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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A Paean to Pudding

February 15, 2011

Another V-Day has bitten the dust to the tune of some $18+ billion in uxorious sales. Thank you again, beloved Hallmark.

On a more pagan note, in ancient Rome many celebrated the feast of Lupercalia from February 13 to 15. Drunken men sacrificed goats and dogs, skinned them, then whipped young women with their hides. For reasons earlier thought unknown, the ladies lined up for punishment. Actually, many believed this would render them fertile. Then, in a precursor to the proverbial bowlful of keys and match.com, a lottery was held where young men would draw the names of mates from a jar—a coupling which would last for whatever the carnal duration. Are we one curious species?

The origin of this one day holiday for lovers is muddled. (1) Some claim that in the third century, Emperor Claudius II summarily and simultaneously executed two men named Valentine on this day of fertility and love. (2) Others assert that when Emperor Claudius determined that single men made more devoted soldiers than those with family, he outlawed marriage for young men to cull his crop of potential legionnaires. Sensing the injustice of the decree, a Roman priest named Valentine defiantly performed marriages for young lovers in secret. Once Valentine’s covert nuptials were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be promptly beheaded. (3) One more version contends that while imprisoned, Valentine may have even sent the first such greeting. Valentine was entranced by a young girl who may even have even been his jailor’s daughter. Blind and deaf, she visited him regularly during his confinement in an era when conjugal stays were likely permitted. Before his death, he wrote her a letter, which he signed “From your Valentine.” At any rate, not much is known of Valentine except his name, and that he was buried at the Via Flaminia north of Rome on February 14.

Enter the Catholic Church, whose occasionally miscreant priests canonized the love martyr(s) in order to “christianize” the earlier pagan rituals.

RICE PUDDING

3 C whole milk
4 cardamom pods, cracked
2 cinnamon sticks
1 1/2 C short grain rice, such as arborio

Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
1/3 C raw (turbinado) sugar
1/4 C golden raisins
1/4 C sliced almonds
Pinch of sea salt

2 eggs, beaten
1 t vanilla

In a large, heavy saucepan, add milk, cardamom, cinnamon sticks and rice. Bring to a simmer, cover and gently cook until rice is quite soft, about 40-50 minutes. Remove cardamom pods and cinnamon sticks and discard. Add lemon zest, sugar, raisins, almonds, and salt, stirring to dissolve. Then, add beaten eggs and vanilla, stirring until mixture is slightly thickened. Remove from heat. Allow to rest as the pudding will thicken further.

Serve warm or cold.

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