Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Poulet de Bresse à la Crème

Poultry in France is a subject with seemingly endless variety. On any given day, strolling through the market stalls, we see a typical volailler presenting birds of all sizes and flavors: from quail, pigeon, guinea hen, simple farm hens, chickens of various grades and breeds, duck, and yes, rabbit. You might not associate rabbit with poultry, unless you envision where it is traditionally found, in the basse-cour, which is the place where the small farm animals are traditionally tended to. Turn the pages of an old French cookbook where the true gems of French regional cuisine reside, and it's likely you'll see the poultry recipes grouped in such a way, with rabbit following along in its proper place.

Chicken is a passionate subject for many French home cooks, and it's common knowledge that there is a direct connection between not only the breed of chicken but also where a bird has been, how it's fed, living conditions for the animal and its ultimate flavor. For this reason, there is no question in any cook's mind about the superior qualities of a Poulet de Bresse, which is considered to be the very best of the best in poultry. Thankfully, due to Lyon's close proximity to Bresse country and local traditions here, we can find the Poulet de Bresse at the market on a regular basis at a reasonable price, as well as the cream and butter typical to the Bresse region on local shelves.

The Poulet de Bresse is not only a specific breed of poultry, but also bred in compliance with product specifications defined in the European AOP dossier. It is raised free-range with 10 square meters of open pasture per chicken to run in. The chickens are grown to ages 40% higher than the very much respected label-rouge chickens, a crucial few weeks that guarantees richer flavor and tonicity to the meat. They are fed with traditional locally-grown grains certified to be free of all GMO products, and a whopping thirty percent of their diet comes from their natural foraging activities, located within a specified geographical boundary that overlaps small parts of the Rhone Alpes, Burgundy, and Franche-Comté regions in France. Every aspect of the poultry's living condition falls within guidelines defined by the dossier that controls their Appelation d'Origine Protégé (Protected Name of Origin, i.e. "Bresse"). These chickens are even fed the local milk. Based on the age-old principle that terroir and tradition both play a crucial role in the product, the quality of this poultry is undeniable. You can definitely taste the difference.

You can recognize a Poulet de Bresse by its characteristic blue feet, white feathers and red crest. Each chicken will have a band around its foot indicating the farm it came from, as well as the labeling that distinctly signals the poultry's protected origins, yielding the "Bresse" name, and AOP label.

When I see plump Bresse hens at my volailler, it instantly becomes one option for our Market Table meal at Plum Lyon. What can be better than a locally raised poulet or poularde, flavors that for many are a first-time catharsis into what poultry was meant to taste like? One very nice way to prepare it is to carve up the bird, the carcass meant for stock or even consommé, and to fix a nice rustic fricassée with mushrooms which will bring out the very best qualities of this majestic poultry.

Recipe: Poulet de Bresse à la Crème et Champignons des Bois.


1 Poulet de Bresse, carved into eight pieces: Each breast with wing (suprème) removed from the ribcage and sliced in two, diagonally, leaving each wing with a considerable chunk of breast meat attached, the remaining breast pieces which have retained integrity in shape, and the drumsticks and thighs separated at the joint.
60 grams or 6 tablespoons butter
30 grams neutral flavored oil like grapeseed, or duck fat, should you have some on hand.
125 ml or about 1/2 cup of dry white wine, or Vin Jaune if you've got it.
1 onion
1 stalk celery
1 carrot
400 g or two cups crème fraîche (when in Lyon seek out Crème Bressane) or heavy cream
lemon, to season
12 morels , dried or fresh, or a half pound of mixed cultivated and wild mushrooms, brushed clean and sliced
125ml or 1/2 cup white wine, optional (when using morels)


Heat the oven to 425ºF, 210ºC.

Chop the carrot, onion, and celery into small dice. Melt 20 grams of butter in a large cooking pot suited to oven roasting the whole chicken, and sweat these aromatics (the mirepoix) over low heat with a pinch of salt for about 5 minutes, until they've softened and released their flavors.

In the meantime, season the chicken pieces with salt, pepper, and flour on all sides. In a separate frying pan, brown the chicken pieces over medium-high heat in a 50/50 mixture of butter and neutral oil like grapeseed. As the pieces brown, place them (white meat at first on the bottom of the pan, followed by the legs and thighs on top) into the cooking pot with the mirepoix. Once the meat is in the pot, turn up the heat for a minute or two to get it nice and hot. Pour the wine into the pot, and cover it immediately to contain the steam.

