Dinner Party Dining - Course One - A Bit of French
An introduction to classic French cooking techniques, including the world's most buttery fondants.
We jointed a chicken, and Frenched the breasts
leaving the first wing joint still attached.
Of course, I had to be different and brought a poussin (French for young chicken
) and some bacon to wrap it in. But the technique is the same.
We made a quick stock from all the spare chicken bits and vegetable offcuts:
Boiled it, strained it out, reduced it, and then ruined it by adding stock cubes to thicken and enrich it.
In traditional French style each dish is loaded with butter. And garlic.
Frenched Chicken Breasts
An attractive way to present a chicken breast at table with its bone-white, er, bone, protruding.
Serves 1 per Breast
You can also slice the breast artfully cross-wise at an angle so each half will sit nicely on the cut.
- 1 chicken
- herbs - thyme, rosemary, etc
Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/180°C Fan/Gas Mark 6.
Peel the garlic, crush each clove lightly, or halve them if you like.
Joint your chicken, removing each breast whole and skin-on but leaving the wings attached.
Cut the wing away at the first joint, leaving its drumette on the breast.
Cut around the wing bone about an inch from the breast, then scrape the flesh away from the bone down towards the end of the joint.
Cut the knuckle off the end of the wing bone neatly with a heavy knife or kitchen shears.
Heat oil, or oil and a little butter in an oven-proof frying pan.
Fry the breast skin-side down to brown it, then turn it over.
Add a knob of butter, your herbs and garlic and bring to a foam.
Now take a ladle or a spoon and frantically baste the chicken with all that flavoured buttery goodness as if you were trying to bale out the titanic.
Do not let the butter burn.
Once your arm is tired put the whole pan in the oven with the breasts still skin-side up for 10 minutes or so until they're cooked through.
These fondants are browned first, then cooked entirely in butter on the stove top. Certainly this method is the most forgiving, if also the most expensive.
A common alternative approach is to add stock with the butter after the initial browning, and also to finish them off in the oven where it's harder to see them blackening.
Yet another, if slightly more obscure plan for potatoes, is to first cook the vegetables through in a mixture of stock and butter,
allowing the water to evaporate away, and browning them in the butter left at the end. On the stove, or in the oven. You decide where they'll most easily burn!
This does slightly beg the question of why not just par-boil the vegetables then brown them in butter just before serving?
Budgetary considerations aside, adding stock might make it more difficult to fondant the other vegetables like the shallots, just along for the ride here.
- butter, lots of butter, at least ½lb butter
- sweet potatoes
Peel your potatoes and sweet potatoes and cut them into regular shapes of your choice - cubes, coffins, barrels, etc. Remember - the larger they are the longer they'll take to cook.
Chefs usually round off sharp edges so they don't catch and burn.
Pour a generous amount of oil into a heavy frying pan over high heat and sear the potatoes - turning them until they're nicely browned all over.
Slice the shallots in half lengthways, leaving the peel on (you can remove the rootlets, but don't cut away the part holding the shallots together).
Lay them cut-side-down in the hot fat to caramelize. They brown quickly so watch they don't burn.
Once everything is coloured to your satisfaction, throw in a few herbs (thyme/rosemary/sage/etc) and a few garlic cloves and a simply astonishing amount of butter.
Add enough butter to almost cover the vegetables. Use salted, or add a sprinkling of salt.
Lower the heat, cover with a parchment cartouche or the butter wrapping, and leave to cook until the root vegetables are soft - about 20-30 minutes.
You can cook leeks fondant the same way as the shallots - slice them in half lengthways,
brown the cut side then cover them in butter and cook.
But they'll take much less time, so if you're cooking them with other vegetables remove them from the pan after browning
and only add them to the butter close to the end of the cooking time. Careful they don't come apart.
Or you might prefer to finish them separately with some sliced, chopped or chiffonade cabbage instead.
Aaron kindly responded to my email interrogations with this comment on making this cabbage:
Cabbage is very simple and does not require boiling if cut correctly.
My cabbage was finely chiffonade this is a classic French cut used so you do not have to boil the product before using it,
this can only work with certain vegetables and herbs this also allows you to add butter and seasoning for a more rich flavour.
Use a cabbage with a bit of character - savoy is good.
- salt & pepper
- herbs - thyme would be nice
Cut the cabbage quite small - you can make squares or lozenges, or a finely sliced chiffonade.
Heat some butter, add any flavourings you fancy, add the cabbage, stir to coat and just warm through.
Season & serve.