Mustard — Good only in Dijon. Ruins the stomach.
~Gustave Flaubert

The word mustard derives from the Anglo-Norman mustarde and Old French mostarde. The term evolved from the Latin mustum, (must or young wine) as Romans mixed the unfermented grape juice, with ground mustard seeds (called sinapis) to make “burning must” or mustum ardens.

Dijon, once a Roman settlement, is now the capital city of the Côte-d’Or département in Bourgogne (Burgundy), a région in central eastern France. Once ruled by the infuential ducs de Bourgognes, it lies about 1h 40 southeast of Paris by TGV rail. By the 13th century, Dijon had became the gathering place for fine mustard makers and has since become known as the mustard capital of the world. Dijon mustard originated in 1856, when Jean Naigeon first substituted verjuice, the acidic juice of unripened grapes, for vinegar in the traditional recipe. The mustard is crafted from finely ground brown or black mustard seeds mixed with an acidic liquid (vinegar, wine, and/or grape must) and sparsely seasoned with salt and sometimes a hint of spice. No artificial colors, fillers or other additives are allowed.

Dijon mustard is customarily pale yellow in color, smooth in consistency, but fairly sharp in scent and flavor. Nose burning, nasal clearing, eye watering Dijon forte (strong) awaits you at pommes frites stands across France.

As for tomorrow. That woefully amateurish event, Valentine’s Day, is again upon us…when florists are deluged, chefs are beset, servers are frazzled, chocolatiers are harried and lovers are just barely that for one day. So, eschew that trite restaurant night and instead indulge that Hallmark moment at home. Shun the cloying mundane and think passion, ardor.

Open with seared scallops with apple cider vinegar or gougères — follow with rib eye steak au poivre or chicken dijon, puréed potatoes or risotto and haricots verts or asparagus with garlic — and end with hand crafted chocolate truffles or mousse au chocolat. Start with a glass of Champagne, then couple the app with a Chardonnay or Rosé de Provence and the entrée with a red Côtes du Rhône, Bourgogne or Oregon Pinot Noir. Just a traditional thought or two…the choices are boundless.

With that menu, candlelight, choice tunes, lively banter, and no dish detail, a night’s kiss may become a tad more carnal. Old school romance is still in vogue.

Cin-cin!

CHICKEN DIJON

1 T coriander seeds

2 T extra-virgin olive oil
1 T unsalted butter
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
4 chicken leg-thigh quarters
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Dried tarragon

1/2 C shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
4 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1-2 T cognac or brandy
1 1/2 C chicken broth

1/2 C Dijon mustard
1/4 C crème fraîche or heavy whipping cream
Chopped tarragon

In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the coriander seeds until fragrant. Allow to cool then transfer the seeds to a spice grinder or mortar and let cool. Grind until coarse.

Season the chicken with salt, pepper and tarragon. (Lightly sprinkle the tarragon on the skin side only.) In a large, heavy skillet, heat the olive oil and butter over medium high heat until shimmering, but take care to avoid burning the butter. After pressing them into and around the pan, discard the smashed garlics. Add the chicken to the skillet skin side down and cook over moderately high heat, turning once, until golden brown all over, about 5 minutes per side. Remove the chicken to a platter and tent.

Pour off some of the residue oil and juices from the chicken. Add the shallots to the same pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Pour in the brandy and allow to cook off, then add the broth and ground coriander and bring almost to a boil. Add chicken, reduce heat, cover and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. Turn the chicken once while cooking.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, crème fraîche and 1 tablespoon of fresh tarragon. Whisk the mixture into the skillet and simmer the sauce over moderate heat, occasionally stirring until thickened, about 5 minutes. While simmering if it appears the sauce needs thining, add some heavy whipping cream. Return the chicken to the skillet and turn to coat with the sauce and heat.

Serve the chicken ladled with sauce, then garnished with chopped fresh tarragon.

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Too marvelous for words…
~Johnny Mercer

Seemed a plebeian enough task, almost like blurting out a blurb. Share a recipe of eggs poached in red wine with lardons and mushrooms served over croûtes and then explain the origins of a feminine French noun, meurette. Apparently, that slighted the fickle temperaments of the word gods.

