Here are two recipes for poussin which are fun to do, if slightly unusual in technique. The results are definitely worth it. To be even weirder I've listed quantities for cooking just one poussin with each method, mainly because this is the way I experimented with them first. I did also salt bake six poussins in the oven, which worked very well. Just scale up the quantities for each bird. I found I only needed 3 kg of rock salt for the six poussins. Likewise use the peppercorn powder sparingly and don't feel you have to cover the bird - give it a good rub all over and that will be fine.
The overnight hanging is to dry out the skin a much as possible, so that it crisps up beautifully in its salty crust. I used some string and looped it a couple times around each wing before tying it around our hanging clothes rail. It was just high enough to be safe from our hungry cats, but low enough to give Ro a fright when he came home from work. If you are short on time you could even position a fan on a low setting in front of the bird, to help speed up the air drying process.
The hot smoked poussin idea came out of reading too many smoky barbecued ribs recipes and wanting to try out a relatively new gadget. Last summer we treated ourselves to a Cobb oven, to take to festivals with the promise of hot bacon sandwiches on cold, damp and hungover camping days. I couldn't resist also getting the 'smoker attachment' - basically a round cast iron box that you put wood chips into and place over the hot coals so they heat up and produce whatever sweet smelling smoke you have chosen. Smoking a poussin seemed a relatively easy way of breaking in the new equipment. And with what fantastic results! Next time I think I'll try a whole chicken, maybe jointed into legs, thighs and breasts...
Sichuan salt baked poussin
a fat little poussin
a teaspoon of Sichuan peppercorns
a teaspoon of black peppercorns
two teaspoons of shaoxing wine (sherry or white wine will also do fine)
about 1 to 1.5kg of coarse rock salt
two tablespoons of ginger or young galangal, very finely minced
three tablespoons of spring onions, white and pale green parts only also finely minced
two teaspoons of sea salt
a tablespoon of groundnut oil
Combine the Sichuan and black peppercorns in a dry frying pan together over a low flame. Keep an eye on the pan and shake it occasionally, making sure the spices don’t burn. Gently toast the peppercorns until they give off a lovely aroma, then take them off the heat and grind them up in a spice grinder or with a pestle and mortar.
While the spices cook wash the poussin, pull out any remaining bits of feather, trim off any fat still clinging to the skin around the cavity and pat dry with kitchen paper. Rub the bird with the wine and then the peppercorn powder. Hang the bird up in a cool dry place overnight.
The next day, ready your wok with all of the rock salt in it and no oil. Make a hole in the salt and place the poussin in breast side down. Pile the rest of the salt over and around the bird, so that most of the bird is completely covered and none of it is directly touching the wok.
Place the wok over a high flame for 20 minutes, covered. Turn the bird over, cover again and heat for another 20 minutes. This time don’t worry about piling up the salt or anything.
If you don’t have a wok you can put the poussin in a high sided baking tray and bake them in a preheated oven at 230 degrees Celsius.
While the poussin is cooking you can make the dipping sauce. Mix together the minced ginger, spring onions and the salt. Heat the groundnut oil in a tiny saucepan or by holding a ladle over a flame until the oil is smoking hot. Pour the oil over the ginger mixture – it will sizzle and smell delicious. Give the sauce a good mix and allow it to cool to room temperature.
Your poussin should be done after 40 minutes, but if in doubt stick a skewer into the thickest part of the leg and press a spoon against the leg until juices run out. They should be clear but if they are pink or red cook the bird for a few minutes more. Put the bird on a carving board and dust off any remaining clumps of rock salt. Let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes.
To serve, pull off the legs and using a sharp knife take off the two breasts and slice them into bite sized morsels. Dunk the poussin pieces in lots of gingery, oniony sauce and eat while the skin is still salty and crisp.
Mesquite hot smoked poussin
a fat little poussin
a dried chipotle pepper
a small shallot
a tablespoon of cider vinegar
half a tin of chopped tomatoes
a clove of garlic, peeled and sliced
two teaspoons of honey
a pinch of fresh or dried thyme
ground black pepper and sea salt
Soften the chipotle pepper in a little hot water for half an hour, then combine it with the shallot, cider vinegar and tomatoes in a small saucepan and gently simmer for another half an hour or so until the pepper is soft and the tomatoes have melted into a thickish paste. Mash everything together with a fork and mix in the garlic, honey, thyme, salt and black pepper. Taste the mixture – it should be smoky, sweet and spicy. Allow the marinade to cool.
Put the poussin in a zip lock bag, add the marinade and close the bag, keeping as much air out as possible. Squeeze and squelch the bird so it is covered in smoky sauce, then leave it in the fridge overnight, turning it over once or twice if you remember.
The next day set up your hot smoker with wood chips of your choice. Remove the poussin from the marinade and smoke it for 30 to 40 mins, depending on the heat of your smoker. Check if it is done with a skewer into the thickest part of the thigh as above.
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