Decades ago, when I married into a French family, my mother-in-law Francoise explained that in her family and in many other French families, chicken is traditionally the centerpiece of Sunday dinner.
She explained that hundreds of years ago, King Henry IV of France (a royal with the best of intentions, credited with trying to improve the lives of French peasants) proclaimed that everyone should eat chicken on Sundays. So, she said, it is customary for many French people to eat chicken on Sundays.
As a result, I think my kids ate at least 1,000 French-style chicken meals before I took them to college. Usually those birds were roasted. Simple and not expensive at the time.
I’m a little nostalgic about Sunday chicken, but now its preparation strays from roast-only mode. Here are three recipe suggestions for presenting chicken that is delicious any day of the week.
Baked Chicken Breast With Mushrooms, Hazelnuts And Cream
My cousin Don Haderle met my cousin Holly when they were studying to become a chef at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. After graduation, he worked in line at Joyce Goldstein’s esteemed San Francisco restaurant, the now-closed Square One.
Don told me that Goldstein loved this chicken dish and that he was keen to develop the flavors and textures using specific techniques and ingredients. She didn’t want it to taste like chicken cooked in canned mushroom soup. It is indeed delicious and does not resemble soup chicken.
Yield: 6 servings
1/4 cup dried porcini mushrooms, about 1/2 ounce
3 large (8 to 10-ounce each) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut in half horizontally
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon, divided use
4 cups finely chopped fresh mushrooms, such as cremini, or white mushrooms, or a combination (I often just slice them thinly)
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup heavy whipping cream
6 to 8 tablespoons toasted chopped hazelnuts
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
1. Rinse the dried porcini to remove most of the surface dirt, then soak them in a cup of very hot water for about 1 hour. When soft, pour soaking liquid through a cheesecloth-lined strainer into a bowl and set aside. Rinse, squeeze dry and finely chop the porcini.
2. Rub chicken breasts (with meat grinder, hammer, or bottom of a pan) lightly to a uniform 1/3-inch thickness between sheets of plastic wrap. Dip the chicken in flour seasoned with salt and pepper. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook the chicken gently for 2 to 3 minutes per side, or until almost cooked through. You don’t want the chicken to have a crust. It must remain tender. Remove from pan and keep warm.
2. Turn to medium-high and add 1 tablespoon oil to skillet used for chicken. Add fresh mushrooms and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the mushrooms release some moisture. Add stock, 3/4 cup porcini liquid, and porcini; Simmer for 2 minutes. Add cream and hazelnuts; cook on low heat for 2 minutes. Return the chicken to the pan and heat until cooked through. Place the chicken on plates. If the sauce is too thin, cook it a little longer and then spoon it over the chicken. Garnish with chopped thyme and parsley.
Source: Adapted from “Kitchens Conversations” by Joyce Goldstein (William Morrow, $25)
Wine Braised Chicken With Orange And Olives
These delicious stewed chicken thighs should be marinated in the refrigerator for a minimum of 4 hours (or up to 24 hours) before cooking begins. The dish can be prepared up to 1 day in advance; cool and then cool. Before serving, spoon off the solidified fat and discard. Heat covered at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes; if there isn’t enough sauce, add a tablespoon or two of chicken stock before putting it in the oven. Garnish with fresh chives.
Yield: 4 servings
1 navel orange
Rub: 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 2 large cloves garlic (chopped), 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice, 1/4 teaspoon ground mace (or nutmeg if you don’t have mace), 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander, 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, 6 sprigs of fresh thyme, 1 bay leaf
8 chicken thighs with bone; see chef’s notes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
1 large leek or 2 small leeks (white and light green parts, halved lengthwise, thinly sliced, rinsed with cold water, drained
1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup sliced pitted green olives or small pitted green olives left whole
Fresh lemon juice, if needed
Garnish: chopped fresh chives
Optional to serve with: boiled rice
Chef’s Notes: Sometimes chicken thighs have a large flap of skin hanging off the side(s). I like to trim that excess skin off with scissors and throw it away.
1. Grate 2/3 cup orange zest and set aside in a large bowl. Squeeze orange juice into a measuring cup; you will need 1/3 cup of juice. Cool juice.
2. In the large bowl with the zest, add salt, garlic, allspice, mace, coriander, pepper, thyme sprigs and bay leaf; stir to combine. Add chicken thighs and rub with the rub mixture. Cover and refrigerate for 4 to 24 hours.
3. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Pat the chicken dry without removing the rub mixture, reserving any remaining juices in the bowl, including thyme and bay leaf. Add chicken thighs, skin side down, to the pan in a single layer (if they don’t fit, cook in 2 batches). Cook until lightly browned on all sides, turning a few times and turning the heat down when they start to burn. Transfer chicken to a plate.
4. Stir the leeks into the chicken drippings in the pan and add a little more oil if necessary. Cook over medium heat until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, wine, preserved orange juice, and any reserved marinade with thyme and bay leaf. Place chicken, skin side up, along with any accumulated juices, in skillet, cover and bake for 35 minutes.
5. Increase the oven temperature to 450 degrees. Add olives and press them down a bit in the juice of the pan. Bake, uncovered, for 15 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through and tender. Taste sauce (be careful, it gets hot); If necessary, add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice along with some salt or pepper.
6. Serve the sauce over the chicken, sprinkled with fresh chives. I like to serve it over rice to soak up some of the delicious sauce. Garnish each serving with half an orange slice, if desired.
Source: Adapted from “Dinner in French” by Melissa Clark (Clarkson Potter, $37.50)
Lidia’s Chicken Parmesan light
Chef Lidia Bastianich, author, restaurateur, and award-winning TV host, takes Chicken Parmigiana in a different direction in her “light” version, avoiding the dipping of the bread-coated chicken in thick tomato-based sauce. Instead, she roasts the fried breaded chicken thighs (or breasts) topped with sliced fresh tomatoes and fresh mozzarella or Fontina cheese.
Once plated, the tomato sauce is scooped around the chicken or scooped under the chicken. She makes the tomato-based sauce from scratch, of course. I take a shortcut and use heated store-bought marinara sauce.
Yield: 4 servings
4 boneless chicken thighs (or breasts if you prefer), about 1 1/2 pounds
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
All purpose flour for dredging
3/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
2 large eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
3 ripe plum tomatoes, cored, thinly sliced
6 ounces fresh mozzarella or Fontina cheese
To serve: 8 ounces of store-bought marinara sauce
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. If you’re using thighs (which I prefer), trim off the remaining fat. Place the chicken between the sheets of plastic wrap and pound to an even thickness (use a meat masher, mallet, or the bottom of a pan – Bastianich uses the serrated side of a mallet). Season with salt and pepper. Divide flour and breadcrumbs between 2 rimmed plates or cake tins. Beat the eggs in a wide shallow bowl. Working with one chicken thigh at a time, dip in flour and shake off excess, then dip in eggs and coat with breadcrumbs, beating gently to ensure well coated.
2. Heat oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, fry the coated chicken, turning once, until golden brown, about 8 minutes. Drain on a plate lined with kitchen paper.
3. Place the chicken on a rimmed baking sheet, each covered with overlapping tomato slices, so that the tomatoes are evenly distributed. Drape sliced cheese over tomatoes to completely cover the chicken. Bake until cheese is lightly browned, about 10 minutes. While the chicken is cooking, heat the marinara sauce.
4. Place the chicken on four plates. Spoon heated sauce around chicken. Or, if you prefer, spoon sauce onto plates and garnish with chicken.
Source: Adapted from “Lidia’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine” (Knopf, $37.50)
Cooking question? Please contact Cathy Thomas at [email protected]