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Individual poussin chickens surrounded by traditional Thanksgiving vegetables. (Credit: John Ross)
Individual poussin chickens surrounded by traditional Thanksgiving vegetables. (Credit: John Ross)

The ritual of the Thanksgiving turkey is one that many of us look forward to all year. Whether it is brined and slow roasted, rubbed with herb butter, smoked over hickory or deep fried — we all have our special recipes. But there are alternatives to spending the day basting the turkey and working the carving station.

In the following recipe, I have used individual poussin chickens and treated them as if they were turkeys with stuffing, gravy and cranberry relish. The cooking time for the whole meal was reduced greatly and each person had his own “personal” bird. They were quite delicious and festive when surrounded by roasted fall vegetables.

The poussin is defi ned as a young chicken, about 4 weeks old, weighing 1 pound. They are very similar to Cornish game hens, which weigh from 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 pound. I purchased my poussin chickens from Miloski’s in Calverton. They do not raise them, but get them from the gourmet purveyor D’Artagnan. Cornish hens are available at the supermarket.

I have written the following recipes for four generous portions, giving each guest a whole chicken with all the trimmings.

STUFFING

Heat a shallow saucepan and add 2 tablespoons butter. Stir in 1 cup chopped onion, 1 cup chopped celery, 1 tablespoon minced garlic and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage.

When the onions soften, add 1/2 cup uncooked wild rice and 2 cups chicken stock. Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup uncooked brown rice, cover and continue to simmer for another 30 minutes. The rice should be tender and most of the liquid absorbed.

Remove from the heat and add 1/2 cup dried cranberries, 1/2 cup dried apricots and 1/2 cup chopped walnuts. Season with 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper and another 2 tablespoons chopped sage.

POUSSIN CHICKENS

Purchase 4 poussin chickens (or Cornish hens), remove the giblets and rinse under cold water. Fill the cavities with the wild rice stuffing and set chickens on a cutting board, breast side up. Cut a piece of string about a foot long and hook it over each neck bone. Draw the string around the chicken, holding in the wings and holding the legs in tight  to the body. Brush the chickens with 2 tablespoons melted butter and sprinkle them with 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Place them in a small roasting pan and set aside.

VEGETABLES

Brussels Sprouts:  Purchase 1 quart of sprouts, trim off the stems, remove the outer leaves and cut them in half through the stem.

Heat a large sauté pan and add 4 ounces chopped pancetta. As it cooks, add 2 sliced cloves of garlic and the Brussels sprouts. Cook at medium heat until the sprouts begin to brown. Season with salt and pepper and remove to a casserole dish.

Rutabaga (turnips):  Purchase 1 rutabaga, peel off the skin and cut it into 2-inch squares. Place these in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil.

Simmer until tender, about 25 minutes. Drain, mash and stir in 1/4 cup milk and 2 tablespoons butter.

Season with 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg and 1 teaspoon pepper.

Carrots:  Buy 1 bunch of fresh carrots with stems on. Rinse, trim the stems and peel. Leave them whole if small or cut into 3-inch sticks if large. Toss in a bowl with 1 tablespoon olive oil, 2 tablespoons chopped dill, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Place on a foil-lined sheet pan.

Cauliflower:  Trim 1/2 head of caulifl ower into fl orets.

Toss in a bowl with 1 tablespoon of cHarissa (the local spice mix in a jar containing oil) and place on the sheet pan with the carrots.

Fingerling Potatoes:  Rinse 1 pound of fingerlings (small Yukon gold will also work) and toss them in a bowl with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons chopped rosemary, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Add to the sheet pan with the other vegetables if there is room.

Beets:  Wash and trim the ends from one bunch of red beets and wrap them loosely in foil. Add to the sheet pan for roasting.

TURKEY GRAVY

Add to a small saucepan 2 cups commercial turkey stock and bring it to a boil. In a separate small sauté pan, melt 1 tablespoon butter and stir in 2 tablespoons flour. Let it cook for 3 minutes to make a roux. Whisk this into the turkey stock and bring it to a boil. (When the chickens finish cooking, pour the drippings into this gravy.)

CRANBERRY RELISH

Rinse 1 bag of cranberries and add them to a bowl.

Cut the ends off of 1 orange and cut it into 1-inch pieces, leaving the skin on but removing as many seeds as possible. Add orange pieces to the cranberries.

Grind this mixture through a meat grinder if you have one or pulse them in batches in your food processor. (Do not purée.) Stir 1 cup sugar into the ground mixture and refrigerate.

FINAL PREPARATION

An hour and a half before service, heat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the chickens on the top rack and the carrots, caulifl ower and potatoes on the bottom rack.

Roast the chickens for 45 minutes, basting with the drippings a couple of times. Check for doneness with a meat thermometer (165 degrees) and by the juices running clear. They may take up to 1 hour to cook.

Remove chickens from the oven to a cutting board and cover with foil for 15 minutes. Pour the accumulated juices into the gravy (above).

Depending on size, the vegetables will take between 30 and 45 minutes to cook. After roasting, peel the beets, cut them in wedges and season with 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.

Keep the roasted vegetables warm along with the mashed turnips and the Brussels sprouts. Serve everything on a large platter, if desired, or serve on individual plates. Garnish with rosemary, thyme and parsley.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years.

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