Meurette derives from the Latin word muriae, muria (brine, salt liquor, pickling), but the earliest known usage in French a matter of debate. Some cite the 15th century, others claim it came into parlance centuries later. Already a cryptic dude. A culinary term, meurette refers to a certain red wine sauce ladled over fish and eggs.

Ironically, before the 19th century the use of red wine in French gastronomy was relatively scant. This from the land of such red wine braised classics as coq au vin, boeuf à la bourguignon, and daube d’agneau? No doubt due to regional viniculture, Burgundians were unusually ardent about adding red wine to dishes—enough so that any dish à la bourguignon came to mean “braised with red wine.” Or perhaps the cooks were just carefree sots.

Matelote (sometimes spelled matelotte) was a robust, rustic freshwater fish stew made with red wine and stock often served at inns along the rivers. Eel, trout, carp, perch, pike, et al., could grace your soup bowl. The dish made a splash in Parisian cookbooks in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The authors commonly used the term matelote not meurette to describe both fish stew and eggs in red wine sauces.

[Matelote literally means “sailor’s wife” from the masculine maletot, from Middle French matenot “sailor, bunkmate,” from Middle Dutch mattenoot “bed companion,” probably from Old Norse mǫtunautr “mate.” Matelow, as pronounced in French, also happens to be a lower class seaman in the British navy.]

Then, a digression and inexplicable leap occurred. Almost sans rime ni raison, meurette entered onto the scene and mysteriously became synonymous with, and nearly displaced, matelote. Abracadabra…the esoteric seemed to overtake the standard. How and why this perplexing word detour occurred is a question for obscure linguists. So, Burgundian red wine sauce or ragoût served with fish and eggs came to be known as meurette.

All this word origin palaver is soon forgotten once a pierced yolk oozes into the deep red sauce and then lazily courses over crisp lardons, scrumptious ‘shrooms and garlicky croûtes. Ambrosial.

OEUFS EN MEURETTE (EGGS POACHED IN RED WINE)

1 bottle (750 ml) dry red wine
1 C chicken stock
1 C beef stock

6-8 large fresh eggs

1 bay leaf
1 medium carrot, thinly sliced
1 celery stalk, sliced
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 small yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 sprigs fresh thyme
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 ozs crimini and shittake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
6 ozs bacon, sliced into lardons
2-3 T unsalted butter

2 T unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2 T all-purpose flour

Artisanal bread, sliced
Extra virgin olive oil
2-3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and halved

2 T chopped fresh tarragon leaves

In a medium bowl, knead the butter and flour together with your fingers to form a paste (beurre manié). Set aside.

Lightly coat a large, heavy skillet over medium high heat and coat with olive oil. Sauté bread until lightly golden brown on both sides. Immediately rub croûtes on one side with cut side of garlic. Tent loosely and set aside.

Bring the wine and stocks to a gentle simmer in a deep sauté pan. Gently crack the eggs into a small flared cup, slip into the wine and stock and poach until the whites are set and the yolks soft and almost runny, about 3 minutes. Trim off the stringy edges with scissors and set the eggs aside. Remove to a small platter.

Spoon out any egg white debris and bring the wine and stock back to a boil. Add the bay leaf, carrot, celery, garlic, onion, thyme, salt and pepper. Simmer until reduced by half and concentrated, about 20 minutes. Strain, retain the sauce and discard the solids.

While the sauce reduces, put one-half of the butter and olive oil into a heavy skillet over medium high heat and sauté the mushrooms, about 3-4 minutes. Remove the mushrooms to a bowl and set aside, wiping the pan clean with a paper towel. Then, add the remainder of the butter and cook the bacon until just slightly brown. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

Whisk just enough of the beurre manié, one clump at a time, into the simmering sauce until thick enough to coat a spoon. Bring the sauce to a lively simmer, and check the seasonings. With a slotted spoon gently lower the poached eggs into the sauce only to briefly reheat, about 30 aeconds. Remove and serve the eggs in shallow bowls over croûtes, garnish with mushrooms, bacon and spoon over the sauce. Scatter the chopped tarragon over the top.

