Gustav Klimt‘s painting Garden Path with Chickens from 1916 no longer exists. Hasn’t for awhile. Thirteen of his paintings stored in Schloss Immendorf castle in Lower Austria during World War II were destroyed by retreating German forces who set off explosives. Only a photographic reproduction of the work allows us to view it today.
Gustav Klimt’s Medicine was also destroyed in the fire, here represented by an early draft. Along with Philosophy and Jurisprudence, Klimt presented the paintings at the seventh Vienna Secession exhibition in March 1900. Of Medicine, the Nobel Prize winning scientist Eric Kandel in his amazing book The Age of Insight writes,
In “Medicine,” for example, the figures are rendered in three dimensions, but their placement relative to one another is not three-dimensional. The figures are stacked one on top of another in a vacuous, horizonless space; as a result, the mural is more a visual stream of thought than a coherent, three-dimensional image. Rather than being a scene that the viewer can step into, the image feels more like a dream; in fact, it resembles Freud’s description of the unconscious in dreams as “disconnected fragments of visual images.” (101-102)
My mind’s been on chickens for the last three days as I’ve been preparing a restorative chicken soup for a friend who has fallen ill. Above, a Black Silkie Chicken Soup with Red Dates and Bok Choy spoons health back into Will Graham courtesy of Hannibal Lecter. An age-old approach to illness. One of my favorite poems on illness comes from Adrienne Rich, For a Friend in Travail,
Waking from violence: the surgeon’s probe left in the foot
paralyzing the body from the waist down.
Dark before dawn: wrapped in a shawl, to walk the house
the Drinking-Gourd slung in the northwest,
half-slice of moon to the south
through dark panes. A time to speak to you.
What are you going through? she said, is the great question.
Philosopher of oppression, theorist
of the victories of force.
We write from the marrow of our bones. What she did not
ask, or tell: how victims save their own lives.
That crawl along the ledge, then the traveling span of fibre
from one side to the other, I’ve dreamed that too.
Waking, not sure we made it. Relief, appallment, of waking.
Consciousness. O, no. To sleep again.
O to sleep without dreaming.
How day breaks, when it breaks, how clear and light the moon
melting into moon-colored air
moist and sweet, here on the western edge.
Love for the world, and we are part of it.
How the poppies break from their sealed envelopes
she did not tell.
What are you going through, there on the other edge?
Illness creates a veil difficult to penetrate by the healthy and the ill. To the one who is sick, the healthy world looks like an old memory; and to the healthy, the sick look as though they are crossing toward death. What may be said of the chicken? Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking has a few words.
Chickens are descendants of the aggressive, pugnacious red jungle fowl of northern India and southern China.
He carries the history of this fowl into modern, industrial times.
Mass production began in the 20th century, when much of the genetic diversity in meat chickens evaporated in favor of a fast-growing cross between the broad-breasted Cornish (developed in Britain from Asian fighting stock) and the U.S. White Plymouth Rock. (139)
The chicken for my friend’s soup I bought at a farmer’s market near where I live. The bird lived through a natural growth process and experienced an outdoor yard allowing for a better life and better taste than my chicken’s industrial brethren experience or possess.
The Larousse Gastronomique devotes twenty-two pages to poulet recipes, including Poulet Au Sang, Poularde Au Champagne En Gelée (featuring foie gras, truffles and brandy) and the famous Poussin Rôti.
