Tuesday, November 8, 2011

"Larousse Gastronomique" & "As Always, Julia" & "The Hour" - Chicken Sautee a la Bourguignonne

Date I made this recipe: November 6, 2011

Larousse Gastronomique – The Encyclopedia of Food, Wine & Cookery by Prosper Montagne - Introduction by A. Escoffier and PH. Gilbert; Edited by Charlotte Turgeon and Nina Froud (The First American Edition)
Published by: Crown Publishers, Inc.
© 1961
Recipe: Chicken sauté a la bourguignonne or matelote – p. 262

Additional reading:
As Always, Julia – The Letters of Julia Child & Avis DeVoto – edited by Joan Reardon
Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
ISBN: 978-0-547-41771-4
No recipe

The Hour by Bernard DeVoto
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company
© 1948, 1949, 1951
No recipe

Were it not for Julia Child, I would likely not have pulled Larousse Gastronomique off the shelf any time soon, especially since it weighs a ton and sits on my highest bookshelf, such that I need to stand on a chair to reach it. That would have been a shame because it’s a fun book to peruse.

So how did I come to cook from this book? Well, it was all because “Larousse” was mentioned in a very entertaining read, As Always, Julia.

In 1951, Julia Child was residing in Paris with her husband, Paul Child when she read an article about kitchen knifes published in Harper’s Magazine, written by Bernard DeVoto. When Julia wrote a fan letter to Bernard, his wife, Avis, answered. Bernard was a very busy writer and often left correspondence to Avis.

When Avis responded on behalf of Bernard, it triggered a correspondence between the women that lasted until Avis’ death in 1989.

Besides becoming a good friend of Julia’s, Avis championed Julia Child’s soon-to-be masterpiece, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. When Houghton Mifflin dropped the ball on the manuscript, Avis, who worked in publishing, brought the book to the attention of Alfred A. Knopf publishing and the rest as they say is history (or “l’histoire” if you’re French).

I have to tell you that reading the correspondence between these two ladies during this tense time of “will they/won’t they publish this?” was riveting. Without Avis, I doubt this book would have been published. Avis was also instrumental in securing Judith Jones, then an up-and-coming editor to review and test the recipes. Judith has gone on to achieve fame in her own right, and I enjoyed her recently published The Pleasures of Cooking for One. I tell you what, between these three women, they propelled home cooking and French cooking and really, all kinds of cooking, to the forefront and never looked back. They are my heroes.

A hero of a different nature though, is Avis’ husband, Bernard, who wrote the article that triggered the eventual publishing of Julia’s book. Bernard already had quite the name for himself but his book, The Hour, a book about the cocktail hour, cemented his friendship with Paul Child forever. And wouldn’t you know I happen to have that book on my bookshelf as well. (And who knew that one day I’d be able to tie all these books together?!)

Neither the As Always, Julia book nor The Hour have recipes per se but Bernard talks a lot about my favorite drink, the martini:

“There are only two cocktails. One can be described straightforwardly. It is a slug of whiskey and it is an honest drink…With the other cocktail we reach a fine and noble art, and we reach too the wars over the gospel that have parted brothers, wrecked marriages, and made enemies of friends.”

He goes on to talk about there is a misconception that women cannot make a good martini: “For instance there is a widespread notion that women cannot make martinis, just as some islanders believe that they can cast an evil spell on the tribal fishnets. This is a vagrant item of male egotism: the art of the martini is not a sex-linked character. Of men and women alike it requires only intelligence and care—oh, perhaps some additional inborn spiritual fineness…”

For the record, my dad taught me how to make martinis and was always impressed when I made them even better than he did. So what Bernard says is true: women rock the cocktail world.

Bernard totally wins me over though, when he talks about other drinks that while popular, are not cocktails. And he makes it clear as clear can be that “A martini, I repeat, is made of gin and vermouth. Dry vermouth.” Amen to that! He scoffs at Gibsons (p. 39), a drink made of gin and an olive and on p. 61 gives us all a worthwhile reminder: “Remember always that the three abominations are: (1) rum, (2) any other sweet drink, and (3) any mixed drink except one made of gin and dry vermouth in the ratio I have given.

I could wax on about this book but I do need to get to the recipe at some point (And no, I haven’t forgotten) but I tell you what, you need to read Bernard’s book. It starts slowly but after 30 odd pages, he just nails the art of the cocktail. And he’s funny in a dry whit sort of way-kind of like my martinis!

So anyway, okay, back to earth and to today’s recipe.

When Avis asked Julia for some casserole recipes with a French flair, Julia initially responded that she couldn’t think of any but then went on to say that she found some in “Larousse.” And that prompted me to pull the book from the shelf and see if I couldn’t find the recipes. Well—between the first and last copyrights, some pages must have changed or the version changed because the page numbers that Julia cited were not the pages with the recipes. So shoot.

But actually, that was all okay because Larousse Gastronomique is an encyclopedia (I had forgotten) and it was a blast to look through the recipes and definitions and whatnot, all from A-Z. There were food I had never heard of, photos and maps and all kinds of diagrams regarding food and utensils and everything in between.

