Romanian Homemade Chicken “Head Cheese”… or “Toba de Pui”

Romanian Homemade Chicken “Head Cheese”… or “Toba de Pui”. I need to start out by saying the recipe I’m posting today might not be for everyone… especially those who aren’t used to head cheese, meat terrines, or meat jellies. Having said that, maybe this post might appeal to some… just maybe. Even if… just for one other person:). But it’s really geared for those who love pork head cheese(toba), and maybe are looking to make a lighter version of the “head cheese”. This recipe omits the pork and uses chicken instead. And when I say you can actually make a chicken head cheese(toba de pui), it might come as a surprise. It did to me. Normally one makes head cheese using pork… though sometimes beef may be used. Romanians, however, tend to use pig parts, especially pig feet, because it’s more gelatinous. In any case, the fact that you could simplify the process and obtain a leaner product  by using a whole chicken was a new revelation to me. One that I was excited to try. 
When I looked over the original recipe, I instantly knew making a chicken “head cheese” would require some sort of thickener to bind the meat. Because you won’t be able to get that firm gelatin when using chicken alone. So unflavored gelatin made sense. But the thought of cooking the chicken in a bain marie intrigued me. I had never heard of cooking a chicken in a bain marie. But since the unflavored gelatin was added at the beginning, when cooking the chicken, the bain marie also made sense… gelatin will loose it’s thickening property if allowed to boil. 
While the recipe worked beautifully for the most part, I felt the need to increase the gelatinous liquid… felt the amount of meat was a bit much compared to the liquid, and maybe I could have added more liquid? I don’t know if it was in part due to the chicken I used… it was natural, free of any added solutions, etc. I also added some extra spices for additional flavor. And while the Romanian version of head cheese normally has quite a bit of garlic, I chose to lower it a bit as I didn’t want the garlic to be overpowering,… still garlicky but not so strong.  
Now, I was a bit uncomfortable with the 3 hour cooking time required to make the head cheese. Nothing wrong with that really. Even when making the pork version, the cooking time is just as long. But, it’s just that I’m always looking to cut the cooking time if I can, and maybe that’s why I love my pressure cooker:). However, I think next time I’d like to cook the chicken in a pressure cooker, then add the gelatin to the hot stock and proceed as normal with the recipe. If it works, it would be wonderful:). It’s just an idea I have, we’ll see. But for my first attempt, I felt the need to follow the recipe as is… later on I could always tweak the recipe to my liking. For now, I’ll post the regular version, in case any of you would like to try this recipe.
Oh, I forgot to say how we liked it:)… we actually loved it! Almost had that flavor associated with Romanian piftie. And after adding the spices and garlic you’d think you were eating pork. Really. We enjoyed  the head cheese cut in small cubes, and served with mustard, green onion and crisp radishes. Yum! It’s also another great lunchmeat alternative, without the preservatives.
I’m indebted to Andreea from Dimineti Insorite who was kind enough to share the idea and recipe with me. One thing I’m grateful for when it comes to blogging… you meet the kindest and sweetest people. People who share their knowledge. Thanks so much Andreea! Hope you enjoy…
Some Personal Notes:
  • Depending on how large the chicken is, the amount of gelatinous liquid could be adjusted by adding more stock, or amount of chicken subtracted.
  • Wondering if cooking the chicken without the gelatin would cut down on cooking time… Cooking the chicken in a pressure cooker and then adding the gelatin to the stock at the end. 
  • My chicken was natural… without any added saline solution, so liquid was minimal(1 1/2 cups) 
  • When cooking the chicken in the bain marie… cooking time varies from 3-4 hours… or until chicken is cooked completely.
  • When cooking the chicken in the bain marie, adding hot boiling water throughout the cooking process ensures constant heat is maintained… dark chicken meat should be placed on the bottom for even cooking.   

You will need: inspired by lalena and originally brought to my attention by Andreea from Dimineti Insorite. 

Bain Marie ingredients:
1 whole broiler chicken
1/4 cup(5 packs or 35 grams) unflavored gelatin
1 TBS dried onion flakes
1 TBS+1tsp kosher salt, or to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
dried chile flakes, to taste, optional
2 small bay leaves
1 TBS Trader’s Joe 21 seasoning salute, or other favorite spices
3 medium garlic cloves, grated 
extra salt as needed
extra stock as needed(to make 2 cups liquid)
Use leftover chicken bones to make chicken stock for later:
1. Wash chicken, and cut in 8 pieces ( or so).  Remove skin… I left the skin on the back and wings.
2. Get 2 large stock pots ready… one pot should be smaller so it can fit inside the larger pot… as a bain marie. Add enough water in the bottom larger pot  so that the top smaller pot does not touch the water.
3. Place both pots on the stove…  and add the chicken and bain marie ingredients in the top smaller pot. Stir until chicken pieces get coated with spices and gelatin. Place the darker meat on the bottom. Cover top pot with lid. 
4. Bring the water in the the bottom larger pot to a boil, and then immediately lower heat to low.  You do not want a high heat as the high heat will deactivate the gelatin.
5. Cook chicken on low for 3-4 hours… monitor the cooking process, by adding extra boiling water to the bottom pot, as needed… and lifting the lid off the top pot to switch the chicken pieces around so that it cooks evenly. The chicken is cooked when it is no longer pink and juices run clear. 
2013 03 30tobadepui
6. Take chicken from pot and allow to cool, debone and cut in 1-2 inch pieces. Set bones aside to make stock for later, if you like.
7. To liquid that has accumulated in pot, add the grated garlic and adjust liquid amount if too little…  with extra chicken stock. You should have about 2 cups worth of liquid.
8. Strain stock and garlic through a fine mesh strainer. Remove any fat that has accumulated.
9. Add strained stock to chicken… and combine.
10. Grease a mold of choice with a bit of oil and add the chicken and liquid, pressing down.  
I used a bread baking glass tube with 2 openings on either side. I sealed one end. But you can use any container that you can eventually cut, such as plastic 2 liter bottle, or a cardboard-style juice bottle. You can also use any secure lock glass containers, and when congealed remove  meat with the help of a flat plastic knife, etc. The gelatin helps the meat mixture slide out pretty easily once congealed…  
11. Cover  pressed down meat mixture and refrigerate overnight. 
Slice and serve with bread and mustard… and any veggies of choice. Or make a sandwich with the “deli” meat.

Extra:  Make stock with bones and add extra vegetables. Save in freezer for other dishes.  See link above.


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