“Fastened up behind the barouche was a hamper of spacious dimensions–one of those hampers which always awakens in a contemplative mind associations connected with cold fowls, tongues and bottles of wine…” (from The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens)
A picnic basket, like a wrapped present under a Christmas tree, has about it the pleasure of the unknown and the imagined. There could be anything inside it, but whatever it is, the surprise is likely to be a good one. Chicken, fried or grilled, is a time-honoured picnic basket tradition.
Here is a recipe for a grilled variety of chicken–the poussin. A poussin is a very young chicken–no more than 28 days old, by today’s official British standards, and weighing no more than 750 grams (about 1 and 3/4 pounds) if it is to be sold as a ‘poussin’. The closest U.S. equivalent is a ‘squab chicken.’
This uninvolved method of preparing the little birds originates with a Congolese chef. It makes excellent grilled chicken that will satisfy the contemplative imaginings of everyone invited to gather round and…open the picnic basket.
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- 2 Poussins or 2 Squab Chickens
- 3 cloves of Garlic, peeled
- 4 Green Onions, white and green parts, coarsely chopped or about 1 cup of chopped Green Onion
- 1 or 2 Shallots, peeled and coarsely chopped, or about 1/4 cup of chopped Shallot
- 1 small yellow Onion, peeled and coarsely chopped, or about 1/4 cup of chopped Onion
- 1 fresh Thai Green Chili, seeds removed for less heat or left in for more heat
- the juice of 1 small Lime
- 4 Tablespoons of Olive Oil
- 1 Chicken Bouillon Cube
- a Food Processor or Blender
- a couple of Zip-lock Plastic Bags are useful for marinating the birds
- an Outdoor Grill: a charcoal one was used to grill the chickens in the photos
- a Brush for brushing marinade on the chickens during grilling
1. Turn the poussins breast side down, cut along the edges of the backbone and remove it. (It may be frozen to use later for making soup or stock.) Stretch the poussins out flat and cut slashes in the legs, thighs and thicker parts of the breasts. The cuts will help the birds grill faster and more evenly.
2. Put the garlic, green onions, shallots, yellow onion, green chili, lime juice, olive oil and bouillon cube in the food processor and process them into a paste.
3. Rub the marinade all over the poussins–including into the slash marks.
4. Place the birds in the plastic bags (if using them) and divide any extra marinade between them. Refrigerate them overnight. (The birds may be marinated for up to 2 days.)
II. Grilling the Poussins:
The photographed birds are grilled over charcoal. Timing is somewhat dependent on the type of grill used, the strength of the fire, and the size of the birds. A general method is described here.
1. When the coals are hot and beginning to turn gray, place the grill rack over them and heat it up for a few minutes.
2. Remove the birds from the marinade and lay them out flat, breast-side down on the hot grill. Reserve the extra marinade for brushing on the birds as they cook. Lower the grill lid and cook the birds for about 15 minutes.
3. Raise the lid, brush the underside of the birds with some marinade before turning them. Turn them. Brush the birds once more on the grilled side with some marinade, lower the grill lid and cook for 10 – 15 minutes more. Discard the rest of the marinade.
4. Remove the poussins from the grill. They naturally divide into four parts: 2 breast and wing pieces and 2 leg and thigh. The marinade and the skin on the birds keep them from drying out as they grill; the skin crisps–even in this short cooking time. The poussins are good served picnic-style with French baguettes…
A Note: Grilled Poussins ~ Congo Style is on the Occasional Menu: Into the Picnic Basket.
A Second Note: If you want to purchase a ‘poussin’–or any other variety of chicken– in the United States, a local poultry grower is your best source. Generally, the history of a local chicken is more transparent than the bio of the chicken in a package on the supermarket shelf. Official U.S. government labeling of birds is not straightforward. Even simple labels like ‘natural’ and ‘farm raised’ have a legal meaning apart from the standard one. (By the legal definition all chickens are farm raised and practically all of them may be labeled ‘natural’.)
© Elizabeth Laeuchli, the diplomatickitchen, 2011