TGRWT#20 Pumpkin & Cooked Chicken Round-Up


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“Pues me dio calabazas” is an
idiomatic expression that I learned in high school Spanish. It
literally translates into “she gave me pumpkins,” which really
means that she blew me off. Despite that rather negative association,
I have always been fond of pumpkins either as ornaments or as food.
Since I was very young, pumpkin pie has always been a favorite. It
has only been relatively recently, however, that my interest in and
experience with pumpkin as a savory component has blossomed. It is
because of that interest and the association of pumpkin with autumn
and holidays such as Halloween and Thanksgiving, that I thought it
would make an interesting essential ingredient for TGRWT#20, the
latest cooking challenge in the series originated and administered by
Martin Lersch of blog.Khymos. I added cooked chicken as it's partner
to push the use of pumpkin in savory ways or to make particularly
interesting pumpkin and chicken desserts.

Perhaps it is the business of the season or perhaps the ingredients were not inspirational enough, but the submissions were fewer than for some other couplings. I have, however, always been one to take quality over quantity. I appreciate the quality of the submissions that came in.

IMG_0140 I must confess that my own initial
effort met with mixed results. I attempted to produce a dish of
chicken and pumpkin nuggets with shredded brussels sprouts and a
pumpkin-coriander sauce. I cubed a fresh chicken and an heirloom
pumpkin and cooked them together in a pressure cooker. Right out of
the cooker, both the chicken and pumpkin were rather tasty, albeit
not terribly attractive. I pureed some of the pumpkin and all of the
liquid adding cheddar cheese resulting in a very tasty soup. I
reduced some of the soup to a sauce, which was still tasty, but my
mistake came when I took the already cooked chicken and pumpkin,
coated them in batter and flash fried them. The chicken was dry and
overcooked and the pumpkin was a soggy, tasteless mess – major
fail! The problem was neither the goal of the dish nor the
combination of ingredients. Rather it was just terrible conception
and execution. The pressure cooking resulted in the nice soup, but I
should never have tried to cook the chicken further.

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Fortunately, the dishes submitted by my
fellow food bloggers did not seem to share the same problems.

DSC00689 The first entry was from Greg of the
blog Humbling Attempts at Creativity. This entry was a deceptively  straightforward looking “Grilled Moroccan Spiced Chicken Breast
with Pumpkin Fritters and Pumpkin Demi-Glace.” Greg was
particularly fond of the pumpkin demi-glace. He found it to work well
with both the chicken and the fritters, though he felt the fritters
were too sweet as done to complement the chicken well. All-in-all,
this looked to be a very nice dish, though from his description, I,
too, think I would enjoy the fritters more if they were less sweet.

The next entry was from Claudia and her
blog Honey From Rock. Claudia is based in Hawaii. As per my original
suggestion, Claudia used lemongrass in her dish with pumpkin and
chicken, something that I have grown fond of, whether it is an
official TGRWT combination or not and made a soup. Actually she made
two soups. The first she characterized as a “Thai Pacific Fusion
Dish.” In addition to the chicken, pumpkin and lemongrass (taken
directly from her garden – I am jealous!), she used wattleseeds,
cumin, galangal ginger, lemon basil, onion, zucchini, lemon and a few
other ingredients to make the initial soup that she reported was very
well received and that she planned on making again, only with more
lemongrass! The next day she used this soup as a base and varied it
with the addition of coconut milk. My mouth is watering just writing
this. She did suggest adding turmeric for additional color and
possible health benefits.

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Greg, a culinary student, came in again
with another dish, this time a pumpkin curry with chicken. While he
liked the dish, he felt that it was overpowered by the chilies that
were grown by his girlfriend's father. Hot or not, it was certainly a
pretty dish, nicely plated. The concept sounds good too. I would
definitely try that dish. Greg did add turmeric to this dish, not a
bad thought when looking to emphasize the nice yellow-orange color of
pumpkin.

Pumpkin curry

Veering away from Asian inspiration,
Dennis from Kookjegek.nl//, made a sandwich using pumpkin as a major
component of the bread. With the pumpkin bread a major undertaking,
Dennis finished the dish with chicken that was boiled in beef stock,
port salut cheese, carrot and lettuce. Who said sandwiches are
simple? One needs soup when having a sandwich. Dennis also made Pumpkin-Carrot Soup with Chicken.

4124200733_ac38eeceb9 4109972808_d67d57eb10 4114784576_dfb0c8d94c 

Rob from The Curious Blogquat has submitted dishes to most, if not all of the TGRWT's and they have always been extremely creative. His submission for TGRWT#20 continues his tradition. Rob & I go way back into the heydays of eGullet when we were both hosts. I have always enjoyed and learned from him and so I was particularly glad that he participated here.Given his Southwestern location in New Mexico, he applied a Mexican interpretation doing a mole incorporating pumpkin flesh, pumpkin seeds and chicken stock amongst a number of other ingredients.He added unseasoned "pure" chicken cooked sous vide and a pignon tuile to complete the dish.  As he described it,

"This was a can't lose combination, so naturally they went great. I
purposefully kept the pumpkin toned down so it didn't feel like a
savory pumpkin pie, but that squashiness was very complementary to the
chicken. For lunch the next day I took the scraps and threw them into a
grilled pita with some goat cheese and had a very nice meal."

