Monday, January 7, 2013

Chicken and Ciabatta Stuffed Mushrooms - "Downton Abbey Style"

My daughter and I are avid Downton Abbey fans (who isn’t?). As millions were doing, we awaited the Season 3 Premiere yesterday with great anticipation. A couple days before, as the waiting became almost unbearable, I had an idea.
We both love cooking, so I suggested we celebrate the Premiere by cooking something from one of my Vintage Cookbooks beforehand and enjoying the finished product as we watched the event! I just happened to have an old cookbook called “Royal Cookbook: Favorite Recipes from the World’s Royal Families”. So I flipped to the “England” section and chose a recipe that did not include Tripe, kidneys, tongue or calves’ feet. Indeed.

In the cookbook the recipe is called “Farced Mushrooms”, but almost as soon as we got into the cooking process, we started to “make it our own” and decided to change the name since we changed the recipe. We decided on:

“Chicken and Ciabatta Stuffed Mushrooms – "Downton Abbey Style”.

Mix together chicken, bread crumbs, cream, and egg yolks. Add salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and blend thoroughly to form a smooth paste.
We made our own bread crumbs, so if you are doing the same you want to start those first. I had a good loaf of Ciabatta bread, so I pulsed it in the food processor for a minute or two and put them right in the oven at 175 degrees. We watched them every 15 minutes till they seemed pretty dry, then took them out to cool. No need to clean the processor bowl since we were using it to mix the filling in a moment.
The recipe calls for the chicken to be finely chopped, but since I knew I would use the food processor, I just pulled it off the bones and measured it. Happily, our one whole chicken was 2 cups. We included just a few bits of the crispiest sections of skin to hopefully pump in more flavor and just a bit more fat.
Next we separated the eggs, measured the cream, bread crumbs, and seasonings and put them all, including the chicken, into the processor. We were careful not to process them for too long, because, even though the recipe called for it to be mixed thoroughly into a smooth paste, we were hoping we could get a somewhat chunkier chicken texture. However, we barely pulsed it a few times before it was smooth. So much for our idea of a chunkier bite.
Preparing the mushrooms was quick. I have my own method of cleaning mushrooms whereby I start a small stream of cold water into a large colander and I swirl the mushrooms around in the colander quickly beneath the stream, pressing them very gently against the sides  of the colander as I move them around. This just takes a few seconds and removes all the soil well.
The recipe tells you to stuff the mushrooms with the chicken filling, “mounding it up over the tops”. We did this with a small scoop, and once the filling was in place, we used our fingers to smooth the mounds of stuffing and make the mushrooms look prettier.

Now we placed the mushrooms (stuffing up) in a baking pan, mixed the basting liquid ingredients and poured it slowly into the pan of mushrooms.
A cover of aluminum foil and into the preheated oven!
 We obediently basted them as directed.

Our verdict:
When they came out and were on our beautiful antique “Downton Abbey Style” platter, they looked…boring. We tasted one and it had a deep flavor, but the texture of the filling was just a bit off-putting. The texture was similar to a deviled egg, but a pretty dry one. And the flavor was on one level. We wanted to taste highs and lows, acids and heat!

So we began to doctor them up with a Horseradish Cream Sauce. Mmm…this helped – a lot! 
But they were still boring to the eye, so we chopped some scallions and sprinkled them on top which also helped. 
Since they were stone cold within a few minutes of leaving the oven, we really needed a warming tray for serving. Also they aren’t really finger foods since the mushrooms are slippery.
The Bottom Line: Rich and decadent, but one-note. But a perfect foundation for each cook’s personal experimentations! Tomato-based sauce, red pepper cream sauce, spicy horseradish sauce, go wild! I’m sure these little beauties would go well with dozens of sauces and garnishes. And I’m excited to try them again – my way.

The Recipe: Serves 4 - 6


2 cups cooked, finely chopped chicken (we used a rotisserie chicken),
1/3 cup fine bread crumbs (we used Ciabatta bread)
3 Tablespoons light cream (we used half and half)
2 egg yolks
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
16 – 20 large mushrooms (we used Stuffing Mushrooms)

For basting liquid:
¼ cup melted butter
½ cup hot water
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Cooking together with my daughter reminded me of a dimly lit Downton kitchen... Mrs. Patmore giving orders to a quite capable but timid Daisy. The only difference was that we also got to enjoy the food, just as Cora and Mary on our 1920's antique Downton platters and real silver. The paradox of our modern life, that we are both the servant AND the aristocrat ( in a sense). Here's to a new and exciting season!

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