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Pistachio-Roasted Baby Chicken

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Contributed by Michel Nischan

Serves 4 to 6
For as long as I can remember, I have liked the flavor of nuts with poultry and so developed this recipe for roast poussin-small, tender chickens-and pistachios. You may think of pistachios as esoteric, but believe me, when the chicken is roasting and sauce is cooking, the aromas that fill the kitchen are warm and comforting.

Although they may be hard to find, poussin are well worth searching for, but if you can't locate them use organic Cornish hens instead. I also prefer organic Sicilian pistachios in this recipe. Like so many ingredients from Italy, they are amazingly flavorful. They are also longer and softer than more commonly available pistachios, which are fine to use, too. We grind some of the raw nuts into a powder and stuff it under the skin of the birds. Then, when the poussin are in the oven, we start the sauce and simmer it until you can squeeze the pistachios between your fingers. The gentle flavor of the pistachios permeates the meat and the sauce, mingling with the fresh thyme leaves and the sweet onions.
4 small organic poussin or Cornish hens, 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds each (the smaller, the better)  
1 cup pistachio nuts
3 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
6 teaspoons grapeseed oil
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped cipollini or pearl onion
2 cups rich chicken stock 

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Rinse the chickens inside and out and pat dry. Trim off any extra fat.

2. In a spice grinder, grind 1/2 cup of the pistachios to a powder. Stir 2 teaspoons of the thyme leaves into the ground nuts. Carefully loosen the skin from the chicken breasts and thighs by working your fingers all around between the skin and the meat without making any tears.  Stuff the pistachio mixture under the skin of the breasts and thighs of both birds. Rub the top of each bird with 1 teaspoon of the grapeseed oil to help them brown, season generously inside and out with salt and pepper, and dust with any remaining bits of pistachio. Tuck the wings under the back and tie the legs together.

3. Use the remaining 2 teaspoons oil to coat a roasting pan just large enough to hold the birds comfortably.  Put them in the pan, breast side down. Roast for 15 minutes. Turn the chickens over (breast side up) and roast 20 minutes longer.  Increase the heat to 425°F. and roast for about 10 minutes, or until skin is nicely browned and the juices run clear when thickest part of a thigh is pierced with a small knife.

4. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine the onion, stock, the remaining 1/2 cup pistachios, and the remaining 1 teaspoon thyme. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

5. Transfer to a blender or food processor and purée until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. There should be about 1 1/2 cups the consistency of a thick cream sauce. Serve the chickens with the sauce passed on the side.