Transfer to the hot oven, and set a timer for 25 to 30 minutes. At the end of this time, transfer the chicken pieces to a roasting pan to keep warm, covered with foil, in the oven which has been turned off.

Prepare the sauce: Strain the cooking juices, skim off the considerable fat that floats to the top, and transfer it into a sauce pan. Turn up the heat, and reduce this liquid by one-half. Add the cream, bring to a boil, and reduce by one-half again, creating a rich, thick, creamy sauce. (note: low-fat cream will not work for this step, you need at least 30% fat, otherwise the sauce will curdle and separate.)

Cook the morels in the remaining 10 grams of butter briefly, then add the white wine wine and carefully simmer about 10 minutes until the wine is completely reduced.

Note: When preparing this dish with mushrooms other than morels, they don't need to cook in the wine. You can simply sauté them in a little bit of butter and a pinch of salt until semi-wilted and continue with the recipe.

Add the mushrooms to the cream sauce and toss to combine.

We like to serve this dish on a big platter. In springtime, this can be served over simply steamed new potatoes. During other seasons, rice or noodles are also a choice. Slice the steamed potatoes in half and pile them (or rice or noodles) in the middle of the platter. Place the hot chicken over the potatoes, followed by the mushrooms in sauce. Any remaining sauce can be offered at the table. Serve immediately.


A note on mushrooms for this dish: Morels are the ultimate choice for the mushroom in this recipe. The season for these little beauties falls typically in early spring, when we'll see piles of them, freshly foraged, moist, and clean offered by the farmers who gathered them. This year we had them locally for less than two weeks, which makes a short season. Don't worry, the morel is a mushroom that dries very well, and the poultry vendors on the market will offer them dried for sale, specifically for this dish. Don't be put off by the hefty price tag on the dried mushrooms, as you're buying them by weight dried so you needn't buy more than a dozen for one chicken - 50 to 100 grams might be enough - once reconstituted, they will render an amazing flavor.

With morels out of season, there's always the possibility that you can gather up either alternative wild mushrooms in season when you can find an abundance of amanite de cesar, coulemelles, girolles, les trompettes de mort and les chanterelles grises, OR pick a selection from producer's cultivated offerings of pleurotte, aka golden trumpet or oyster mushrooms for texture, combined with (why not?) the plentiful cultivated flavorful fresh shitakes which can definitely compliment a rich creamy wine-enriched Bresse poultry sauce. Tight and small champignons de Paris and brown button mushrooms will be your plan B. You can round out anything you've gathered with them from one end of the market to the other.


Monday, February 25, 2019

Une Sauce Ravigote Chaude

This sauce is making its way back into my rotation now that we're turning towards foods that can use the nice counterpoint of something acidic, lifting up and punctuating rich, long-simmered flavors and textures. I love a nice ravigote chaude with roasts of all kinds, from simple stuffed poultry to the more exotic tête de veau. Braised winter vegetables like endives, just now being offered by local farmers at the market this week, and steamed leeks, when served with a ravigote chaude, become a full entrée instead of a side. The cold ravigote is the reference in a lot of cooks' minds, mounted crushed cooked yolks with oil like a mayonnaise, but my favorite for this time of year is the hot version, a completely different recipe and technique. The hot version is a sauce that in my opinion plays a good role in the the steaming whole of a plate, keeping in tune with hot comforting foods - more enjoyable right now than something cold dolloped on the side like a condiment.

There are a lot of multi-faceted cooking words that can mean one thing or another, for example the word velouté, which in old school French cuisine is a classic sauce base, prepared with a roux of flour and butter, with the addition of poultry or veal stock. Having some stock on hand is important for this recipe, since it's necessary for the velouté which serves as a structural framework to weave in the texture and flavor of reduced shallots, wine, and vinegar, then layered again with flavor - using fines herbs, capers, and a little more butter, of course. This is a recipe where we build a triad of bold flavors into a velvety base: the herbs most bold of which is tarragon, enriched shallots, and capers. Try this with some simply braised leeks. Simplicity at its finest.

