Saturday, April 17, 2010

Julia Child Rules

My first recipe from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking was such a hit, (I didn’t want to the leftover Boeuf Bourguignon to end -- and I’m practically a vegetarian.) so I decided to search her book for something really tasty and “French" for my next recipe.

Fricasée de Poulet a La’Ancienne seemed like the perfect next choice. (Old- Fashioned Chicken Fricasse with Wine-flavored Cream Sauce, Onions and Mushrooms) It involves chicken cooked in mushrooms, onions, and a sauce of chicken stock, cream, egg yolks and butter. An egg-yolk and butter sauce.
Wow. That’s what appealed to me.

Julie, from the famed Julie/Julia Child project, whimpered and failed at this sauce. (She really was a whiney little sylph.) Other writers have balked at this culinary feat. The egg-yolk-cream-boiling-stock concoction is  known to curdle and break.
Cool! Love it!
I could definitely get my culinary man-boots on with this recipe.  I was now Mike Rowe, the Dirty Jobs guy, for Julia Child.
I really wanted someone to fist-bump someone as I got out my little six-pack of organic eggs.
“Let’s do it!”  

First, you have to lay 'The Testament' out in a proper place and give it due homage. Please bow your heads. . . . . . um, I’m serious.
Bow your head and reverence the Holy Book (High Anglican rubrics will suffice.)

Open the page and read the recipe thoroughly,
Thrice at least; including all recipe-appendices. 

Note: It is imperative that each page (pictured) should be well-worn and splattered with your efforts (mine.)

If you’re single and a Julia-worshipper like myself, subsequent great-and great-great-nephews should be able to admire evidence of your great legacy that you’ve provided for them long after you’re gone. Do not pass this up.

Saute onions and carrots in butter. Julia calls for celery as well, but I don’t like celery so I left it out. I should be arrested, I realize that.

Cut up a 3-lb chicken for this recipe. I don’t like wings and drumsticks in any “stewed” chicken, so I opted for bone-in, skin-on thighs. They’re tasty, juicy, and cook evenly.
Unfortunately, my market didn’t have any thighs at all. However, they did have boned, ribbed breasts. ("A good cook will make do with whatever is handy," says JC) If ribbed breasts are what you're presented with, then cut the ribs out and away like I’m doing here.

A very sharp knife and a bit of bravery will certainly do the trick. One should always be supplied with both while in the kitchen. (Can't you just hear Julia saying this?)
Many chefs say to bag the leftover chicken bits and save them in the freezer to make chicken stock. That’s a grand idea if you plan to make gallons of chicken stock every week. If you live alone like me, bagging and tossing raw chicken bones down a 50-floor trash chute is advisable.  It's certainly a bit of fun as well.

Julia says to cook the chicken pieces “for 3 or 4 minutes until the meat has stiffened slightly, without coloring to more than a light golden yellow.”
My first reaction was to say, “Sorry, Julia. But yellow chicken in a pan is a pallid and paltry affair. In my opinion, browned chicken tastes better.” But I followed her instructions. (Later, you’ll see why I’m glad I did and you should too.) Dust the chicken with 3 Tbs of flour and ½ tsp white pepper.

Lower the heat under the chicken and boil 3 cups of chicken stock in a separate saucepan. My apartment still has the original 1964 G.E. push-button harvest-gold electric stove and I really love the darn thing

-- I also have a Harvest Gold Trimline rotary-dial wall phone to match. You can still call me on it and I'll answer, just like Bob Newhart, even with an original 312 Area Code.

Add the boiling chicken stock.

Add one cup of white wine (I like a Sauvignon Blanc for cooking --  I recall that Julia does, too, even though it wasn‘t really around back in 1961.)

Transfer all the chicken and liquid to a heavy, enameled casserole. (America’s Test Kitchen says that Le Creuset’s enameled casseroles are the best.) Here is a new one, a seven-quart blue one for $270. You’ll see mine in the photos --  I got it on eBay for 40 bucks. When it comes to snatching cookware, I can be an eBay puma. Grrr.

Mushrooms -- they all say “don’t wash mushrooms! Just wipe them with a damp cloth!” (All TV chefs say this, but have you ever seen any TV chef actually do that?)
Why?  Supposedly, fresh mushrooms will absorb water. So?
I’m going to immerse them all in a heavy sauce. Why not wash off all the dung in which they’ve been grown?
I heartily wash my dungy mushrooms in a clean colander under Chicago tap water.
 Living on the edge. . . .

Pearl onions: This is my 2nd Julia recipe that calls for 18-24 pearl onions. In my first Julia recipe, I spent an inordinate amount of time peeling 18-24 of the little suckers. Here’s a hint that will totally rock your world: (Julia doesn't reveal this until her 1972 edition of The Way to Cook.)
Boil them for five minutes,

and rinse under cold water.
Cut off the root end with a paring knife, squeeze the other end and the onion will pop right out, sans peeling.
Blurp!. . . .Blurp-blurp!