Mole3 

Brian from New Zealand and the blog Foodology submitted perhaps the most beautiful plate that was also quite creative. His dish was a fried chicken thigh paired with an agar stiffened tube of roasted pumpkin puree seasoned with coriander and beef stock and rolled in peanut crumbs. Even though he felt it could use some tweaks, such as "a salad of Coriander and baby herbs, and some kind of sauce to finish the affair", he added,

"The earthiness of the pumpkin was matched by the chickens own
subtle meatiness. The smoky paprika and the peanuts were a complete
surprise and where only really added on a whim to see what they would
contribute, to tell the truth I was a little smitten and think that
this might end up making an appearance on the new years menu if
perfected. If left alone chicken and pumpkin have as much place on a
plate as any unseasoned product, it needs other ingredients to elevate
them, but do coexist very well."

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Mustard chicken with pumpkin puree on spinach cakes was the submission from the Defunct Legend Blog. The assessment:

"The main problem is that I over-spiced my pumpkin. I knew this once I
started boiling it down. I tried to get some canned pumpkin to mellow
it out, but the store was out.

Other than that the whole thing worked together really well. The
pumpkin and the chicken complemented each other and the spinach cake
acted as a foil.

The pumpkin really brought the similarities it has with the chicken that I think would be lost without it.

Overall, we all really liked the dish (or I had guests who were both very polite and extremely hungry).

Wife tasting notes:  The whole dish smelled fabulous. Mustard flavor
was strong in the chicken skin – love that skin.  The chicken was juicy
and super tasty but much more mild then the skin.  The over-spiced
pumpkin tasted solo, was a bit too spicy.  With the spinach cakes and
the chicken it was mouth savory goodness.       
 
{please keep in mind that my wife likes me perhaps more than you do}"

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I got involved with TGRWT when Aidan Brooks aka "Trig" hosted TGRWT#18 this summer. Trig, a young cook from England, is a delight to read. He has spent the better part of the last few years learning and cooking in Spain, until recently working as the pastry chef for Paco Morales at Ferrero in Valencia. Morales is a brilliant young chef and protege of Andoni Luis Aduriz at Mugaritz, so I am sure that Trig pickd up a few tricks while there. Even though, Trig is currently in the midst of a major life transition, he managed to post to TGRWT#20. He did enlist some help, though, in the form of his father. Trig wrote,

"I've got a year's experience as a chef de partie
under my belt now and in shortlisting potential employers for my next
job I've focused on larger kitchens where I would get the opportunity
to manage a team. So why not test my powers of delegation on TGRWT #20?
After all, my dad thinks he knows something about food these days and,
after eating with me at Quique Dacosta the other week, he should have
learnt something about technique and presentation. More importantly,
I've discussed the taste spectrum with him many times, so he should
know where to start when designing a dish. So I briefed my father…
and what follows is the result. All his own handiwork, including the
photos."

Incorporating the original idea of lemongrass with the chicken and pumpkin, Trig's father, Mike, came up with, "a slow-cooked chicken and pumpkin roulade on a bed of pilaf rice, with a sauce of coconut and lemongrass." This was Cambodian influenced in deference to Trig's "love of Khmer cooking." Using a Kabocha pumpkin, that while largely considered Japanese today, had it's origins in Cambodia, Mike made a puree that also incorporated spinach and mushrooms. He spread the puree out on some chicken breasts that had been marinated in  home-made kroeung paste, rolled up, wrapped in plastic wrap, cooked in a water bath and finished with searing in very hot chicken fat. The roulade was sliced and plated atop a sticky rice pilaf that had been cooked in chicken stock. Around the pilaf, Mike poured reduced sour lemongrass and coconut soup and placed some reserved caramelized pumpkin within the soup. He called the dish, "Kroeung Marinated Chicken
Roulade with Pumpkin, Spinach and Mushroom on a bed of Chicken and Thai
Basil Pilaf with Caramelized Pumpkin and a Reduced Sour Coconut and
Lemongrass Sauce."