Recipe:  Sauce Ravigote Chaude

3 shallots
45 grams or 3 tablespoons dry white wine
30 grams or 2 tablespoons wine vinegar
25 grams or 2 tablespoons butter
25 grams or 2 tablespoons flour
300 ml or 1 1/4 cups veal or poultry stock, hot
2 tablespoons tarragon, fresh finely chopped leaves
1 tablespoon chives, fresh finely chopped herb
1 tablespoon chervil (if you've got it), fresh finely chopped herb
1 tablespoon capers in brine, chopped (make sure they're not too salty)
salt and pepper to taste (salt will depend on the capers you have)
30 grams butter to finish.

In one small saucepan, combine the shallots, wine and vinegar. Heat to boiling, then lower heat and reduce, that is let the liquid evaporate at a simmer, just until all the liquid is gone. Don't allow it to burn or brown at all. (note: this step can be done in advance and held for a day, chilled)

In another saucepan, melt the first 25 grams of butter and stir in the flour until it's a smooth paste. Allow to cook over medium heat briefly, stirring constantly, and then whisk in the stock until fully incorporated. Allow to thicken and simmer, and stir occasionally as the liquid becomes more translucent, indicating that the starches in the flour are fully saturated with the liquid and are now doing their job to thicken and stabilize. 20 minutes simmering should suffice.

Combine the reduced shallot mixture and the velouté. Add the fresh herbs and capers, and stir to combine. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste. Place the butter in one piece over the sauce and allow it to melt, then swirl it over the top to avoid forming a film. Keep this sauce warm until service, and whisk the melted butter on the surface into the sauce at the last minute.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Postcard Plum Lyon

A shot from our first Market Table Class of the season yesterday.  Looking forward to many memorable days as we progress through the spring season here in Lyon.


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Photo Shoot for a Cookbook

We were sitting with a mutual friend in the crumbling courtyard 8 months ago on rickety metal chairs around a ridiculous cheese platter, candles dripping into late night puddles of wax, sampling bottles of excellent Beaujolais and Northern Côte du Rhone at will, and reviewing Mardi’s recipe list.  She was honing it down to only the best and appropriate ones for the book she is writing. My suggestion was that she come with her photographer and food stylist to shoot for a week at Plum.

The process of intermingling stories and images on blogs and social media hinges on moments, instants, where a flash idea becomes the structure for something larger. A blog creeps and grows that way, developing in response to immediate surroundings.  You carve out place, you pluck ideas at will.  You enjoy full creative control. You find an old door and step through it, and bring others along.  It’s what blogging is.  It’s what writing is.

I wondered how an author like Mardi Michels, who is also multi-talented artist and photographer in her own right, could accept letting go of the visual aspect of her work.  Handing over a double spaced manuscript without images seems like it must be an act of saintly martyrdom, almost impossibly painful for an author with such a strong visual presence on-line.  

Among other things, Mardi has the most satisfying day job of teaching French language and cooking to grade-school students in Canada.  She travels back and forth between Toronto and Nérac in Southwest France, has a beautiful blog, and is writing a cookbook due out from Appetite by Random House in the summer of 2018.  It’s called “In the French Kitchen with Kids”.  She has an impressive body of work and such passion for what she does, her enthusiasm is infectious.  Just talking with her makes me feel charged and energized. 

Monday afternoon, Dara Sutin, who is styling the photos for the book, went about setting breakfast at the table.  It was a long process.  She placed an item in, pulled another out, adjusted angles, tested colored items, considering various forms.  Kyla Zanardi, the photographer, was focused and silent, working in another mode.  She took test shots that they would hover and consult over, sometimes with simple murmurs or sounds, other times stopping and re-reviewing a composition approach, considering a myriad of editorial requests and placement within the book. 

Throughout the shoot, every object took on multi-dimensional meaning, and each were discussed to varying degrees.  What had always seemed to me to be a burst of creative mastermind from one source, the idea that a visually strong cookbook always involves multi-layered collaborative effort was unfurling in intimate detail before my eyes.  The people who have very specific roles in the cookbook publishing process are now making more sense.  They are of one mind, they work together fluidly, but each contributor offers their part to make a better, more beautiful whole. 

Despite their mindful approach to each shot, they accomplished an incredible amount of work in just a few days.  It must be such a relief to Mardi to see such beautiful progress.  She is here, keeping busy, popping in now and then, finishing the last details of her manuscript, and there are two incredibly talented women styling and shooting the images in her book. There is no question that Mardi trusts them implicitly.  Looking at the images they have produced so far, I know I would trust them too. 


Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Touchstone: Bourgogne

Looking for Burgundy in Lyon is a fruitful exercise. When you narrow down the dishes that do Burgundy justice, they appear in one form of another over and over again, year after year on café menus here. How can they not, when we have the abundance of Burgundy tumbling onto the market stalls all year? When we seek inspiration in the seasons and the market, it is inevitable that we're going to choose the best from all of the distinct regions that Lyon is privy to by association. So many of the dishes served here are not only local, but distilled into a collection of the best coming from each point of the compass surrounding this great city.

Escargots de Bourgogne are at home on the Lyonnais table. Platters are slid onto tables, dishcloth covered hands pulling back, leaving the dish sizzling on checkered woven cotton and white linen tablecloths alike, ready to be devoured with their fresh spring garlic and chopped herb seasoned garlicky butter. We dutifully sop it all up with a rich spongy pinch of poolish-fed baguette. I fell across the perfect beurre d'escargot butter quite by accident when browsing through a collection of local recipes, then another. Several cook's notebooks referred to one source. Paul Bocuse, of course. I questioned the use of almond flour, wondering what on earth that might contribute. But it serves a little bit like a megaphone for the flavors of the earth, carrying them, pronouncing them to well harmonize and mingle with the aromatic seasoned butter. With a sip of a local white sparkling Burgundy wine, the moment becomes a touchstone of sorts, one that crystalizes an important idea. It shines brighter and comes easier in retrospect. We savor it, and each other, and the sun streams into the kitchen. We are in Lyon.

While we're chopping up bunches of fresh herbs and mincing the season's fresh spring garlic shoots, grating the nutmeg and such, I always like to slice a naked escargot into pieces, to be tasted alone before we stuff the rest into the shells with the prepared butter and pop them under the broiler. There is a silence that falls across the kitchen when I pass out the escargot forks. I explain that it's very important to taste now, that any well prepared escargot de Bourgogne is going to taste fresh and earthy, that it's going to give us something very special: In fact, when we put them into our mouths, we are reminded of just what it tastes like, the terroir of this rich and varied land.

Recipe: Escargots de Bourgogne

You can always find locally processed escargots in Lyon. Escargots de Bourgogne are considered to be a special occasion dish that are commonly served during the winter holidays in many regions of France, but in Lyon, they are available and readily consumed year-round. It is about as rare to find any restaurant that processes their own live escargots as a place that makes their own cheese or cured meats. It's not unheard of, but just not common since the experts local to Lyon like Maison Malatre, have got it down to a science. The escargots are first isolated from food source for several days to empty their digestive tracts, then they are boiled in their shells, removed from the shells, further processed by hand to remove inedible parts, then slow simmered again in an aromatic and herbal broth before being preserved for distribution. It is rare these days to find average home cooks going through this process, although some families have their traditions.

3 dozen medium simmered escargots
3 dozen clean dry escargot shells
200 grams butter
4 grams fleur de sel, or 3/4 tsp
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
10 g fresh garlic, minced
8 g shallot, minced
10 g fresh almond flour
20 g parsley, finely minced

Stuff one escargot, tail first, into each shell. Combine the butter, salt, pepper, nutmeg, almond flour, shallots, garlic and parsley and work them together until thoroughly combined, but without crushing the minced herbs so much that the butter turns green. With a butter knife, gently fill each shell to the brim with the seasoned butter. Place in trays or balanced on piles of sea salt, with the opening facing up to ensure that the butter doesn't flow out when it melts. Put the trays of snails under the grill or broiler and cook until the butter is sizzling and the snails are hot. Serve immediately with a splash of cold sparkling Burgundy white wine or Champagne.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Lamb Chops

The pickings were slim at the market. I was going to be teaching a class where we just cook together through to lunch time, based on what I find. I dropped my son off at school and only had 45 minutes before class. I had to be quick. I walked the length of the market and reached the end. Nothing. Nothing looked fabulous this morning.