Add the peeled onions to the chicken. And bring to a roiling simmer.

 Mushrooms: For this recipe, just saute them in just a little bit of butter, less than you’d think, but add lemon juice and a touch of water.

Now get ready for the “real cooking.” Here’s the good part, folks:
Transfer the chicken and onions to an awaiting, separate saucepan and bring the chicken-broth/white wine mixture to a simmer. Make sure it's now thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. You know. . .

Then, in a stainless steel mixing bowl, whisk together 2 egg yolks and ½ cup of heavy cream.

Keep whisking. We’re about to do the Classical French sauce thing. Say a prayer to Julia, for She is with you. Meditate upon her Testament and remember that you followed all the previous instructions to the letter. (Remember not to brown the chicken and to add just the right amount of broth and white wine, right?) If you're right-handed, set the egg-cream bowl to the right of the simmering broth.
Then, while whisking continuously, spoon in the simmering broth to the egg-cream mixture, one tablespoon at a time until you’ve incorporated 8 ounces: 16 Tablespoons. If you do one tablespoon at a time, it should take you 16 spoonfuls.Don't add it too fast or it will cook the egg yolks.
You should see the little bit of egg-yolk and cream mixture “blossom” and increase in volume by quite a bit.
Oooh! Like this!

(God! It was like Julia was chorteling along with me). I almost cried.
This sauce worked! It really worked!
Then, I tasted the sauce, thinking it might need salt or something.  
It was then . . . I wept.
I really did! It was so surprising! It tasted that good! Even though I’m from Texas, and I only do the big-salty-tears thing once or twice every six, maybe seven months, tops, the taste of this sauce made me cry.
Wow. That's a new one on me. 

But then, it gets even better. . . .
I transferred the mushrooms, chicken and onions back to the awaiting sauce, simmered it and tasted it.
Oh My Gosh! (Grasping the wall behind me) So that’s what chicken should taste like! Beforehand, I was thinking of adding tarragon and a splash of vermouth to the sauce to make it more tasty and “French.” but when I tasted how “chicken-ey” and delicious this dish was on its own, there was no way I could alter it.

Even though I’d bought store-brand, garden-variety chicken, Julia’s recipe was the most delicious “chicken-ey” thing I’d ever tasted.  This recipe is a true example of how simple ingredients, brought together in a precise manner, can truly elevate the taste of what was intended. In this case, it was chicken. 

Bottom Line: Don't futz with Julia's recipes. Believe me, she's done the work. All along the way, I wanted to "do this" or "change that" or "add this", thinking I knew a lot about cooking (which I do.)

I've read quite a bit of Julie's blog, the one that inspired the Julie and Julia movie. I really can't relate to what she's done. Sure, her work resulted in a book and movie deal, but it seems to me that every one of her attempts at Julia's recipes is presented as an obstacle to overcome.
I, on the other hand, love what Julia brings about in me -- each recipe is a surprising opportunity to create astoundingly delicious French cuisine.
That's it.
Pure, unalloyed pleasure.
Julie uses the f-word quite a bit and, to me, that's just unnecessary, it exhibits literary laziness, and my generation just didn't say that word at all. Julie also seems to whine quite a bit and comes across as awfully self-obsessed.
Whenever I read her blog, I find myself saying, "Just shut the fuck up and cook!"

Perhaps Julie's legacy is that she got me to write the f-word on my blog.
Julia's Fricasée made me cry.

Labels: , ,


At 5:57 PM , Blogger Miss Healthypants said...

*smiles* And yay!--do we get to try some? :) :)

At 7:48 PM , Blogger Speck said...

Dude, you are awesome in your awesomeness. Tears of joy, tears of joy.

If you keep up this rich, meaty cooking with a vegetarian mindset, Miss Healthypants and Iwankski are gonna become Miss Healthyblimp and The House.

At 8:07 PM , Blogger William V. Madison said...

Bravo and félicitations: not only have you mastered the art of (one part of) French cooking, but you have correctly identified what's wrong with that awful Julie woman. I still can't believe that people read that nincompoop's blog, much less paid her for it. I'd much rather read about your adventures in Julia's kitchen.

From faraway Paris, your kinda-sorta neighbor from Goliad raises a glass to you. Bon appétit!

At 10:37 AM , Blogger Bad Alice said...

I love to read about you cooking. It's as if you are romancing the ingredients. I sometimes cry when I cook, but not because I've created something transcendent.

Oh God, please let me go to Chicago sometime. I am such a willing audience.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home