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

Something for the Upper Crust


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“The best way to execute French cooking is to get good and loaded and whack the hell out of a chicken.” – Julia Child

Last week I was in the mood for some good chicken (which translates to: chicken a la Julia Child). Despite the fact our refrigerator isn’t as well-stocked as it was just a few months ago, we did have some thawed chicken breasts on the middle shelf that looked promising. I decided to make Julia’s Supremes de Volaille a la Milanaise (chicken breasts rolled in parmesan and fresh bread crumbs), which, as it turned out, was both easy and delicious!

Before we get started, I have an important question to ask you. Does anyone else’s family call parmesan cheese “Pardon Me John”? Just wondering.

Look at that great parmesan/bread crumb crust resting on that chicken! Can't wait to get it in the pan...

I started with two chicken breasts seasoned with salt and pepper, and I rolled each one in a plate of flour, a light dusting that would help the crust adhere to the meat. Next, they took a quick dip in a bath of egg, salt and olive oil, and were then rolled around in a shallow dish of freshly grated parmesan cheese and white bread crumbs. I set the crusted chicken on a sheet of waxed paper and turned away for about 15 minutes to let the crust become better acquainted with the chicken. (I know what you’re thinking, but these are modern times…these kids don’t need chaperones.)

I decided to make good use of my 15 minutes of down-time, so I cleaned up the mess I had made so far, storing the extra crust mixture in a ziplog bag and wiping down my flour-dusted counter. I then began to prepare for the next step – sauteing the meat in clarified butter on the stove. (Fun Fact: Ordinary butter will burn and leave black specks on your meat, whereas clarified butter can cook at a higher temperature before burning. Thanks, Mr. Wizard!) I still haven’t quite mastered the art of making clarified butter (mostly because I lack a little thing called patience), so I gave myself a head start. Sure enough, I wound up with very little clarified butter in the pan, so I added more and waited for it it to foam up, removed the foam from the pan, and was left with the usable clear butter. (Helpful Hint: When making clarified butter, start with more than you think you’ll need. By the time you skim the foam off the top, you won’t be left with nearly as much as you expect.)

I brought the chicken over to the stove and, with a pair of tongs, gently set each piece into the hot butter in the pan. The meat instantly began sizzling and popping, which I figured was a good sign, and after a few moments I went to scoot the meat around the pan – and immediately realized I had a problem. Because I hadn’t used very much butter, the meat was sticking to the bottom of the pan…which also meant the lovely parmesan/bread crumb crust was sticking to the pan. *sigh*

*Note to self: when cooking meat in  a pan, don’t be stingy with the butter. (See “Helpful Hint”, above.)
**Another note to self: when sauteing anything with a crust in a pan, minimize the number of times you flip the item over, as this will reak havoc on your beautiful crust.
This has been an announcement from your friendly voice of experience. Over and out.

I like this idea much better than actual fried chicken.

Thinking quickly, I added more butter to the pan and flipped the chicken over. Sure enough, large chunks of the crust had pulled away from the meat, exposing patches of bare skin. (*gasp!* Scandalous!!) My eyes fell on the bag of my leftover parmesan/bread crumbs and I was suddenly relieved I hadn’t thrown it away. I reached for it and sprinkled more crumbs over the bare areas on the chicken – after all, what did I have to lose?

My plan worked great! The new crumbs adhered to the meat, and slowly the crust began to turn a golden brown and the meat began to resemble fried chicken. It looked wonderful and smelled delicious, and I had managed to salvage a near-disaster. Hooray! Julia says to cook the meat until it springs back when you touch it with your finger. I really couldn’t tell by using that method, and the meat was really hot! So I opted for my own test of simply cutting into the chicken to see how things were coming along. When the center was cooked through, I removed the meat to a side plate to let it rest.

The final step of this meal was to make the Beurre Noisette  (brown butter sauce) that goes on top…mmmm! Julia has several butter sauce recipes, but this particular one called for more clarified butter browned in the pan with a dash of lemon juice and parsley. C’est magnifique! I first used the tongs to scrape the extra bits of crust that had been left on the bottom of the pan (d’oh!), then added more butter to the pan and created the sauce.

The chicken wasn't as blackened as this photo would have you believe...see photo in pan above.

When finished, I set each piece of chicken on a plate along with a scoop of instant rice and a side of warmed canned peas (hey, man, not everything on the plate has to be high-end French cuisine! Don’t judge me.), then drizzled the butter sauce over the meat. This meal really looked beautiful. I used a knife to cut into the chicken, and was thrilled to see the crust had formed perfectly – it gave a light crunch as I cut into it, but wasn’t too heavy and didn’t overpower the meat. The chicken was cooked just right, tender and juicy and a perfect compliment to the slightly cheesy crispiness of the crust.

I’d say the whole entree took about 40 minutes, including 15 minutes of resting time (for the chicken, not for me). Not too bad, especially when the two sides I made could be cooking simultaneously. A delicious dinner in under an hour? Yes, please! This meal was really easy to make, yet it ended with really impressive results. Not only will I make this again, but I plan to use this method of “frying” for other foods…like the batch of green tomatoes my friend brought me from her garden. Yum!

Don’t believe how easy this was to make? See for yourself – watch my video*! If you’re looking for:
a.) a quick recipe for dinner
b.) an easy meal that everyone will like
c.) something to do with that dadgum chicken that’s been in your freezer for a month
then I highly suggest you give this a try.

Bon appetit!
– Jessica

*I realize the finished crusted chicken looks a little burnt in the video, but it really wasn’t. Chalk it up to bad lighting and a low budget production facility.

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