Sassy Southern Cooking with a French Twist

peppers

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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Summertime and the Chili is Easy

Lest you fear I’ve completely lost my marbles, I’m aware it’s not summer yet. However, here in balmy Charleston, spring is well past her fullest bloom, though still lovely. The official first waves of feels-like-summer-heat will arrive in a few weeks with the arrival of the Spoletians; invariably the two go together year after year.

So,  I’m a little ahead of myself seasonally, a sensation that started, ironically when I went to the first Charleston farmers’ market of the season a Saturday ago. Sifting through luscious strawberries, long spears of asparagus, and pungent sweet onions, I was giddy with the fruits of spring. Yet, the grass fed beef and pork sausage I purchased from one of my favorite vendors jump-started my culinary mind to summer. Specifically, peppers, tomatoes, and their culinary bedfellow, chili.

Even in the doggiest days of August heat, I can’t resist making the stuff. So utterly wholesome, I load it up with colorful, peppery heat and plenty of grass-fed beef and beans. I usually finish it with some dark chocolate and a dab of local honey for sweetness, and it’s utterly delicious and very nutritious.

Though it’s a bit early for the season, that’s what I found myself doing once again yesterday, and loving every minute of it. The fragrance of making chili is at least half the fun and my dog, Tann Mann,  makes a virtual dance out of it the process that makes me smile.

This time, and in keeping with the true spring season, I decided to add some color and fiber in the form of Swiss chard. It’s a mild, tender green, and just needs a few minutes of cooking to wilt, soften and heat through at the very end of the cooking process. Think parsley on steroids! Be sure to wash the chard thoroughly, break off and discard the tough stems, and dry well.  I cut them into thin strips, or a chiffonade. This is easily done by stacking the leaves, rolling them into a bundle, and  cut into thin strips, horizontally across the bundle.

A chiffonade of Swiss chard.

Another nice thing about this recipe, is that you can store it in the refrigerator for a couple days, where the flavors will continue to develop. Re-heat it in the batch sizes you need only, as you want to avoid over-cooking the Swiss chard, which will make it soggy and more grey than green.

To keep the fat content very low and the flavor high, I used sausage, too, but drained it very well after the browning process to remove almost all but a few tablespoons of the fat. This is why it’s important to add the majority of the spices after the browning and draining process, otherwise they will end up down your sink or in your garbage disposal, instead of in your chili. Feel free to lighten up on the heat if you have a tender palate. As always, be sure to taste and modify salt and pepper quantities to suit your taste. Happy cooking!

Chunky Spunky Farmers’ Market Chili

(Makes 10 – 12 portions)

Chunky Spunky Farmers' Market Chili

 

One Tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 pound grass fed beef (or substitute organic or ground beef)

1 pound sweet sausage (casings removed if applicable)

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1 Tbs roasted ground cumin

1/2 tsp red chili pepper flakes

generous dash paprika

pinch ground cloves

1 Tbs Mexican oregano

1 Tbs thyme leaves

1 medium Bermuda onion, finely chopped (about 2 cups)

2 stalks celery, finely chopped

1 red bell pepper,  halved, seeds removed, and finely chopped

1 poblano pepper, halved, seeds removed, and finely chopped

2 habenero chiles, halved, seeds removed, and minced (Note: wear protective gloves if your hands are sensitive to the heat from the chile oil)

1 jalapeno pepper, halved, seeds removed, and finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped

1  1/2 cups medium bodied, good quality red wine (such as Pinot Noir)

2 cups quartered rainbow Heirloom cherry or grape tomatoes

One 15.5  ounce can black beans

One 15.5 can Great Northern beans

1 1/2 cups beef stock (or water)

1 square (about 1 Tbs, chopped) dark chocolate, at least 70% cacao

1 Tbs honey

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Garnish: Sour Cream

In a large soup pot or Dutch Oven, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the beef and the sausage, crumbling into small chunks as you’re adding. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Stir, occasionally, continuing to break the meat into small, uniform pieces. Cook until browned, about five minutes. Drain off all but 2 tablespoons of the rendered fat, discarding. Return the meat to the pan.

Over medium heat, add the cumin, red chile pepper flakes, paprika, cloves, Mexican oregano, and thyme. Stir to combine. Add the onion, celery, bell pepper, poblano, habenero, jalapeno and garlic. Continue to cook over medium to medium low heat, stirring, until all of the vegetables have just softened, about five minutes.

Increase the heat to high. Add the wine and continue to cook until it has reduced by half.  Reduce the heat to medium. Add the tomatoes, black beans, Great Northern beans (both with their liquor – it contains nutrients and fiber), and beef stock. Increase heat and bring up to a low simmer. Stir in the chocolate and the honey. Taste and add salt and pepper lightly as needed.

Cook on a low simmer, uncovered for about 30 minutes. Serve very hot in shallow bowls with a generous dollop of sour cream. (Note: Left-overs can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. The chili also freezes very well for up to 3 months).

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