Read an Excerpt
A Chicken Primer
Not all chickens are created equal. Some seem blessed with far more taste than others; some are also more expensive. Often the two go hand in hand.
Let's start with the basic supermarket bird. Bred under less than ideal conditions, the industrial chicken is serviceable at best. Crowded together throughout a brief life span in large houses with flooring covered by litter, these chickens consume feed containing antibiotics to prevent infection and promote rapid growth. While economical, they are often exceedingly bland when cooked.
From there, we head into the morass of terms used to describe other breeding conditions. The first, and most vague, is "natural." This description indicates that the processing plant uses no antibiotics but does not guarantee what the chicken received earlier in its life. "Free range" indicates access to the outdoors but it still pays to know your supplier. The access might be to a small concrete run and nothing more. These birds tend to be a bit larger in size and their flesh a bit firmer. Certified organic establishes a documented procedure for raising poultry according to specific standards, an organic feed of grains and soybeans, and a specific method of slaughter. Generally speaking, birds with any of these titles often have more flavor than those with a mass-market upbringing.
Chickens come to market very quickly. The following describes the various types found in today's marketplace.
* The most frequently sold poultry falls under the category of broiler/fryer. Most sources put these chickens at 2.8 to about 4.5 pounds, dressed and ready for sale, with a life span of 6 to 8 weeks.
* Roasters are similar to fryers except larger, 4.75 to 7 pounds, taking a bit longer to come to market, 8 to 12 weeks. Sometimes older birds are marketed as roasters and can be tough.
* Capons are castrated roosters with plump and moist flesh because of their high-fat content. They range from 4 to 10 pounds, with the majority weighing in at 6 to 9 pounds. They typically live to about 15 weeks but can be older.
* Stewing chickens, categorized as hens by the USDA, are older, tougher birds that require long, slow cooking. They vary in weight, are most often heavier because of their age, usually 5 or 6 pounds, and are generally 10 to 12 months old.
* Rock Cornish game hens are small chickens, weighing 1 1/2 to 2 pounds and only 4 to 6 weeks old. They are a cross between a Cornish chicken and a White Rock chicken.
* Also available through certain sources are poussins, or squab chickens--not squabs, which are pigeons--that are truly tiny, weighing in at about a pound at 4 to 6 weeks of age.
Chickens are graded by the USDA and labeled A, B, or C, in descending order of quality. Only buy Grade A.
My personal preference is for a vegetable-fed bird; a vegetarian diet tends to guarantee an excellent flavor. When I can, I shop from favorite suppliers at local farmers' markets but, for the most part, for time and convenience, I pick up my chicken at the nearest supermarket. Many now offer a range of possibilities and provide excellent choices. The recipes in this book are based on commonly available sizes for whole birds or parts and will work with any type of chicken, from mass produced to organic.
The term breast in this book refers to the most common usage, which is half of the whole breast section.
Some general cooking techniques are important. Since chicken, and meat in general, will not brown when wet, make sure to pat all surfaces dry with a paper towel before seasoning. Don't crowd the pieces when sauteing or the meat will steam and stay pale instead of browning. The proteins in chicken, particularly breasts, do not take well to boiling, which results in tough meat. Check stovetop sautes, simmers, and stews to make sure they don't cook too vigorously. Investing in a glass cover makes this easy to do.
The titles in this book use French terms for chicken that require a brief explanation.
* Blancs de volaille or blancs de poulet, in most French recipes, generally mean boneless chicken breasts. In this book, the breasts are also skinless, since this is the way they appear in American markets.
* Chapon translates as capon.
* Coq stands for a mature rooster but, based on what's available in the usual market, the recipes in this book designate weight, not sex or age.
* Cuisse is the French term for the drumstick/ thigh portion. When I order my poulet routi in France, I ask for the cuisse because I'm partial to the moistness of dark meat.
* Oeufs is the French word for eggs. It is pronounced "ough," as in one egg is enough.
