It's a brand New Year and every day we're getting closer to the sun. But at this time of year, a sudden brisk wind can send you scurrying into your warm kitchen for comfort, and we crave hearty meals that can be served all-in-one dish.
While I was writing my novel, COOKING FOR PICASSO, I became very aware of how much the seasons affect our appetites. So here's a nourishing, healthy version of one of my French winter favorites--a country chicken stew.
Traditionally you make a chicken stew with the entire bird, cut up in quarters and slow-cooked. But if I'm in a hurry and looking for a lean cuisine, I use boneless chicken breasts, which cook quickly. The recipe below is for two to four people--depending on how hungry you are!
Rustic Sunday Chicken
The Ingredients: (as always, organic is preferable)
1. boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded and cut into cubes (depending on the size of the bird, you can use 2 large cutlets or 4 smaller ones)
2. small potatoes, preferably red or white creamer, peeled (4 small potatoes per person)
3. carrots, peeled and cut in half lengthwise, then cut into 1-inch chunks (one carrot per person)
4. celery, sliced once lengthwise, then cut into 1/2 inch chunks (one stalk per person)
5. parsnip, cut as the carrots are (one parsnip for every two people)
6. a handful of fresh Italian (flat-leafed) parsley, chopped not too finely
7. snip 3-4 fresh, delicate sprigs of your favorite herb. I prefer thyme or savory, but use what you like.
8. one large or two small shallots, peeled and chopped finely (if you haven't got shallots, use small delicate onions)
9. sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
10. a squirt of freshly squeezed lemon or orange juice
12. 1/2 cup deglazing wine--I prefer a modest inexpensive French champagne or sparkling wine, but you can use a dry white wine.
13. 2-4 tablespoons of sweet butter, slightly softened, with flour to blend (see below)
14. a few tablespoons of good Italian olive oil
15. 1 cup of chicken stock, low-salt preferred
How To Cook Them:
I prefer to steam my root vegetables, but you can boil them.
If you boil your root vegetables, boil the potatoes separately; meanwhile in another pan or pot, boil the carrots together with the parsnips.
If you steam them, you can put the potatoes in first and when they are halfway done, add the carrots and parsnips. (I do this in a deep pot that has a steamer tray and a lid. Make sure you put enough water in so that the pot doesn't burn.)
Whichever method you use, check your vegetables with a fork to make sure they don't overcook.
Meanwhile, at the same time, in a large skillet of good weightwith high sides (e.g. cast-iron coated in enamel, or any good-quality-weight skillet), on medium-high heat, melt half the butter with the olive oil and when the butter foams, add the chicken pieces and brown them on all sides, turning them over as they brown.
When the chicken is browned on all sides, remove it to a warmed dish and set aside. You should have nice browned bits in the pan. Now add your shallots and celery to the pan and quickly move them around as you scrape up the browned bits. If necessary add a tiny bit more butter, but you usually don't have to add butter.
When the shallot/celery mixture is softened slightly but not browned, add the champagne or wine and turn up the heat to reduce it as you keep scraping up the bits.
Lower the heat to a simmer, then take the remaining butter into your hand together with about 3/4 teaspoon of flour, and mush it together to form a flour/butter ball. Then toss this butter/flour ball into the pan and mix to blend. Continue cooking for a few minutes until the butter liquid is absorbed in the flour and the flour turns slightly brown.
Add the chicken stock and keep scraping and simmering. Add a squirt of citrus juice, either orange or lemon. When all is blended, return your chicken pieces to the pan. While they were resting, they surely made some juice of their own on the plate, so add the chicken's juice too.
Add your pre-cooked root vegetables (potatoes, carrots and parsnips) to the pan, and throw in your chopped parsley now. It’s important now to take a big spatula or spoon and toss all the ingredients so that they’re all coated.
Grate some fresh pepper generously into the pan. Sprinkle just a touch of salt.
Gently simmer this beautiful mixture in the pan until the sauce thickens and the flavors blend. Don't overcook.
This meal can "profit" from an overnight stay in the refrigerator, but you can certainly eat it now if you can't wait!
Serve with a tart salad, and a dry white wine like chablis, or a soft red burgundy, or a dry champagne.