It's like looking into a MIRROR, I tell you.

JordanBaker said...

You should blow up the vegetable pictures and sell them as still life posters, because they look fantastic.

Tempered Woman said...

Reading this I kept thinking~ can we get back to those veggies now?! The tomatoes looked fine- let it go~ and I could totally smell them, the picture was just that good. But now I wanna see a pic of that omelet. ;-)
I hope you're happy, I have to spend the rest of the day at work with Father Figure stuck in my head. God how I use to listen to that song and just think I was the only person on the planet that could feel every word down to my soul. *Sigh*

Anonymous said...

Wow, another dish I need to try.

I wish I had made notes in my FL book about your impression of each dish. I guess I'll have to go back and read all your posts again. Sounds like fun to me!

Another good job, Carol! (The tomatoes look fine to me, BTW.)

Anonymous said...

Where did you get your caul fat? Do you know of a mail order source for those of us who don' live in a major metropolitan area?

Carol Blymire said...

Catherine: of COURSE, you can be Cindy. Which leaves Naomi for Heather, but what are you gonna do?

Anonymous: I got my caul fat from Niman Ranch, online in fact.

AliceQ: I saw Duranduran two years ago and it was such a great show. Enjoy!

Anonymous said...

My first thought seeing the pan with the veggies: that looks awesome with the circular layers. Rest assured, the second thought was not about the tomatoes, chunk-ass or otherwise. And as you know the cartoon rat's ratatouille was in fact Keller's. Plus, I heard they went through about 50 stunt double tomatoes when doing that scene. It was a mess, and the crew was eating marinara sauce for days. So don't feel bad.

Ambrosia was the worst thing on the pot luck picnic table.

Anonymous said...

Heather can totally be Tatiana Patitz, for she is one foxy bitch. Unless she wants to be Christy Turlington, of course.

And there is but one choice for who will play the upside-down hanging guy in our video: BLOOMBERG!

Anonymous said...

Did you remove the caul fat before serving?

pdxblogmommy said...

:::pointing at myself:::

Did I miss something? What the hell is caul fat? It looks like dolphins get all caught up in 'ere.

And WhamUK and early Duran Duran were the most awesomest things to dance to on the Bat Mitzvah and Sweet 16 circuit in my town.

Carol Blymire said...

All: I guess I was ovecome with excitement about the George Michael thing and didn't really talk much about caul fat. My bad. Caul fat is the lacy, fatty membrane that encases or surrounds the internal organs of an animal. And, yes, I served the dish encased in the caul fat, but slit each one open so it looked all pretty and inviting.

Anonymous said...

Hee. Of course I did this in my head: George Mi-caul fat.

Sorry. I couldn't resist.

Devon said...

Dude, a friend of mine just asked me the other day the age-old pregunta: "If you could have lunch with one person, dead or alive, who would it be?" and without a damn blink of my eye, it was out of my mouth: "GEORGE MICHAEL."

I've been a fan since the tender age of 5 when I first heard "Faith" on the radio, and -realy - are there words to describe the incredulous horror of my love-glazed-thirteen-year-old self when I learned he was gay? Admit it, every woman felt the twinge. =)
But lordy, I am SO there this summer.

Oh - and fabulous posting, as usual. I love your blog.

Hugs from Colorado - Devon

Humble Abode said...

totally psyched as well that george michael is coming to north america! yay!

Steve Dunham said...

I made this one last July, along with "macaroni and cheese" (without the coral oil). It was quite tasty. Most of the work happened the day before, so I managed to get both courses on the table and sit with our guests.

I found that the caul fat isn't bad as long as you stretch it thin enough. I did notice that sometimes you get two or three layers, or it gets bunched up in the corners, when you fold it around the meat.

I'd bought an oxo mandoline for the dish, but quickly gave up and switched to my knife. The blade didn't seem sharp enough for push cutting and when I did get it to cut, the pieces didn't turn out very even.

There is a photo on flickr of my rendition of this dish. (the plating is a little messy)

Anonymous said...

Ok, so I have "almost" posted this comment 10 times and now I'm need to make this into a book. People would buy it. I would buy it. I would buy it for other people. Even if you just do a kind of thing, you really should make this into a book. Talk with a publisher...certainly one of your many readers knows a publisher who could tell you "yes this is awesome and would make a fabulous book" or "no-one would buy this, who do you think you are anyway?" You have something like 400 readers and I bet we ALL would buy a copy. Ok, I've said it. I'm done. :)

Anonymous said...

I've visited your blog many times, but the byaldi is the first dish I've tried myself. I've had to make it twice in one day: a few friends at lunch polished a whole one off. Then my teenage son and husband polished off a second one at dinner. Looks like I'll be making it again. Best vegan dish I've ever made.

The blog is inspired. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Hi, the reason the imam fainted was actually s'posed to be because the oil was so expensive and so much is used in that dish. But it tastes damn swishy whatever! :)

Unknown said...

Ooh, decisions. Christy Turlington is really smart, so of course I'd like to think I'd step in for her with ease, but Naomi Campbell is a crazy bitch and honestly, that probably fits also. I WOULD totally wear a fur coat to my court-mandated community service at the sanitation department, that's for sure...

Vivian said...

LOVE IT! First off, I'm impressed people still remember Wham! I asked a bunch of people lately if they remember Careless Whisper... and they only remember George Michael. And most of all, I've always wanted a mandoline :(

queenofsheba said...

I think the thing about the Linda Evangelista haircut is that it still looks fabulous while popping in and out of a turtleneck. Not many haircuts can do that.

I wish you had a picture of your day two omelet.

Anonymous said...

i've always had the same feelings about ratatouille, but ever since i saw the damn rat movie i've wanted to try this version. maybe once i get over being burned by thomas keller

Anonymous said...

Wham? WHAM? Oh Carol, how can someone with such good taste have such bad taste?

OK, so here's my idea for a SUPER book. You, Ruhlman and Keller get together and produce a book with Keller's TFL recipes, your experience making them and Keller's comments, hints and snark about what happened to you (as related to Ruhlman). We could even include comments from other TFL folks (like a certain former pastry chef - just sayin'). We could get Bourdain to write the forward. GENIUS or what?

Oh and the recipe, loved it when the rat did it. Astonishing that it looked so good in real life (my mother made ratatouille all through my childhood and I despised it) even with the stunt tomatoes.

amber said...

a) i'm diggin' the book idea from conneticutlet. :)

b) i'm ashamed to admit that i've never tried ratatouille (and i'm pushing 30). :/ the veggies were so pretty. definitely earmarking this recipe in my TFL cookbook.