Seeing as how Julia recommended some chicken casserole recipes to Avis, I was bent on finding one that worked (and let’s face it, making a calves’ head meal or something with eel was just not going to happen). And people, you have no idea what a challenge that was.

For starters, there are about 25 pages of chicken recipes. Each recipe is about a paragraph long, and unfortunately for me (and for you), the “main” chicken recipe isn’t so much a recipe as a description and you have to go back to the beginning of the chicken section to find it. And then it offered up no clues whatsoever, not to cooking time, not to chicken size. Nothing.

So then I read through all the little recipes but eliminated a good portion of them because they required that I make an additional sauce of some sort like tomato sauce or brown gravy. And just like the chicken recipe itself, the sauce recipes weren’t any clearer so I ditched those recipes tout de suite

This left with me tonight’s chicken dish. And so my hubby and I went to the grocery store where we reenacted a scene from one of my favorite episodes from I Love Lucy where Lucy’s mother is coming to LA for a visit but she doesn’t reveal any details in the telegram she sent (which was addressed to Micky Micado. Lucy’s mother did not like Ricky.)

Lucy: “Well, at least she wrote us a wire and told us she’s arriving at 9:30.”
Ricky: “Hooray for mother. AM or PM?”
Lucy: “She doesn’t say.”
Ricky: “What day?”
Lucy: “She doesn’t say.”
Ricky: “What airline?”
Lucy: “She doesn’t say.”
Ricky: “What happened to that woman’s brain?”
Lucy: “She doesn’t say.”
(From: I Love Lucy, California Here We Come episodes, The Hedda Hopper Story. Thanks to http://ultimateilovelucy.wikia.com/wiki/The_Hedda_Hopper_Story for providing the dialogue.)

Anyway, so Andy and I went to the grocery store:

Andy: “So what size chicken do you need?”
Me: “It doesn’t say.”
Andy: “Well, does it need to be boneless or not?”
Me: “It doesn’t say.”
Andy: “Well, do we need a whole chicken?”
Me: “It doesn’t say.”
Andy: “Well how long do you cook it for?”
Me: “It doesn’t say.”

So I bought a couple pounds of chicken breasts with ribs, hoped for the best and commenced firing:

Step 1 – “Fry in butter 4 slices bacon…” Okay—how much butter? It didn’t say. So I used about 4-5 tablespoons and that seemed to work. And then you add blanched onions and raw mushrooms. So far, I managed that just fine.

Step 2 – “Drain this mixture and brown quickly in the same fat a chicken cut into pieces in the ‘ordinary way.’” Okay – define “ordinary way” because it sounds like we’re talking about a whole chicken cut up into parts although again, it doesn’t say.

Step 3 - “When the chicken is half-cooked…” Okay, stop right there. How would I know when the chicken is “half-cooked?” Because like everything else with this recipe it doesn’t say!! So for this portion of our program, I thought about a chicken recipe I made really early on for this blog where you put the chicken in a pot, (no oil or butter required, just the chicken) covered it and cooked it on high heat for about 45 minutes. So I went that route and the chicken was perfectly tender. Score one for me!

Step 4 – “Take the chicken out and garnish. Dilute the juices in the pan with 1 cup of red wine, boil down to half and thicken with a tablespoon of butter worked together with flour. Strain.”

Here’s where the thing almost derailed: there just weren’t juices left to dilute in the pan and so I added butter…and then more butter…and then more butter. And then after cooking down the red wine (and butter), I added the tablespoon of butter and flour (At last, we have a measurement) but didn’t know how much flour to add to the butter. I ended up using about a teaspoon of flour to one tablespoon of butter.

Well. The butter/flour mixture sat like a blob in the pan so I had to whisk it to get the huge lumps out and then I tasted it and “yech.” And I mean “yech.” It was so sour I almost spit it out. So to save it, I added sugar in small increments until it wasn’t so awful. (Well, it awful but infinitely more edible).

In the end, the chicken was good, the onion/bacon/mushroom mixture was good, but the gravy was forgettable. Next time around, I’d either add the wine straight to the chicken or I’d drink it and call it a day. If I were you, I’d lean heavily toward drinking! (And throw in a martini to boot, compliments of Bernard DeVoto!)

I served this chicken with wide noodles and green beans. As to what side dishes Larousse recommends well…it doesn’t say.

Chicken sauté a la bourguignonne or matelote – serving size…it doesn’t say
4 slices bacon
12 small onions (pearl onions)
12 small raw mushrooms
1 cup red wine

Fry in butter 4 slices of lean bacon cut in a big dice and blanched. Add 12 small onions, blanched; cook till golden and add 12 small raw mushrooms. (A note about blanching: to blanch means that you cook items for a very short time period in boiling water and then you place the items in a cold water bath to stop the cooking. I couldn’t really find a definitive time to blanch items on the internet so I went with about a minute. My guess it was probably less but since it didn’t say….

Drain this mixture and brown quickly in the same fat a chicken cut into pieces in the ordinary way. When the chicken is half-cooked, put the garnish back in the pan, cover and cook for 15 minutes.

Take out chicken and garnish. Dilute the juices in the pan with 1 cup of red wine, boil down to half and thicken with a tablespoon of butter worked together with flour. Strain.

Set the chicken on a dish, surrounded with its garnish and pour the sauce over it.

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