* Poule can refer to a specific method of raising a female chicken, sometimes called a poularde, or, more generally, to a larger chicken cooked with moist heat, such as a poule au pot.
* Poulet is used here to refer to chickens in the broiler/fryer category. It literally translates as chicken.
* Supremes, a term sometimes translated to mean a boneless breast cut, is used in France to indicate a chicken breast, on the bone, with a portion of wing attached. I use it here to indicate bone-in breast pieces, which are marketed in this country without the wing.
* Volaille means poultry and, in France, is a category that includes game birds and rabbit.
Should you have the rare good fortune to do some cooking in France, keep in mind that the French have their share of mediocre poultry, too. Look for a chicken marked with the designation Label Rouge, meeting strict standards for feeding and raising, or, if possible, a poulet de Bresse, the near legendary, flavorful free-range chickens that are raised in the Burgundy region. Bresse chickens have an appellation d'origine controulee--an AOC--which is only given to quality products, mostly wines, from a specifically defined area, and which is highly regulated.
Finally, most of the dishes in this book require only simple accompaniments. Some have specific serving suggestions, but many need only rice or potatoes on the side, a basket of crusty bread, and a simple salad before or after to enable you to duplicate the bistro experience. Add a glass of wine and good conversation and the recipe for successful dining is complete.
Appetizer, Luncheon, and First Course Dishes
AILERONS DE VOLAILLE AU PAPRIKA
In the past few years, Spanish and Latin American culture has become a new craze in Paris and beyond. Close to Place de la Bastille, bodegas and small restaurants offer tapas and paella along with pulsing salsa music and a nightclub atmosphere. Even in Provence, I found evidence of the far-reaching effects of this trend. After a morning of successful shopping at Vaison-la-Romaine's Tuesday market, I needed a little sustenance before returning to my house in nearby Mollans. It seemed as though all of my fellow shoppers had the same idea and were rapidly filling the outdoor tables in the cafes ringing the market square. One of the busiest featured an extensive collection of tapas, little nibbles that included these wings--exactly what I needed before driving home with my market treasures.
Some markets sell the meatiest portions of the wing, pre-cut, under the name of "chicken drummies." Using these saves the time of trimming the whole wing into segments; buy eighteen "drummie" pieces.
makes 6 servings
1/3 cup yogurt
2 tablespoons sweet Spanish or Hungarian paprika
2 tablespoons red wine
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
9 whole chicken wings or 18 drummies
2 tablespoons cornstarch
Preheat the oven to 425F. Line a shallow 15 X 10-inch baking pan with parchment paper.
Mix the yogurt, paprika, red wine, garlic, sherry vinegar, salt, and cayenne together in a medium bowl. Remove the wing tips from the chicken wings; reserve in the freezer for stock. Cut each wing into two pieces at the remaining joint; add to the yogurt mixture. Stir thoroughly to coat. Sprinkle with cornstarch; stir again to blend and coat.
Place the wings in a single layer in the prepared pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until richly browned and the tops are crisp. Remove and serve hot or at room temperature.
Try these with a smoked sweet Spanish paprika for an extra dimension of flavor.
BOUILLON DE POULE
When time allows, making chicken broth is one of the more satisfying, easy, and truly rewarding occupations in the kitchen. The actual effort is minimal and the slow-cooked aroma of a barely simmering soup pot is almost its own reward. In bistro kitchens, large kettles filled with extra chicken parts and trimmings gently bubble on back burners in time-honored tradition. Served with crunchy, toasted slices of leftover bread and dusted with freshly grated Parmesan, this warming broth is food for the soul as well as the body.
makes 10 cups bouillon
3 1/2 to 4 pounds chicken pieces and scraps, including parts of a stewing hen
2 medium carrots, quartered
1 large onion, quartered
1 large celery stalk with leafy top, quartered
1 medium leek, white and pale green portions only, quartered and thoroughly rinsed
6 sprigs parsley
4 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Croutons (croutes; see Note)
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Rinse the chicken thoroughly to remove any trapped blood. Place in a large stockpot and cover with 3 1/2 quarts of cold water. Bring just to a boil over medium-high heat, 10 to 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a simmer; simmer for 10 minutes. Skim to remove any surface foam; add the vegetables, herbs, and seasonings. Reduce the heat to low; cook, partially covered, for 2 1/2 hours, adjusting the heat as necessary so that the surface is broken only by occasional bubbles. Strain through several layers of cheesecloth.
