A ‘fancy’ holiday meal that requires no fancy skills

The Associated PressDecember 25, 2013 

Looking to dazzle your guests? I’ve got the perfect “fancy” dish for you. And I promise it requires no advanced culinary skills.

I’ve adapted this from a recipe that first appeared in Gourmet magazine. It boasts a secret ingredient, what the French call a “farce,” but we call it forcemeat. It’s what makes this chicken ridiculously moist and flavorful.

A forcemeat is a mixture of well-seasoned meat, poultry, fish or vegetables that’s finely chopped or ground, then cooked and served alone or used as a stuffing. Some fat usually is added to ensure the forcemeat has a smooth texture. Forcemeat is the base of many charcuterie products, including pates, terrines and sausages.

But in this recipe, it doesn’t just add delicious flavor. It also insulates the chicken from the intensity of the heat in the oven, making it almost impossible for the meat to dry out.

For my forcemeat, I’ve used a mixture of chicken, spinach, low-fat sour cream (in place of the original recipe’s heavy cream), and Mediterranean flavorings, including lemon zest, nutmeg (often paired with spinach) and fennel seed. I’d advise those of you who think you hate fennel (which tastes vaguely of licorice) to give this combo a chance. It’s a delicious blend of flavors, and you won’t even notice – fennel.

But before you get going, a few kitchen notes.

We’ll start with the tools. Your best bet for grinding the fennel seeds is a spice or coffee grinder, but you also can crush them with the bottom of a heavy saucepan. As for grating the lemon zest and nutmeg, get yourself a wand-style grater, which makes quick work of both.

If you’re using dry pre-washed spinach, throw a little water into the skillet with it to help it wilt, then stir it often. Don’t be surprised when it cooks down to almost nothing. You’ll notice then that the spinach has generated water of its own in excess. The best way to lose the water is to wrap batches of the spinach in a dish towel and squeeze hard.

You might wonder whether all the stuffing will fit under the chicken’s skin, or whether the excess will ooze out when you saute the meat. Don’t worry. Chicken skin is remarkably elastic. And the forcemeat firms right up during cooking and won’t slide out.

Wait. Doesn’t that skin contain a lot of fat? It does. But I figure that the holidays are the one time of year you can splurge a little.

And by the way, there’s no reason to confine the enjoyment of this dish to the holidays. You can customize the seasonings or flavorings as you like as long as you keep the amounts of the core ingredients — chicken, sour cream and ice — untouched. That said, this is indeed a perfect dish for entertaining because you can make it ahead of time and keep it in the refrigerator until about 40 minutes before you want to serve it.

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