I love Spain. As I have mentioned before, the food, especially the tapas, has taken hold of my culinary imagination so forcefully that I hope to live there someday. Mike and I will be pressing our own olive oil, tending our orchard of fig trees and riding around on scooters under the Catalonian sun. Although Spain has been a hot spot of culinary innovation in recent years, the Spanish football squad was not exactly on fire in their match versus the French on Tuesday. France bested Spain, 3-1 in an exciting game that was tied until the eighty-second minute when France pushed ahead, then cemented their victory with a 3rd goal during stoppage time.
For my World Cup Dinner, I must confess that I was rooting for a Spanish victory so we could make the pan fried chicken with an almond egg sauce that I had on deck. It was not to be, and it turns out that I could not be more grateful for the French team for renewing my appreciation for simple French food.
This dish is so simple, in fact, that I felt as if I must be cheating. A fricassee is just meat cut into pieces and stewed with vegetables and aromatics. What makes it French is the conspicuous use of butter and cream, a touch of white Cotês du Rhône and the liberal use of tarragon, an herb often seen in French cooking. I love good butter and am happy to slather it on bread any day of the week. For sautéing and pan sauces, however, I use extra virgin olive oil as my base almost exclusively. From now on, I will change my ways, and will even remove cream from my dietary hit list. The truth is that I know very few things are truly bad for you in moderation. This dish contains just 1/3 cup of cream for two large servings, and this tiny amount creates a wonderfully rich sauce, as it infuses with tarragon and wine. And with that, let’s get on to the cooking.
Chicken Fricassee with Leeks and Mushrooms
Adapted from epicurious.com
Serves 2, but can be easily doubled. If doubling, you may want to brown the chicken in two batches so the skillet is not too crowded.
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
Salt and fresh ground pepper
1 ½ tbsp. butter
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, chopped
1 tsp. dried tarragon or 1 tbsp. chopped fresh tarragon, if available
1/3 c. dry white wine
1/3 c. whipping cream
Leeks are quite a dirty vegetable, so wash them well. I trim and slice them first, then soak them in a bowl of water so the dirt sinks to bottom. Next, I remove the leeks to a colander, discard the dirty water and repeat. This whole process takes just a few minutes.
Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper. Heat the butter in a skillet on medium heat, watching it carefully so it does not brown. Once the butter is melted (this takes about 1 minute), turn the heat up to medium-high, add the chicken pieces and lightly brown for about 2 minutes per side. Add the leeks and mushrooms and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Add the tarragon and continue to cook on medium-high, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are soft, about 6 minutes.
At this point in the cooking process, I saw that there was quite a bit of liquid in the pan, probably from the vegetables (our mushrooms were wet because they were unusually grimy and needed to be rinsed off). I didn’t want this liquid to water down my cream sauce, so I covered the skillet with its lid and tipped it over the sink, allowing the excess juices to leak out. I added a bit more tarragon and pepper in case any flavor had been lost.
Now it is time to reduce the heat to medium-low and add your wine. Any dry white wine that you plan to drink with the meal will work. Since we were fêting the French team for their victory, Mike made a special trip to our wine store to pick up an inexpensive French white that we knew would be perfect. Sometimes I omit the small amount of wine called for in a recipe, usually because we are greedy and do not want to sacrifice any precious drops that we would otherwise be drinking. In this recipe however, I think the wine is definitely not optional. With so few ingredients and so much of the flavor being concentrated into the simple cream sauce, it really does add a crucial layer of flavor to the fricassee and livens up the cream immensely.
Pour the wine into the skillet and stir for about 45 seconds, scraping up any bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add the cream and gently stir to incorporate. Cover the skillet and simmer for two minutes or until the chicken is completely cooked through. Remove the lid and continue to simmer the fricassee for 1 to 2 minutes or until the sauce reaches the consistency you like.
We served this with one of the best and simplest vegetable sides we know: roasted asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper.
Mike trimmed the asparagus, laid it on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray, drizzled it with olive oil, seasoned it with salt and fresh ground pepper and tossed it to evenly distribute the olive oil. We roasted it in a 350 degree oven for about 12 minutes, but thicker asparagus can cook longer. We like it roasted to the point that it gets slightly crispy, but even if you forget to take it out in time, as we often do, it will still be tasty. Tell people it is caramelized.
To finish off, we steamed some rice, et voila…a beautiful French meal in 30 minutes.
As a side note, France has been popping up all over my radar lately. I came across the Savoring Provence cookbook that goes along with my Williams-Sonoma series on amazon.com the other day and ordered it immediately. Browsing other tasty food blogs, I found an incredibly useful and beautifully written series of articles by Maki of I Was Just Really Very Hungry on her yearly trips to Provence. And just last night after eating this lovely dinner, I came across an article on Cahors, France on epicurious.com, exalting the local truffle harvest. Is all of this a sign that France is destined to take the entire World Cup tournament? All I know is that I am now officially obsessed with taking a trip to Southwest France.
We have not yet decided on the game for our next World Cup Dinner. Will we eat Bangers and Mash? Perhaps Wiener Schnitzel or Spaghetti alla Carbonara? There is only one way to find out...