TODAY, the ghouls are having a party, but all I’m thinking about is my chicken. Not any chicken, but Chicken 74, who’s been clamoring for me to write up something fancy and flattering about it — justifiably so, since it’s given so much pleasure and delight at the table.
Well, it’s hard to write about something if you don’t have a name for it. But I do now, finally, having called it Chicken Cordon Bleu for a while, at the suggestion of one of my guests last September, though Wisdom caught up with me one day, and sniffed: “Oh, but that’s kinda chi-chi and hoity-toity, don’t you think?” Besides, my chicken dish isn’t exactly a classical Chicken Cordon Bleu — it’s not breaded and deep-fried, for one — though the rest of the elements are there: the ham, the cheese, the chicken.
Meet Chicken 74
Leg of organic chicken, pressed with apple-baked ham and gouda, cooked sous vide at 74°C for an hour, with butter-sautéed cremini and chicken jus.
That’s how I’ve presented Chicken 74 in my menu for November, my debut menu that’s officially launching Supper Club Viv — an initiative that’s been cooking in my kitchen for over a year now. After much fussing, fretting, fiddling, and nibbling at a million and one things, the girl is ready! So is Chicken 74!
The dish has evolved since I first created it on 24 May 2018. The very first tasters were my neighbors, Mei and Mark and their teenage daughter, Nicole. My nameless dish looked like a mini novel: chicken leg butter-poached with gouda and honey-baked ham, cremini in velouté * — the asterisk pointing to a separate thesis on the word, velouté:
One of the five mother sauces of French cuisine, velouté is made from roux and a light broth, roux being a mixture made from equal parts of flour and melted butter. It is the sauce base most familiarly used in chicken pot pie.
I’ve since dropped the velouté on my cremini. Butter-sautéed is a more compelling way to cook the cremini, and by butter here, I mean clarified butter.
While it’s technically more challenging, it’s particularly rewarding because one, I get to use my wok (that’s so Adeline Grattard of Yam’Tcha in Paris, whom I’m crazy about), and two, I get to incorporate lots of stock (that’s my own homemade one, with plenty of wonderful things and organic chicken to boot!)
The Real Inspiration Behind Chicken 74
It’s true that those elements of Chicken Cordon Bleu did play a part in the creation of Chicken 74, but the dish harks back to a dish my mother used to cook for our family dinners, I’m such a sucker for ham and chicken, you see! Do you know Yulan Ji? Mom’s rendition of Yulan Chicken was a colorful arrangement of chicken thigh pressed on a slice of ham, alternating with the vibrant green leaves of Kailan, all fanned out on a white Corelle platter and steamed until doneness, which was no time at all.
Uncle Chuan, my chicken seller, tells me that Yulan Ji is originally a cold dish featuring not our Western hams, honey- or apple-baked or pepper-speckled, but true-blue Yunnan ham.
A little detour on this term, pronounced soo veed, which literally means, “under vacuum”. I learned of this technique when I ate my first ever sous vide-cooked chicken breast at Kitchen at Bacchanalia on 23 June 2016. How could chicken breast be so succulent and tender? That was my one great epiphany at this lunch prepared by Chef Ivan Brehm, with whom I had a chance to intern over the next two months after this life-changing lunch.
Cooking sous vide encases the chicken in pure vacuum so that no moisture dissipates, and you achieve this sous vide by vacuum-sealing the chicken in a food-safe bag. Dropped in a container of water with a circulator rendering an even temperature from start to finish, the chicken would never suffer the problem of having an overcooked exterior just so you could get the interior cooked. You get even cooking, end-to-end, inside-out.
If I didn’t have the means or knowledge to cook my chicken sous vide, I’d have to intern with Mr. Lee Kim Hian, the master and maestro of Seng Heng Chicken Rice at Bukit Timah Food Center, whose art of chicken far surpasses the kind I’ve learned. His is true art, which is what I’m chasing all day long, just like chasing the wind!
Five Things We Love About Chicken 74
But let’s be still and stop chasing anything for a moment. All I want to do is reflect upon the smiles Chicken 74 has given to those few who have had the faith in my hands and palate and said, “Yes, we’d love to come for dinner!”
1. Chicken 74 is juicy and tender — thank you, Chef Ivan, for my very first sous vide lessons!
2. Chicken 74 has just the right amount of gouda ooze, not too much, not too little
3. Chicken 74 has a crisp, crisp, delectable sear on the skin — could you pronounce that without slowing down on “crisp”?
4. Chicken 74 is made with organic chicken called Anxin Chicken
5. Chicken 74 is portioned carefully to size with all those white, sinewy bits meticulously trimmed off — no more than 90g of thigh meat per portion; smaller eaters can request an even daintier cut
If you’re like Gurdeep, one of the first tasters of Chicken 74, Version 1.0 in June 2018, you might probably tell me, with a lip-smacking wink, “I really like this crispy skin!” If, however, you’re like me, you’d say, “Oh, I love everything!” And please, add #6, don’t forget the mushrooms!