Burgundy makes you think of silly things; Bordeaux makes you talk about them, and Champagne makes you do them.
~Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

More white, more chill, more raw drafts, more winter light—with that sometimes dreaded V Day staring you down—all serve to page this comfy stew. So, please don’t lamely bring home those insipid red roses or banal boxed bonbons on Sunday. Instead, usher to the table a bodacious, succulent soul meant to warm your cockles. Peasant fare gone haute cuisine? Doubtful, but that does nothing to diminish the luscious carnality, even nobility, of this dish.

Never forget that careful kitchen caresses often reap sensual rewards.

Bourgogne (Burgundy), a région encompassing the départements of Côte-d’Or, Saône-et-Loire, Nièvre, and Yonne, is a diverse historic region in east central France—a mere 1 hour 20 minutes due southeast of Paris by TGV rail.

The Burgundians were a Scandinavian people whose original homeland lay on the southern shores of the Baltic Sea, where the island of Bornholm (Burgundarholm in the Middle Ages) still bears their name. During the 1st century, they migrated westward to the borders of the Roman Empire. There they established a powerful kingdom, which by the early 5th century extended to the west bank of the Rhine River and later centered on Sapaudia (Savoy) near Lake Geneva. The history of Burgundy is rather complicated, convoluted, even twisted at times. So, I will endeavor to address it in segments in later posts — suffice it to say it is more a state of mind than a place.

BOURGUIGNON D’AGNEAU (LAMB BOURGUIGNON)

1/2 lb thick bacon, cut into lardons (1/4″ x 1″)
1 T extra virgin olive oil

3 lbs lamb shoulder, cut into 2″ cubes, patted dry

2 medium carrots, peeled and thickly sliced
2 parsnips, peeled and thickly sliced
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and thickly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2-3 T all purpose flour

3 C dry red wine, such as a Côtes du Rhône or Pinot Noir
3 C beef stock
1 T tomato paste
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and mashed
2 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf, crumbled

Braised onions
24 smaller white pearl onions
2 T butter
1 1/2 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 C beef stock
Bouquet garni (parsley sprig, bay leaf, thyme sprigs, tied in cheesecloth)

Sautéed mushrooms
1 lb crimini mushrooms, quartered
2 T unsalted butter
1 T extra virgin olive oil

Freshly parsley leaves, chopped (for garnish)

Preheat oven to 450 F

Simmer lardons for 10 minutes in water, then drain and dry on paper towels. Sauté lardons in olive oil in a heavy large Dutch oven over low medium heat to lightly brown and crisp, about 2-3 minutes. Remove to a large side dish with a slotted spoon.

Heat lardon fat in same Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add lamb, well spaced, and sauté until nicely browned on all sides. Place the browned lamb in the dish with the lardons. Add the sliced carrots, parsnips and onions to the same pot and brown, then pour out excess fat.

Return the lamb and lardons with the carrots, parsnips and onions to the pot and season with salt and pepper. Then sprinkle with flour and toss again to coat the contents lightly. Set casserole uncovered in middle of preheated oven for 8 minutes, tossing once or twice.

Transfer Dutch oven to stove top and reduce oven heat to 325 F.

Stir in wine and enough stock to barely cover the meat and vegetables. Add the tomato paste, garlic, thyme and bay leaf. Bring to a kind simmer on the stove top. Cover Dutch oven and set in lower third of oven. Again, bring to a gentle simmer until fork pierces meat easily, about 3-4 hours. While the lamb is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms.

Braised onions
In a deep heavy skillet, heat 1 1/2 tablespoons butter with one and one-half tablespoons of the oil until bubbling in a skillet. Add onions and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling them so they will brown as evenly as possible, remaining careful not to break the skins.

Add the stock, bouquet garni, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer slowly for 40 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but hold their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove bouquet garni and set onions aside.

Sautéed mushrooms
Carefully wipe out skillet with paper towels and heat remaining oil and butter over medium high heat. Once butter has begun to bubble but not brown, add mushrooms. Toss until they brown lightly, about 4-5 minutes and then remove from heat.

When the meat is tender, pour the contents of the pot into a sieve set over a saucepan in order to make a sauce. Wash out the Dutch oven and return the lamb and lardons, strewing the cooked onions and mushrooms on top.