Refrigerate the bouillon overnight; remove the surface fat.
To serve, allowing about 1 cup per person, bring the quantity desired to a simmer over medium-low heat. Serve in bowls. Top with a crouton and about 1 tablespoon Parmesan per bowl.
Note: To make the croutons, slice stale French bread into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Arrange in a single layer on a shallow baking sheet; brush lightly with olive oil. Rub the surface of one side with a crushed clove of garlic. Toast in a 400F oven for 6 to 8 minutes, until crisp.
When preparing other recipes, save chicken scraps in a large, self-sealing plastic bag in your freezer. Parts of carcasses, wing tips, necks, gizzards, and hearts can all be added. Save the livers separately for another use; their flavor is too strong for broths and stocks. Do make sure to add some actual chicken pieces for a real chicken taste. For the best flavor use stewing hen parts, sometimes stocked in the freezer section of the meat department in your grocery store.
Once made, this broth can also be used in any of the recipes calling for canned, reduced-sodium chicken broth. Make a batch, omitting the croutons and Parmesan, and freeze it in 1 or 2-cup portions for later use.
BRIKS DE POULET
Moroccan Phyllo Rectangles
I first stumbled across these crunchy, savory pastries as a luncheon item in a small restaurant called 7ème Sud in Paris. They served them on lovely North African plates with a simple tomato and cucumber salad on the side. Their name comes from the traditional wrapping used to hold them together. Both Tunisians and Moroccans use a paper-thin round of dough, called a brik, as a casing for various fillings. Phyllo is a readily available substitute in this country.
makes 4 servings
1/2 teaspoon mild curry powder
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 cup olive oil (approximately)
1 medium onion, chopped (about 3/4 cup)
1/2 cup chopped cooked new or fingerling potatoes
1 cup chopped cooked chicken
2 large eggs
Eight 17 X 12-inch leaves phyllo
Preheat the oven to 400F. Combine the curry powder, ginger, salt, cinnamon, coriander, and cayenne; set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the onion. Saute until the onion begins to soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the potatoes and cook for an additional 3 minutes. Add the chicken and sprinkle with the spice mixture; stir to blend. Whisk the eggs until foamy; pour over the mixture in the skillet. Cook, stirring frequently, until the eggs are set, 1 to 2 minutes; remove from the heat.
Brush one sheet of phyllo with a light coating of olive oil. Fold in half to form a 12 X 8 1/2-inch rectangle. Brush lightly with oil and fold in half again to form a 6 X 8 1/2-inch rectangle. Brush lightly with oil again. Form a 4 X 1 1/2-inch rectangle of the chicken mixture in the center of the phyllo rectangle; fold the two shorter sides over the filling, so that they meet in the middle. Fold the remaining two sides over the filling and each other. Brush lightly with oil; turn over and place on an ungreased baking sheet. Brush the top lightly with oil. Repeat with the remaining sheets of phyllo. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, until golden brown. Serve.
These can be made ahead and frozen. To serve, just arrange them on a baking sheet, still frozen, and reheat them for 10 to 15 minutes in a 375F oven. To see if the filling is warm, pierce the center of one of the briks with the tip of a thin knife and leave it there briefly. Then place the side of the knife tip against the back of your wrist; if the tip is warm, so is the filling.
With heat, the special flavor of extra virgin olive oil dissipates, so it's fine to use regular olive oil instead. Save the higher quality, extra virgin oil for vinaigrettes or when exposure to higher temperatures is limited.