A man must keep his mouth open a long while before a roast pigeon flies into it.
~Danish proverb

Le grand débat: white or dark?

Dark meat is composed of muscle fibers that are termed “slow-twitch.” These muscles contract slowly and are used for extended periods of activity, such as casual walking, thus needing a consistent energy source. The hemoprotein myoglobin stores oxygen in muscle cells, which then uses this oxygen to extract the energy needed for endurance and slower repetitive activity. A strongly pigmented protein, the more cellular myoglobin that exists, the darker the meat and the richer in nutrient levels.

Dark meat is flusher than white in minerals such as iron, zinc and selenium, as well as vitamins A, K and the B complex — B1 (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin) B6, B9 (folate) and B12 (cobalamin). Taurine is also found abundantly in dark meat — a nutrient known to aid in anti-inflammation, blood pressure regulation, healthy nerve function, and the production of bile acid (which breaks down fat).

Myoglobin’s color varies depending on the meat’s internal temperature. For instance, with rare beef, the myoglobin’s red color remains unchanged. But, above 140 F, myoglobin loses its ability to bind oxygen, and the iron atom at the center of its molecular structure loses an electron, forming a tan-hued compound called hemichrome. Then, when the interior of the meat reaches 170 F, hemichrome levels rise, creating that characteristic brownish gray metmyoglobin often seen on shoe soles.

White meat is comprised of “fast-twitch” muscle fibers which contract swiftly and are used for rapid bursts of activity, such as jumping or sprinting, and so absorb energy from stored glycogen, a multibranched saccharide of glucose residues. When raw, white meat has a translucent look. When cooked, the proteins denature and recombine, and the meat becomes opaque and whitish to sight. It is admittedly lower in saturated fat and calories, so it has been promoted as the healthier alternative even though white meat has fewer nutrients than dark, is more difficult to digest and contains no taurine. Often obscenely slim on taste, diners often compensate for the dryness and whiteness with sauces, gravies or dressings which render white meat more fatty and less nutritious in the long run.

So, the process of deciding between dark and white will likely prove an alimental impasse. Aromas and flavors should reign instead, and you likely know where my vote lies. By all means though, of course, please make your own call (without presenting ID).

On to the birds. Squabs are simply fledgling domesticated pigeons, typically dressed about four weeks after hatching and even before they even have flown. Thus, they are much easier to snatch before slaughter. They have been bred for centuries, dating back to early Asian and Arabic cultures and now are found on tables across the globe. The term derives from the Scandinavian svkabb which means “loose or fat flesh,” as squabs are dark, tender and moist — often almost silky to the palate.

Damned delectable, dark and sensual critters.

ROAST SQUABS

2 granny smith apples, peeled, cored and cut into sixths

4 squabs, about 3/4 lbs each
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
4 bay leaves
4 large, plump garlic cloves, peeled and slightly smashed
4 T unsalted butter, softened
1/2 T coriander seeds, roasted and ground

4 medium turnips, peeled and halved
4 parsnips, peeled and cut into large chunks
4 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 T olive oil

4 T red wine, such as a zinfandel or burgundy
2 T cognac or brandy
1/2 C chicken broth
2 T butter

Preheat oven to 450 F.

Season the cavities of the squabs with salt and pepper. Inside each, place a sprig of thyme, a sprig of rosemary, a bay leaf and a clove of garlic. On the outside, rub with softened butter and season with salt, pepper and coriander. Tie legs together with kitchen twine so they do not spread.

Put squabs in a large, heavy roasting pan, breast side up. Strew the turnips, parsnips, carrots and apples around them. Brush the turnips, parsnips and carrots with olive oil. Cook 15-20 minutes, basting the squabs and vegetables fairly often with juices and turn the vegetables at least once.

Remove the apples, set them aside in a bowl and keep warm by loosely tenting with foil. Add the wine and chicken broth. Cook 10 minutes longer, basting often and occasionally scraping the bottom of the pan. The birds should be cooked slightly pink in thickest part of the thigh, about 130-145 F with a meat thermometer. Please beware that if squab is cooked beyond medium rare, the flesh becomes overly dry and the flavor livery. Overturn a soup bowl and place under one end of a platter or cutting board so it is inclined.

Lift the squabs with a carving fork at an angle and allow the juices to flow into the pan. Remove and discard the herbs and garlic cloves. Put squabs on the tilted serving platter or cutting board breast sides down and tails in the air, loosely tented.

Meanwhile, place the roasting pan on top of the stove. Bring the sauce beginnings to a simmer, add the cognac and then the butter, and blend together, stirring with a wooden spatula and scraping. Add some chicken broth and cook further. With a slotted spoon, remove the turnips, parsnips and carrots and place in a tented glass bowl.

Cut twine, and only if desired, carve the squabs in halves and serve with turnips, parsnips, carrots, apples and bathed lightly in sauce. Accompany the squabs with puréed or smashed potatoes or polenta or rice pilaf and a green du jour.

Pourboire: Other methods that come to mind would be to braise the squabs in wine and broth or place the squabs first on their sides and cook in a sauté pan, turning occasionally, until browned all over, about 15 minutes and then turn squabs breast up and transfer to the oven, roasting for only 5 minutes or so.

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The bicycle is just as good company as most husbands and, when it gets old and shabby, a woman can dispose of it and get a new one without shocking the entire community.
~Ann Strong, Minneapolis Tribune, 1895

In honor of Bastille Day, le Tour ramblings roll on…but the sole focus here is food. This race is not just about wheels, legs and lungs. Food and water are just as crucial to a rider’s grit, often making the difference between a podium spot and an abysmally dismal welcome to the offseason.