Marcela Hazan in The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking supplies an entire chapter on “Boning a Whole Chicken” with the encouraging words,
A whole chicken with its bones removed makes a beautiful natural casing for any stuffing. It is great fun to bring to the table–its chicken shape less angular, more voluptuous, but intact–and to carve from it, without any effort, perfect, solid, boneless slices. (341)
The Larousse again offers an old recipe for Coq au vin, which has the glorious following sentence,
After cooking on a good fire for 15 to 20 minutes take out the chicken, and pour over it the sauce, thickened with the blood of the chicken mixed with the pounded liver and some brandy. (306)
Mary and Vincent Price in their not at all terrifying book A Treasury of Great Recipes supply a recipe from the Amstel Hotel in Amsterdam for Coq au Vin Rouge À L’Avergnate which they preface with this statement,
This is a classic French dish, and one of those that things that each chef does a little differently. Basically, chicken, bacon, onions, and red wine go into the dish, but from there on you’re swinging on your own. We liked this coq au vin from the Amstel enough to adapt it as our favorite. The trick of adding beef stock and the masterly use of herbs sets it apart as a superior coq au vin. (122)
Such a wonderful image courtesy of the Brookford Almanac. Chicken blood and blood overall acts as a thickening agent, while at the same time supplying a particular taste only offered by that which travels through an animal’s entire body. David Leibovitz in My Paris Kitchen spins his coq au vin in a new direction with his introduction of chocolate.
I’d always assumed that the rich, dark sauce for coq au vin was thickened with chocolate, (Or perhaps it was just wishful thinking.) David [Leite] made my wish come true, and at my suggestion, we added a slurry of cocoa powder in place of the blood. (177)
Gabriela and I love April Bloomfield’s recipe for Chopped Chicken Liver on Toast found in A Girl and Her Pig: 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup of finely chopped shallots, one thinly sliced large garlic clove, two tablespoons dry Madeira, two tablespoons ruby port, 1/2 pound of chicken livers, Maldon sea salt flakes, freshly ground black pepper, flat-leaf parsley springs and four thick slices of crusty bread. Delicious.
The Picayune’s Creole Cookbook which first appeared in 1901, offers a wonderful recipe for Poulet Sauté aux Champingnons, then kicks it up a notch with Poulet Sauté aux Truffles with the always true statement: This is an expensive dish.
Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well by Pellegrino Artusi presents Umido di Rigale di Pollo con Sedano featuring these wonderful words,
When you add necks, heads, and feet to chickenn giblets, they become the homely dish that everyone is familiar with. But when you want to make it more refined, using only the livers, combs, unlaid eggs, testicles, and gizzards scalded in broth and with out the gristle . . . I’ll leave the left unwritten so you can dream the stew into existence.
The Professional Chef of the Culinary Institute of America calls for 1 stewing hen, five quarts of water, a pound of mirepoix, one Sachet d’Épices, and salt and pepper for its chicken broth.
Escoffier in Le Guide Culinaire offers Soupe de Mariage, where the chef fills a cooking pot with a beef cheek, sheep leg, and a fat hen. Saffron and rice appear later. Lovely. Time to stop dreaming and get to work. First my little bundle of goodness: garlic, rosemary and sage which I will slip inside my chicken, along with plenty of olive oil, sea salt flakes and ground black pepper.
Look at my chicken in its roasting pan, all lathered in extra virgin olive oil and topped with more sea salt flakes and ground black pepper.
I set the oven to low broil and slowly this poulet turns golden-brown and crisp. I have intentions with the skin.
I like to roast a chicken for soup because it gives the bones a certain smokiness. Speaking of the bones, once I pull the chicken apart they go into the pot with all their live-affirming properties. Hail to bones!
I’ve been working on the stock for a couple of days already, using a beef marrow bone, smoked stock fish, juniper berries, allspice, cloves and an array of veg and of course a lemon. I’ve removed all the meat and it waits for its bath.
Next up, the mirepoix–onion, carrots, celery–with the addition of leeks. All tossed in a portion of chicken fat I set aside earlier. The skins do their work.
Once, all the veg has softened a bit I pour in my stock. Such a golden, fatty lake to swim through, frequently bumping into chicken islands.
And what of the chicken skin?
The chicken skin is an offering to the cook and his family. We sprinkle with salt and pepper and then devour. I pour the chicken soup into four glass containers with lids and transport to my friend in need of nourishing, bony sustenance. Good work for a Sunday. Bon Appétit!