julia child, mastering the art of french cooking, julie powell, french cuisine

Nobody Calls Me Chicken


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“Always remember: If you’re alone in the kitchen and you drop the lamb, you can always just pick it up. Who’s going to know?” – Julia Child 

When I was single and living on my own, I used to cook a bunch of meals on Sunday and keep them in my fridge to eat throughout the week. The one thing I always had on hand was chicken breast. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of beef, but I try to choose a leaner option when possible. But as much as I love chicken, to me it’s one of those dishes that gets really old really fast. How many times can I grill or bake a piece of chicken and still get my taste buds excited, I ask you? I guess that’s why I’m so gung-ho about these chicken supreme recipes of Julia’s. They’re so easy, and they really give a tried and true standby a much needed kick. 

Sunday night I was ready to tackle the next one on the list: Supremes de Volaille a l’Ecossaise (chicken breasts with diced aromatic vegetables and cream). Just the sound of it was making my mouth water. Our side dishes would be Laitues Braisees (braised lettuce) and Haricots Verts, Sauce Crème (creamed green beans II). 

Beans and cream, before going into the oven

I blanched my green beans, then drained them and tossed them in a pan with salt/pepper, softened butter and minced shallots. I covered the pan and let it cook slowly for a few minutes while I made a béchamel sauce for the cream. Once I had the basic béchamel in the pan, I added whipping cream and more salt/pepper so that it easily became a cream sauce. When the beans were finished cooking, I folded the hot cream sauce into them and recovered the pan, letting it simmer for a few minutes more. 

Meanwhile, I had been boiling a head of lettuce in a small pot of water until the leaves had wilted, then I ran it under cold water to wake it up a bit. I gently squeezed excess water from the leaves with my hands, then cut the head of lettuce in half lengthwise. I sprinkled it with salt and pepper and formed the leaves into triangle shapes. (And then this song played in my head for a half-hour.) It was at about this point when I realized I had made a tactical error. Much like the spinach from the canapé recipe I made over the weekend, when lettuce has been boiled, it shrinks considerably in size and you don’t end up with nearly as much as you’d expect. Oh, well. I had a feeling Ben wasn’t going to be a very big fan of this recipe anyway. 

It's hard to tell, but there are lettuce triangles beneath all those veggies.

I simmered a few slices of bacon in water, and cooked sliced carrots and onions in a casserole in a bit of butter. When the vegetables were soft, I nudged them to the sides of the pan and set the lettuce squares in the center of the dish, spreading part of the carrots and onions over the lettuce and topping with the drained bacon. With a little bit of beef stock in the pan and a small herb bouquet, I brought everything to a simmer on the stove and covered the dish with  buttered wax paper, then set the casserole in the 350-degree oven for about a half-hour. 

The last thing to make was the chicken, which as we all know by now only takes about 15 minutes tops. No sweat, right? I cooked diced carrot, celery and onion cubes in some butter for about 10 minutes in a covered pan until they were tender. Sprinkling a couple of chicken breasts with a bit of lemon juice and salt/pepper, I used tongs to roll them around in the butter in the pan before covering them with buttered wax paper and a lid. When the lettuce came out of the oven, I kicked up the heat to 400 degrees and the chicken went in. I let them cook for about 10 minutes, which I have found to be just right, and when the timer went off, I could see why Julia refers to the celery/carrot/onions as “aromatic vegetables”…the recipe smelled delicious! 

See how lovely things were before taking a nasty turn for the worst? I would show a picture of the carnage, but I was too mad to take a photo.

I opened the oven and reached in with my oven mitts to retrieve the pan. The pan was heavier than I expected, so I was careful to use two hands, and made it about halfway before the handle of the pan found a thin spot in my oven mitt. The sharp pang of severe heat surprised me, and I did something I’ve never done…I dropped the dish. In slow motion, it teetered out of my hands, and the weight of the contents shifting to one side caused the entire pan to flip upside down, spilling everything out into my clean (and HOT) oven. The stainless lid and pan clattered to the ground, hitting the opened oven door on the way down. The chicken sat pitifully on the oven door, along with a few scattered vegetable pieces. The glorious juices from the pan dripped down the door and pooled at the bottom of the oven. I just stood there and stared in utter disbelief, trying to figure out how it had happened. 

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I threw my oven mitts to the floor in complete frustration. The kitchen was hot and I was sweaty and tired, but most of all HUNGRY. And then a loud voice in my head said, “So, what are you going to do about it?” I took a deep breath and reassessed the situation. 

The chicken was still good, so I used tongs to move them to a plate. With a large spatula, I salvaged the few veggies from the oven door that I could, turned off the oven and closed the door. I would deal with that mess later. The next step in the recipe was to make the yummy sauce that tops the chicken, but unfortunately, the chicken juices that gave the sauce its savory flavor were sitting at the bottom of my oven. Oh, well. I poured the rest of the ingredients (brown stock and whipping cream, and the sad collection of carrots, celery and onion) into a pan and boiled it down until it had thickened. Dinner was served. 

Creamed green beans, chicken breast & braised lettuce

Despite the disaster in the kitchen, the chicken turned out fine – moist and tender as always. I could taste a hint of the aromatic vegetables that it had cooked with, and it made me think of a homemade chicken noodle soup. Definite comfort food flavors in this dish. The sauce wasn’t as good as usual, but that was kind of expected at this point, so I overlooked that issue and gave myself credit for not giving up in the face of adversity. 

The green beans were good, but my ratio of green bean to cream sauce was off, and the sauce was a little overpowering. When I scraped some away and was left with lightly coated green beans, I liked the dish much better. The sauce was thick and the crispiness of the beans gave a nice contrast to the sweet creaminess of the sauce. 

The lettuce was a complete mystery. It was limp and a bit soggy, but more than that, it tasted like…mint. And not like fresh mint from the garden. Like mint mouthwash. I have no idea why. I didn’t use mint in this recipe. I guess it was something about the combination of herbs in the bouquet that did it, but either way, it was a little odd. Needless to say, I wasn’t a huge fan, and neither was Ben. File this recipe under “T” for “Things that make you go ‘Hm.’”. 

I have to say this wasn’t the best meal I’ve cooked yet, but it certainly wasn’t the worst. I think the whole pan dropping incident put a bad taste in my mouth that even the tender chicken couldn’t overcome. But no matter. On the bright side, that’s three recipes I can mark off the list, and that officially brings us out of the 400 range. 

And now I have an excuse to try out the “Self Clean” feature on my oven. 

All in a day’s work!
– Jessica

Today’s French Lesson:
“Servir mon poulet sur une plaque, pas sur le sol s’il vous plaît.”

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