There was a surge of some early autumn vegetables over the weekend, and I'd been looking forward to working with these ingredients, notably beets and watercress. I wanted to do a beet, goat cheese and watercress dish as a starter, and then follow with a nice egg dish. But the beets and the watercress had withdrawn from the scene this morning, and they were not the only things missing. It seems that a lot of producers like to take their vacation during the period after the summer harvest and before the autumn harvest begins. So we had some filler stands with ho hum standards, and my egg people were missing.

My egg people being gone was a serious problem. These are the only people who consistently give me fabulous eggs. I am talking about eggs laid yesterday, the ones that plump up into perfect ovals when poached. I had to start asking people about their eggs, and got shaky answers each and every time. "Tuesday" said one, looking off over my shoulder just long enough for me to know, without a doubt, he was telling a story. I finally settled on some eggs, wasting precious minutes.
"Where is your tarragon?" I asked the lady who provided me with my fines herbes.
"Sorry, some lady bought it all, she had to have 3 bunches this morning, none left." She rolled her eyes and so did I. This continued all the way back down and I realized I had done the whole market I still didn't have a starter.

I decided to shift my poached egg dish to a starter and go with a meat dish. Côtelettes d'agneau en aïado, which is aromatic herb marinated lamb chops I like to do with three sauces, a fabulous garlic sauce similar to an aioli but cooked, a buttery plumped reduction sauce from lamb stock, and a sweet onion and predominantly chervil based green sauce using Claire's secret olive oil. I got closer to the meat stand where the idea for the chops came from but saw he was one of those circular saw butchers that wear lab coats, the ones that use power saws, producing cuts addled with ugly to deal with bone schrapnel. That would not do.

I then remembered the butcher I sometimes go to when my producers on the market don't have what I need. I entered the shop.
"Bonjour madame, do you have any lamb chops?"
"Yes, we do. Honey, the lady wants lamb chops."
"How many?"
"Eight." I was thinking that would be fine. Eight lamb chops.
"Coming right up!" he called. I had 20 minutes at that point to finish this transaction and get down to the kitchen, open up, and print out recipes. I heard him bumping around downstairs. I looked at my watch and smiled at the butcher's wife.
"I'm teaching a class in 20 minutes." we both laughed. There was a silence.
"The lady's in a hurry!"
Up came the butcher with a lamb on his shoulder. He proceeded to carve into the lamb, removing the cuts he needed to get to the chops. "The lady's in a hurry, the lady's in a hurry" he sang, removing a shoulder, the heart, trimming and slicing with what looked to be a small razor sharp paring knife. He brought down a hack saw and pulled no more than two strokes to get through one bone, cut out the strip of ribs, and trimmed the end with a cleaver. His tools hung from the gorgeous hooks that looked like miniature metal bulls horns lined up in neat rows above him. I recalled that my favorite old butcher, a man who has retired and now lives in the neighborhood, used to suspend his meat on those kinds of hooks when he broke down the animal. But this one used it for his tools.
"Is this what you want?" he asked, coming out with something that looked alright but not what I had in mind.
"Can you give me the little ones? The little cute ones that look like a miniature côte de boeuf?"
"Oh, sure." He went back in and came out with a gorgeous trimmed lamb chop. I asked for some nice and thick and some nice and thin. I like it when I can stand the thick ones up on their end and the thin ones kind of lean along the side. Perfect.

I noted that the price was not that much higher than what I pay the producer for my lamb chops. The whole class was gathered in pairs along the street, waiting for me, although class would not start for another 5 minutes. I ushered them all in and we all had a cup of coffee while I printed the recipes. It came out that one of the students who had registered at the last minute was celiac, so instead of an autumn tarte, we went with some vanilla bean enriched îles flottantes for dessert. We had a delightful morning. The eggs were probably at least 4 days old, but I will take that up with him tomorrow.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Postcard: Lyon Croix Rousse

One of the workshops I will begin offering again on a regular basis at the rentrée is Herbs in French Cooking. Starting this fall, I'll be gathering up armfuls of fresh herbs, all the common ones used in French cooking and some that are wild or not so common but find their way to my markets when they are in season. We go through them one by one and by the time we've rubbed at least a dozen different fresh herbs between our fingers, we'll be ready to cook with them. There's something profound that happens when we get all these herbs and turn our attention to them. One of my favorite things to do with lemon verbena right now is to infuse it into a crème pâtissière, and serve it with strawberries. It is one of those combinations that leaves us all speechless as we greedily scrape the parfait glasses clean.