Catalan Chicken

Catalan Chicken

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My wife, Lisa, registered sincere surprise when Heath proudly informed us that dinner would be guinea fowl in the Catalan style. Our 10-year-old daughter had worked hard on the rich, aromatic sauce, and now she leaned in deep over the kitchen counter, rocking on her folded forearms. She beamed while I explained to Lisa that I’d figured out how to get our daughter to eat sauce.

“All you have to do,” I concluded, “is get her to make it for you.”

“No, Dad,” Heath groaned theatrically. “I just liked the gypsy story.”

Earlier that morning over tea and toast, Heath had asked about gypsies—or, more properly, the Romani. She’d read about them the night before. (God knows where.)

Funny you should ask, Heath! It just so happens that some years ago, on a trip to Roussillon—the southwestern reaches of France—I’d visited the sprawling Roma district in Perpignan. “It’s like the gypsy capital of Europe,” I’d explained, and prattled on about what I’d observed, then went on (somewhat randomly) to describe how, once upon a time, Catalonia (just over the French-Spanish border) had been the crossroads of the world—where Roman met Gaul met Visigoth met Moor—and was therefore great fun at mealtimes. This bait-and-switch strategem (Like the Roma? Let’s talk about dinner!) will be immediately familiar to any parent who, though he or she has command of only the basest of facts, soldiers on lamely, aspiring to do no harm.

“Can we go out for Catalonian food tonight, Dad?” Heath had asked, egging me on.

“If only we could.” According to Yelp!, the closest tapas bar is 20 miles from our new home on the beach, and there was no guarantee it was Catalonian and not, say, Madrilenian.

Grudgingly, Heath agreed that I would be allowed to cook Catalan food at home that night.

So, out came Culinaria France, a luscious, large-format book more suited to the coffee table than the kitchen counter (and just liberated from the increasingly dusty stack of boxes we dragged with us across the country from Brooklyn last Christmas). We consulted it all the same.

Pintade à la catalane leapt off the page. “What’s a guinea hen?” 9-year-old Bevan Jake asked, then barked, “You don’t know either, Heath! even before his big sister had finished rolling her eyes.

“We’ll make do with chicken,” I commanded.

As they will do when you’re cooking from a coffee table book, the instructions got wobbly right off the bat. We were directed to wrap a whole chicken in bacon and sear it in a cast-iron Dutch oven until the bird and the bacon were “brown all over.”

Swept up in a nostalgia for Old World anything, I attempted to follow this absurd directive. Even without eight bacon streamers flying this way and that, it’s damn near impossible with a guinea hen—and it’s just about dangerous with a considerably larger chicken. “This is insane, Heath,” I said. “What they’re asking is impossible. We’re breaking this bird down right now.”

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