We needed a special dessert for our dinner this past Sunday. Not because it was Fourth of July weekend, a birthday, or anything like that.
My brother, Jackson, was coming over to eat his roosters.
Two chicks from the flock of Langshans and Delawares he was raising, all of whom were meant to be laying hens, had the appearance of having developed into males. This guess was confirmed when one day last week, the first began crowing. The following day the second did the same.
Something had to be done. Roosters, you see, are not allowed within our city limits due to the disruptive, early-morning noise they make. A neighbor had already stopped by to remind Jackson about this.
Jackson quickly put them on craigslist and immediately received several phone calls from people who sounded very eager to take the unwanted roosters.
"What do you think they want to do with them?" I asked.
He had no idea. He also hadn't told any of them to come over to take the birds. I sensed some ambivalence from him about giving them away.
"Why don't we cook them? We can make coq au vin," I blurted, in some perhaps, misguided attempt to get to the bottom of his ambivalence.
After all, I had never made coq au vin before, and had only eaten it once in Belgium about a million years ago. (And again, why didn't he want to just get rid of the roosters anyway when there were eager takers awaiting his return calls?)
But I had just read through the coq au vin recipe in Mimi Thorisson's cookbook. Why not try it?
To my surprise, his face lit up at my suggestion. Then he said okay.
Stipulations, boundaries, expectations must always be immediately set forth when dealing with one's own family members in relation to such matters as slaughtering and processing an animal.
"You need to make sure they're totally clean, I mean like chicken from the supermarket," I said emphatically.
This was my PTSD speaking, from him suddenly showing up last year at my house with some dead chickens, feet and heads still attached, feathers on -- the creatures plonked into a heap at the bottom of a Home Depot bucket.
"Okay, okay," He agreed.
The roosters arrived mostly clean. I followed Mimi's recipe, which resulted in tender, flavorful meat with a rich, inky sauce. Everyone at dinner agreed that it was a tasty dish. Then, our friend, Ralph, stopped by and tried it. He remarked that he was surprised that the meat wasn't tough.
The conversation came around to us talking about eating something you've raised yourself. My brother commented that the roosters were twelve weeks old when he killed them and that he had raised them from tiny chicks. There was something to that. He had a wistful look in his eye.
Then, he told us that he'd followed our mom's tip (she once lived on a farm in Kowloon) to sneak up on the rooster and step on its foot so it can't run away from you. She had also directed him to pick up the rooster, cuddle it and gently stroke it so it would be relaxed and happy before he slit its neck.
Perhaps that is the key to a delectable coq au vin? I'm not quite sure.
What I can tell you is that while many people move further and further away from knowing the sources of their food, including the meat they consume, there is something powerful about knowing that two roosters that were raised -- then slaughtered -- by my brother were made into something delicious that our friends and family could share around a table.
I would assert that the act of sharing this meal tied us together in a way that made us better humans. It made us think, and sparked conversation between all of us about the meaning of where our food comes from, why it matters.
That night, Ralph, recalled a scene in The Last of the Mohicans, which he read when he was a boy and still remembered vividly. After a deer hunt, the hunters thanked the animal for providing, in its death, for them and their families.
Roosters, we thank you. I remember when I would hand over strawberry tops, spinach stems, and other scraps to my brother for your enjoyment. I hope you liked when we tossed you meal worms and said "Hello ladies!" even though you were anything but.
You gave us a wonderful meal. You were the highlight. Even the spectacular dessert we had afterward could not eclipse you.
Iced Cherry and Blueberry Terrine
Really, I'm not exaggerating, but every time I offer a slice of this to anyone, they just stare at it and say "Wow," before they actually eat it. Make it when you want to impress someone. If you don't have an ice cream machine, this is the perfect almost-ice cream treat for you. Actually, I might go so far as to say it is even better than ice cream, with it's layers of textures and flavors. And zero churning! It's super-easy to make and comes together quickly once you have all the elements ready. You will have to turn on the oven for parts of this, but please trust me on this one: it's worth it.
You can play around with the types of fruits you use. There is no sugar added to the cream since the meringues add the requisite sweetness. While there is a four-hour minimum freeze time, this is best eaten within 24 hours, if not sooner. It will start to get icy after that, unless you have it well wrapped and in an insulated, freezer-proof container.
But why try to save it? I think this is the sort of thing you should invite a bunch of friends over to eat right when it's ready. You don't need to have any particular reason like a rooster dinner! Do it just because it's delicious and you want to share something that will make everybody happy. Hand anyone a slice of this and I promise his eyes will light up.
Adapted from Nigel Slater's wonderful book, Ripe.
Makes 10 servings.
For the terrine:
Roasted red cherries and blueberries (see below*)
2 cups heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup chocolate almond meringues (see below**), crumbled
*For the roasted cherries and blueberries:
2 cups red cherries
Pinch of cinnamon
1 1/2 cups blueberries
1 teaspoon Lyle's Golden Syrup, maple syrup, or honey
**For the chocolate almond meringues:
5 egg whites
1 1/2 cups superfine sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup bittersweet chocolate (use the best you can find, hopefully 60-72% cacao), finely chopped
1/2 cup raw, sliced almonds
Make the meringues:
Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Spread the sugar on the parchment and bake for 7 minutes, until the sugar is hot and the edges are just beginning to dissolve.
While the sugar is heating up, place the egg whites in clean bowl (make sure there is no fat residue of any kind, including yolk). Using a stand mixer, whisk the whites on medium until foamy. Add vanilla. When the sugar is ready, pour it slowly in a stream into the the whites while your whisk is still going. Once the sugar is incorporated, turn to high and beat for another 9 minutes until the whites are firm, shiny, and smooth. The meringue should be cool at this point.
Fold in the chocolate. Spread almonds on a large plate. Using two spoons, gather a scoop of the meringue and roll the bottom on top of the almonds. Place the meringue onto the prepared baking sheet. Continue in the same manner with the remaining meringue. Make sure to leave enough room between the meringues, as they will expand.
Bake for two hours. Allow to cool before removing to a wire rack to complete cooling. Meringues may be prepared up to 2 days ahead of time and stored in a tightly sealed container. You will have a bit of extra after you have finished making the terrine.
Make the roasted cherries and blueberries:
Preheat oven to 425°F. Cut cherries in half and pit them. Place in a single layer in a small baking pan. Add cinnamon. Place blueberries in a single layer in a separate baking pan. Drizzle golden syrup over the blueberries. Bake for 15 minutes, until the fruit have given up juices which have thickened slightly. Cool completely. Fruit may be prepared up to 3 days ahead.
And finally, for the terrine:
Prepare a loaf pan by lining it with plastic wrap. Allow the edges of the wrap to drape over the sides. Press wrap into the pan.
Place whipping cream in bowl of stand mixer. Using whisk attachment, beat the cream until it is just starting to thicken but has not yet formed peaks. Remove from mixer. Add crumbled meringues, distributing it throughout the whipped cream.
Place a layer of the whipped cream-meringue mixture (half) into the bottom of the prepared loaf pan. Add the cherries, carefully swirling them quickly and with a light hand through the cream. Add another layer (the other half) of the remaining whipped cream-meringue. Drizzle the roasted blueberries and syrup over and then swirl quickly and with a light hand through the second whipped cream layer. Cover completely with plastic wrap. I added another layer of foil for more secure coverage.
Place in freezer for 4 hours and up to 24 hours. To serve, remove terrine from loaf pan by lifting the edges of the plastic wrap. Unwrap terrine and slice into 1-inch slices. Serve immediately.
Best when eaten within 24 hours.