Sassy Southern Cooking with a French Twist

chicken

Basking Basquaise

Reflections and a Recipe: Feisty Chicken Drumstick Piperade

Some years ago, I was blessed enough not only to own a small home in a tiny village in southwestern France, I was doubly blessed to have the opportunity to visit for several months of those seven lucky years. Tucked away in the foothills of The Pyrenees and steeped in the tragic history of Le Pays Cathare, it was a tiny, pie-shaped home at the base of a crumbling old chateau in a pocket of a village called Chalabre. My French friends called it le maison du poupee, or a doll’s house. Sometimes I felt like a little doll working in it, especially working in my sliver of a kitchen with a view of rolling green hills, grazing cattle, and a tiny 16th-century church, tolling its soothing, soulful bells every hour into every day I spent there.

As much as I loved it, I would occasionally stray south of the border to neighboring Spain to buy red clay pottery, which brought me through and around Basque country. The language and dialect are unique and were foreign to my French-trained ears. Even though I couldn’t understand the language, I recognized and understood the faces of the villagers in the villages I passed through.  Rows of stooped, elderly men lining short benches at the edges of cafes, sun-leathered faces and age-withered lips barely clinging to their omnipresent Gauloises cigarettes, and little old ladies clinging to well-used thatched baskets, hobbling through winding, ancient streets in floral, wrapped aprons on the way to the daily marche,  all spoke to the time-worn traditions of the place.

Among other things, Basque country is home to the French Basque “piperade” (pronounced pip-errr-ahd), which derives its name from the French Gascon word for pepper, or “piper.” Traditionally, it is comprised primarily of peppers, onions and tomatoes, to mimic the red, green and white colors of the Basque flag. Because peppers have been haunting me for the past two months, both at supermarkets and farmer stands, I’ve been cooking quite a bit with them. Their diversity is growing, both in color and heat, and I enjoyed combining a bit of sweet and heat in this recipe, which is just hot enough to make you pucker, and sweet enough (with a dash of honey) to make you smile. I skipped tomatoes in this version, since I didn’t have any at home. Feel free to add one or two, coarsely chopped, after adding the chicken stock. It’s finished with a spray of fresh basil and parsley, and is as lovely served hot, as it is room temp or even cool for a picnic. Serve as is, or over rice, polenta, grits or creamy mashed potatoes.

Recipe

Feisty Chicken Drumstick Piperade – the perfect summer dish.

 

 

Ingredients

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

6 large chicken drumsticks (about 1 1/2 pounds)

kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced

1 3/4 cups mixed color sweet, baby bell peppers (about 8 total), halved, seeded, and thinly sliced

1 large banana pepper, halved, seeded, and thinly sliced

1 large jalapeno pepper, halved, seeded, and thinly sliced

kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 large cloves garlic, peeled, smashed and very finely chopped

Juice of 1 lime, about 2 tablespoons

2/3 cup fresh squeezed orange juice

Pinch crushed red pepper flakes

1 tablespoon local or wild honey

1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock

kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon each, finely chopped fresh basil and parsley

 

Method

Preheat oven to 350F. Pat dry the chicken drumsticks (or substitute same size pieces of other cuts of the chicken). Heat the 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a 5 1/2 quart Dutch Oven (or another sturdy, oven-proof pot) over medium high. Season the chicken generously on one side with the salt and pepper and 1/2 of the oregano. When sizzling, add the chicken, seasoned side down in a single layer, in the butter and oil. Brown until golden, about four minutes. Turn the chicken, and season the uncooked side with salt and pepper and remaining oregano. Cook another 2 to 3 minutes until golden. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside. Drain off the cooking fat. Add a fresh tablespoon of olive oil, heat over medium low. Add the onion, season lightly with salt and pepper, stir and cook until just softened, about two minutes. Add the sweet peppers, banana pepper and jalapeno, season lightly with salt and pepper, stir, and continue cooking over medium low until softened, about three minutes. Add the garlic, lime juice, orange juice and crushed red pepper flakes. Increase the heat to medium high and reduce liquids by half. Add the honey,  chicken stock and return the browned chicken to the pan, in a single layer. Bring up to a boil, cover, and place the pot in the preheated oven on the middle rack. Bake for 20 minutes. Turn the chicken once. Remove the lid and return to the oven, baking another 10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and beginning to pull from the bone. Remove the pot from the oven and remove the chicken from the pot, reserving warm. Return the pot to the stove, and reduce the liquid by half, simmering over medium high for 6 to 8 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. At the last minute, add the fresh basil and parsley. Return the chicken to the pot and heat through. Serve immediately or cool, refrigerate overnight, and serve the next day hot, room temperature or chilled.