Throughout the Tour, riders constantly strive to store and restore glycogen, a readily oxidized sugar, inside muscle cells. Muscle glycogen levels before and during a stage are a very good predictor of the day’s performance. So, a pivotal nutritional challenge of the Tour is not only eating to achieve full muscle glycogen recovery off the bike, but to also assuage the demands of glycogen depletion while humping—an uphill task given the intricacies of race dynamics, individual nutritional demands and tolerances, coupled with the enormous fuel demands and fluid losses that occur during just one single stage.

Those who fail to consistently replenish risk bonking.

To offset fuel depletion, Tour riders consume a stunning average of between 6,000 to 8,000 calories daily—sometimes even 10,000 calories on unusually grueling stages. Their carbohydrate intake averages about 6 grams per pound of body weight (155 lb rider = 930 grams per day). Riders conventionally attempt to get 70 percent of their daily calories from carbohydrate, 15 percent from fat, and 15 percent from protein.

(Teams even employ their own chefs to optimize their riders’ nutritional needs.)

A typical day begins with a hearty breakfast which not only raises liver glycogen stores and blood glucose levels, it can also top off soon-to-be-depleted muscle glycogen stores. The morning’s fodder can consist of cereal, dairy, rice, almond or soy milk, fruit juice, croissants or toast with plenty of carbohydrate rich jams. Riders often add protein from eggs and egg whites, protein powder, and even toss in a heaping bowl of rice or pasta. They keep nibbling and drinking up to start time.

On the bike, riders eat a mixture of energy bars, gels, pastries, sandwiches, and fruit. The soigneurs (personal assistants) prepare cotton musette bags with the rider’s fancied victuals, including energy bars and gels, rice cakes and sandwiches. Throughout the stage, riders are drinking about 2-3 bottles per hour with about half of that being sports drink—critical sources of carbohydrates and electrolytes.

After each stage, the riders immediately down a recovery drink of mainly carbohydrate and some protein. They then usually graze steadily until dinnertime on energy bars, sweets, fruits, and fluids, with a focus on constant refueling and muscle glycogen re-synthesis.

In the evening, riders dine on a full bore meal consisting of chicken and/or fish, mounds of pasta or rice, sandwiches, yogurt, vegetables, salad greens, bread and sweets. Their fat intake results from dish preparation.

Bedtime snacks may include energy bars, chocolate and more hydration. Save for sleep, the grazing rarely ceases.

POULET ROTI AUX AGRUMES (ROAST CHICKEN WITH CITRUS)

1 5 lb. whole roasting chicken, necks and giblets set aside
1 orange, halved
3 T unsalted butter, room temperature
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 T dried thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 orange, quartered
1/2 lemon, quartered
1/2 lime, quartered

2 heads plump fresh garlic, halved crosswise, each studded with 2 cloves

1/4 C fresh lemon juice
1/4 C fresh orange juice
1/4 C fresh lime juice
3 T Dijon mustard
3 T organic honey
1 T olive oil
1 T unsalted butter, melted
3 cloves fresh, plump garlic, peeled and finely minced

Chicken stock
Cognac or brandy
Fresh orange juice
Fresh lemon juice
Fresh lime juice

Preheat oven to 425 F

Allow the chicken to sit at room temperature for at least 1/2 hour. Rub the chicken inside and out with the halved orange. Thoroughly rub the chicken inside and out with butter and liberally season inside the cavity and outside with salt, pepper and dried thyme. Place 1 sprig of rosemary, 2 sprigs thyme, and the orange, lemon and lime quarters inside the cavity of the chicken. Truss the bird, securing the wings and legs of the chicken to the body with trussing string.

Whisk together the orange juice, lemon juice, lime juice, mustard, honey, olive oil, melted butter, minced garlic. Use this mixture to brush over the chicken along with roasting juices used for basting.

In the bottom of the roasting pan, lay out the neck and studded garlic heads with cut side up. Put the rack with the chicken on its side onto the roasting pan, and place into the center of the oven; roast for 20 minutes, uncovered, basting throughout the entire roasting process. Turn the chicken to the other side for 20 minutes, still basting. Then, turn the chicken breast side up and roast for 20 more minutes. During this last 20 minutes, drop in the remaining giblets.

Reduce the heat to 375 and continue roasting with breast side up for 15 minutes more, still occasionally basting, until done. The bird should have a robust golden tone, and juices should run clear, yellow (not pink) when the thigh is pierced with a carving fork. Remove the herb sprigs and citrus from the cavity. Remove the cloves, and set the roasted garlics aside to serve.

Place an overturned soup bowl under one end of a platter or cutting board so it is tilted at an angle. Remove the roasting pan from the oven and turn the chicken so that the juices in the cavity are emptied onto the pan. Then, transfer the chicken to the angulated platter or board, with breast side down and tail in the air. This allows gravity to do its job as the juices flow down into the breast meat. Cut the trussing string free and discard.

Loosely tent the chicken with foil and let rest on the incline at least 20 minutes—it will actually keep cooking some, and the juices will disperse evenly throughout the meat.

Place the roasting pan over moderate heat in order to heat the juices. With a wood spatula, scrape those bits stuck to the surface of the pan. If the pan is a lacking some liquid, just add some chicken broth. Then, when the pan is sufficiently hot, add some fresh citrus juice, several tablespoons of brandy to deglaze and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer several minutes until it coats the spatula.

While the sauce is reducing, carve the chicken. Strain the sauce, preferably through a fine chinois sieve, which will produce a velvety end product.