Chicken and pumpkin large

Mike's assessment of the dish was as follows:

"So, how was the pairing? I
don't know if chicken and pumpkin is a traditional combination in other
cuisines, but a quick search on Google turns up recipes for Thai,
Moroccan, American, Italian and even British dishes. Anyhow, it's
certainly a combination that works. It stood up well to competition
from the intense flavours of coconut and lemongrass, shrimp and
tamarind. My pilaf, combining sticky rice fried in rendered chicken fat
with chicken stock, was simply too rich and sweet. If I repeated the
dish, I'd also think more carefully about the colours. The combination
of turmeric and tamarind turned an otherwise beautiful soup into a
muddy brown liquor, so next time I'd make part of the kroeung without
haldi and look for a clear tamarind extract or use another souring
agent. I'd also make the dish more sour, because the sweetness still
dominated. It took me ages to make this meal, but it was happily
consumed within minutes. And it certainly convinced me that chicken and
pumpkin go really well together."

This was a tremendous effort, especially considering that Mike is neither ordinarily a cook or a blogger. Clearly though, he has chops in both camps. Trig, you should utilize your father as a guest blogger more often, that is unless he starts up his own blog!

With the exception of the agar in Foodology's pumpkin, the approaches taken primarily employed conventional and traditional techniques and ingredients. While readers of this blog know that I love good traditional cooking, they also know that I have a fondness for and great admiration of creativity and that I find the creative and effective use of vanguard techniques. I was therefore quite pleased when another long-time eGullet friend got his dish in just under the wire (it didn't make it into my original posting because it had gone un-noticed directly into my spam folder). Larry from the blog Tri-2-Cook is one of the most imaginative and creative food bloggers out there and he did not disappoint with this challenge. He melded straighforward simplicity with cutting edge technique to produce a dish of pumpkin noodles – fried
chicken – walnut sauce – parsley puree – olive oil
, but the noodles
weremade with roasted pumpkin, agar and seasoning. The chicken was cubed, brined, breaded and fried in olive oil. A further vanguard touch was addded with ultratex used as a thickening agent for the walnut sauce. Larry described his dish thusly:

"The goal was to get all of the components of a traditional pasta noci
on the plate with the pumpkin and chicken. I enjoyed the combination
and may even take the time to refine this dish a bit for future use.
Mainly by making actual pumpkin pasta rather than the agar noodles.
They were really pure in flavor which was appropriate for the purposes
of this challenge, keeping the key ingredients forward, but I missed
the texture of a traditional noodle."

Tgrwt-pc

I couldn't leave this with my only effort having been a failure, so I gave it another go. This time, I enlisted the help of a ringer of my own, my friend Adriano of Cafe Lazio, someone who regular readers of my blog will be familiar with. So, one evening I brought a beautiful bright red-orange Cinderella pumpkin from Sheldon Farms and a large free-range chicken from Brookside Farm to the restaurant.

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We discussed possibilities and decided to play. Once Adriano was finished with service, we got down to business. We sliced and roasted the pumpkin then pureed it.

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To thicken the puree, we mixed it with a potato puree and fresh bread crumbs and seasoned it with salt, pepper and ginger powder. In the meantime, we cut up the chicken and deboned a whole leg/thigh section, leaving just the ankle portion of the bone. The leg/thigh was then stuffed with the pumpkin puree and closed up with skewers through the skin. The stuffed chicken piece was then baked in the oven until done (I know, this is roasted), rested and sliced.

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It was served on a slice of roasted pumpkin along with a pomegranate red wine sauce with pomegranate kernels added for texture. Considering that we prepared this on the fly after the restaurant's usual service, it came out quite nicely and was rather delicious. The pomegranate red wine sauce was so good and such a great companion to the chicken that Adriano is likely to add it to his menu. The ballotine was delicious, but it was a lot of work to get the consistency right for stuffing and closing without it being too soft. The flavor combination worked quite nicely though. The dish was fully savory with a little sweetness from the pomegranate to provide balance.

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In summary, this may not have been the most novel or the sexiest combination, but it does work. Whether the chicken is roasted or cooked in other ways, it marries well with pumpkin and the combination is neutral enough that it can play host to any number of other flavor elements. From my own personal experience in working with these ingredients for this project, I particularly enjoyed combinations with lemongrass, cardamom and pomegranate, though not necessarily all together. While pumpkin has sugar and depending on how it is handled plenty of inherent sweetness, it is not automatically a part of the dessert canon. It is clearly also quite comfortable in the realm of savory.

Thanks for participating and thanks for reading!


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4 Responses to TGRWT#20 Pumpkin & Cooked Chicken Round-Up

  1. Brian says:

    Mmmmmmm pumpkin demi glace. Some cool ideas there.

  2. Tri2Cook says:

    You didn’t get mine? I posted/sent it on the 8th. I was pretty sure it went on time. If not, I only missed the deadline by a couple minutes at most.

  3. Tri2Cook says:

    Thanks! I was thinking I may have sent it to the wrong address, wouldn’t be the first time I’ve done something like that.
    Really nice dishes everybody… and some cool ideas to borrow (ok, steal) too.

  4. Claudia says:

    Great job on the round-up, and your plating of the last try was beautiful. Looks like a burst of flame!

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