Meanwhile, skim fat off sauce in saucepan, and then simmer sauce for a couple of minutes, skimming off additional fat until reduced enough to coat a spoon. If too thin, boil it down rapidly. If too thick, whisk in a few tablespoons stock. Taste and if necessary, correct seasoning with salt and pepper.

Pour sauce over meat and vegetables. Cover and simmer 2 to 3 minutes, tossing and basting the meat and vegetables with the sauce several times.

Serve with artisanal noodles or potatoes, topped with parsley.

Pourboire: Please do not forget Julia Child’s mantra about browning —
(1) The meat should be thoroughly dried
(2) The oil in the pan should be quite hot
(3) Do not crowd the meat in the pan

Gougères

March 4, 2009

Wine is bottled poetry.
~Robert Louis Stevenson

Gougères, those airy, delicate cheese puffs made from pâte à choux, conjure up images of that ever so serene Burgundy: the dappled, multihued roof tiles of the Hôtel Dieu in Beaune, the cobbled courtyards in the alluring villages, the seemingly endless underground wine caves, the Route des Vins Mâconnais-Beaujolais coursing through meticulously rowed vineyards, the barges on canals and marvelous rivers Saône, Seille and Loire…not to mention being home to the Rolls Royce of chickens (les poulets de Bresse), coq au vin, escargots, and boeuf bourguignon. Burgundy is a land as velvety and sensual as its wines.

Gougères are often served as a snack or hors d’oeuvre, and they remain incomparable bedmates for a wine tasting.

GOUGERES

1 C water
8 T cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Pinch of sea salt
1 C all purpose flour
4 large local, free range, organic eggs, room temperature
1 C grated Gruyère cheese

Preheat oven to 400 F

Butter and lightly flour 2 baking sheets, shaking off the excess. In a medium heavy saucepan, combine the water, butter and salt and heat over medium high heat. Whisk occasionally, then once the mixture boils immediately remove from heat. Add the flour and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until a smooth dough forms and the mixture comes away from the sides of the saucepan; return to low heat and continue beating until it dries out and pulls away from the pan, about 1-2 minutes.

Scrape the dough into a bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with a flat paddle. Beat the eggs into the dough, 1 at a time, beating thoroughly between each one. It is important to make sure that each egg is incorporated into the batter before adding the next. While still beating, add 1/2 of the cheese. The dough should be well aerated and ultimately have the consistency of very thick mayonnaise.

Transfer the dough to a pastry bag fitted with a 1/2-inch round tip and pipe into 2 inch mounds onto the baking sheets, 2 inches apart. If the gougères are too close to each other, they will stick together when inflating. If you do not have a true pastry bag, you can substitute a large ziploc bag which has one corner snipped off at the bottom.

Sprinkle remaining cheese on top and bake for 20-25 minutes, until puffy and golden brown. While cooking, avoid opening the oven door, as humidity will escape and dry out the gougères. Serve warm or at room temperature.

A Divinity: Roast Chicken

January 22, 2009

We were not satisfied with the qualities which nature gave to poultry; art stepped in and, under the pretext of improving fowls, has made martyrs of them.
~Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Having authored another blog on a somewhat different topic, I became keenly aware of the shortcomings inherent in this medium. For instance, the reading is done in reverse chronological order, much as many of us tend to peruse magazines—from back to front. On a news oriented blog, this sequence works ideally as the most recent story is the first item you see. While I may intersperse news pieces on this site (see Obama Fare), the overall intent is to create an ongoing, yet comprehensive work which shares and discusses cooking techniques, recipes and food lore. Why this self conscious ramble? I suppose it is merely meant to enlist your patience as this work in progress unfolds given the somewhat backwards gait and unwieldy subject matter.

There may be nothing more comforting than a succulent, golden hued, crispy skinned roast chicken—the kind of meal that centers you. Maybe it’s due to tradition alone or the intense olfactory experience or perhaps the process of transforming the simple to the sublime. Here, we will explore a cooking method and techniques which will enhance this elegant, yet altogether rustic, dish.