Bon appetit!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Super Stew Play for Game Day

Sack the chili and other usual Super Bowl menu suspects and throw a pass on this classic French stew: Coq au Vin. Make it ahead, serve and hear ’em roar! This one is a winner that the whole team will love on game day, but will prove a welcome player any day of the year.

(Adapted from my next cookbook, The French Cook: Soupes et Daubes, Gibbs Smith, August, 2014)

Coq au Pinot Gris with Mushrooms, Leeks and Dijon Mustard

Coq au Pinot Gris with Mushrooms, Leeks and Dijon Mustard

 

Coq au Pinot Gris with Mushrooms, Leeks and Dijon Mustard

(Makes 4 to 6 servings)

Chicken braised in wine is the basic formula for what’s called “coq au vin” (pronounced ‘coke o vaen’), which is at the heart of the cooking action in this recipe. The kind of wine, though typically a red (especially a Burgundy), can really be any grape varietal including Alsacienne-inspired Pinot Gris in this especially delicious, and slightly sweet version. Interpretations of this stunning French stew can be found throughout the France, but the classic garnishes typically include lardons (or substitute bacon), mushrooms and onions. This stew can (and really should) be made a day ahead to enrich flavors. If you choose to do so, add the cream and mustard just before serving. It’s exquisite alongside a mound of tender, buttered spaghetti.

2 large bone-in chicken breasts (about 3 1/2 pounds), cut horizontally into 4 equal-sized pieces, trimmed of excess fat, skin and small rib bones

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 medium onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced

3 cloves garlic, peeled, smashed and finely chopped

1 leek, white and pale green part only, halved vertically, cleaned, and thinly sliced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Eight ounces (about 2 cups) white button mushrooms, feet trimmed, brushed clean and sliced about 1/4”-thick

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3 cups good quality Pinot Gris (or substitute Riesling)

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves

1/3 cup heavy cream (Do not substitute Half & Half or milk!)

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Prep the chicken (being careful to remove any stray, spindly rib or spine bones) and season generously with salt and pepper on all sides. Heat the butter and olive oil in a 5 1/2 quart Dutch oven over high heat. When bubbling, add the chicken in a single layer, skin side down. Reduce heat to medium high and cook for 3 minutes, or until the skin is golden brown. Turn all of the chicken pieces and cook another 3 minutes on the second side. Using tongs, remove the chicken from the pan and reserve (I always use my inversed Dutch oven lid as a “plate” for this purpose). Reduce heat to medium low. Add the onion, garlic, leek and a dusting of salt and pepper. Stir to coat. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until the vegetables have softened, but not browned. Add the mushrooms, stir to combine, and cook another 3 minutes. Dust the flour evenly over the top, stir to combine, and cook 1 minute. Increase the heat to high. Add the Pinot Gris, stirring vigorously with a wooden spoon to pick up any brown bits. Bring up to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Stir in the thyme. Return the reserved chicken to the pot, arranging in a single layer, about 3/4 covered with the wine. Cook, uncovered for 35 minutes or until the chicken is completely cooked and free of any pink juices (insert a small paring knife in a piece to be sure), stirring once or twice. When cooked, remove the chicken and reserve. Increase the heat under the pot to high and reduce the cooking liquid/wine by about 1/3; about 3 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. (Note: Return the chicken to the pan, cool and refrigerate overnight if serving the following day). To finish the stew just before serving, whisk in the heavy cream, parsley, and Dijon, and heat through. Serve warm over warm, buttered pasta or egg noodles. Garnish with fresh thyme sprigs.

Bon appetit!

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