While strongly suggested, but not mandatory, truss thy bird. Securing the tucked wings and legs of the chicken to the body with butcher’s twine creates a compact shape that allows for more uniform cooking. The main reason to truss is to ensure a juicy breast…dry bird dugs are not desired at most tables. When not trussed, oven heat circulates in the bird’s cavity and usually overcooks the breast before the legs and thighs are done. Should you opt out from trussing, at least stuff the cavity with citrus and onions or shallots, which will provide some prophylaxis.

ROAST CHICKEN

1 local, free range, organic roasting chicken (around 4-5 lbs), giblets reserved
3 T unsalted butter, softened
1/2 T dried thyme
Sea salt & freshly ground pepper
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 dried apricots (optional)
2 prunes (optional)

1-3 heads fresh garlic, cut transversely (crosswise)

3-6 T brandy or cognac
3-4 T chicken stock, if needed

Preheat oven to 425.

Preparation:
Allow the chicken to sit at room temperature for at least 1/2 hour. Thoroughly rub the chicken inside and out with butter and season inside the cavity and outside with salt, pepper and dried thyme. Encourage more hands on that step. Place 1 sprig of rosemary, 2 sprigs thyme (and the optional dried fruits) inside the cavity of the chicken.

While this is suggested, but not mandatory, truss the bird. Securing the wings and legs of the chicken to the body with trussing string creates a compact shape that allows for more uniform cooking.

Place the chicken on a roasting rack on one side. In the bottom of the roasting pan, strew the neck, (the other giblets will be used later), remaining fresh thyme, rosemary and garlic heads with cut side up. The number of garlics you use is dependent upon their size and your preference for this versatile, supremely aromatic member of the lily family; but, I would suggest at least two heads.

Roasting:
Put the rack with the chicken on its side onto the roasting pan, and place into the center of the oven; roast for 20 minutes, uncovered, basting occasionally. Turn the chicken to the other side for 20 minutes, still basting. Then, turn the chicken breast side up and roast for 20 more minutes. During this last 20 minutes, drop in the remaining giblets. Reduce the heat to 375 and continue roasting with breast side up for 15 minutes more, still occasionally basting, until done. The bird should have a robust golden tone, and juices should run clear, yellow (not pink) when the thigh is pierced with a carving fork. Remove the herb sprigs and dried fruits from the cavity and place into roasting pan. Set the roasted garlics aside to serve.

Place an overturned soup bowl under one end of a platter or moated cutting board so it is tilted at an angle. Remove the roasting pan from the oven and turn the chicken so that the juices in the cavity are emptied onto the pan. Then, transfer the chicken to the angulated platter or board, with breast side down and tail in the air. This allows gravity to do its job as the juices flow down into the breast meat. Cut the trussing string free and remove.

Loosely tent the chicken with foil and let rest on the incline at least 15 minutes—it will actually keep cooking some, and the juices will disperse evenly throughout the meat.

Sauce:
Place the roasting pan over moderate heat, likely using two burners in order to heat the juices. With a wood spatula, scrape those bits stuck to the surface of the pan. If the pan is a lacking some liquid, just add some chicken broth. Then, when the pan is hot, add several tablespoons of brandy to deglaze* and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer several minutes until thickened—when it coats the spatula. (Consider also adding apple cider vinegar to the mix when adding the brandy to give it some pungency, acidity.)

While the sauce is reducing, carve the chicken. Strain the sauce, preferably through a fine chinois sieve, pour into a sauceboat and serve over or under the chicken. The straining will produce a velvety end product. The heads of garlic will have buttery texture and very subtle flavor, suitable for spreading on a fresh baguette.

This meal dances well with many forms of potatoes (particularly mashed), rice pilaf and green beans (haricots verts) with pine nuts. Also, a French burgundy or pinot noir will make your life whole.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

*Deglazing: a simple process by which liquid–stock, water, wine, cream–is added to the pan after the meat browning process to dissolve the residue. The bits adhering to the sides of the pan are scraped off and incorporated into the liquid. Deglazing ensures that the concentrated flavors are retained and become one with the sauce.

Not to beg, but does this plate rise to Obama Fare, Mr. President and Madame First Lady?