March 25, 2017

Poule au Pot: French simmered chicken


This wonderfully easy dish is one of the hearts of French country cooking. There is a bit of prep, and a rather long simmering time - but one that requires little effort from the cook. The end result is incredibly tender poached chicken, an assortment of vegetables, and an outstanding stock that can be served with the dish (pooled around the chicken and vegetables), alongside the dish (in a small bowl or cup), or kept aside for any other use you might have for a large quantity of fragrant, intense chicken stock.

Poule au Pot (Chicken in the pot) is the very close cousin of Pot au Feu (Pot on the fire) which is essentially the same dish by method, but made with beef instead of chicken and slightly different seasonings. There are a lot of variations of Poule au Pot, but I have chosen a fairly classic combination of vegetables. Some versions include a ground meat stuffing for the chicken, but I decided that it would be plenty of food on its own, and instead used the chicken cavity to hold the fresh thyme safely out of the way of the cooking vegetables.

When I was researching the recipe, I discovered a lot of references to a (poorly documented) speech by France's King Henry IV declaring the goal of "a chicken in every labourer's pot" - for certain values of labourer, anyway. A more modern example of the sentiment is found in Herbert Hoover's US presidential campaign in 1928, in the form of a circular promising "a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage."

There are a lot of ways to boil a chicken; I was honestly a bit skeptical of the long simmering time, given my almost complete conversion to the steeping method for cooking poultry. But the chicken is not cottony or tough. In fact, the chicken falls from the bones so easily that one should pay attention when separating the meat from the bones and what we like to call the grebbly bits.

I chose to serve this one with a white, roux-based sauce which I have seen named variously Sauce Blanche, Sauce Ivoire, and Sauce Suprême, amongst others. It is made with a velouté, using some of the stock from cooking the chicken, an egg yolk, milk, and crème fraîche. Recipe for my version of the sauce follows the Poule au Pot recipe below. We originally draped the sauce only over the chicken, but subsequently added it to the vegetables, too.

Speaking of the vegetables, I only cooked enough vegetables for two servings, which is why the mise en place looks a little light in the pictures below. Increase the number of vegetables as needed (or as your cooking pot allows).

Poule au Pot

Serves 4 - 6

1 whole chicken
water, enough to almost cover the chicken in a dutch oven
1 tablespoon coarse salt, plus extra salt to exfoliate the chicken
1 medium onion
4 whole cloves (spice)
3 - 4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
4 medium potatoes
8 small carrots
4 small turnips
2 small leeks
2 stalks celery
4 cloves garlic

Step 1: exfoliate the raw chicken. This is a technique I learned from Singaporean cuisine (specifically, Hainanese Chicken). First, remove any pinfeathers or feather debris from the chicken skin. Take a handful of salt (preferably smooth-surfaced coarse salt, such as pickling salt, to avoid tearing the skin), and massage it thoroughly into the chicken. All over. This is best done over a sink, so you can let the salt fall freely down the drain for easy clean up. When the chicken skin is smooth and tight-looking, rinse the salt from the chicken, drain and place the chicken in a large cooking pot (I used a dutch oven).

Step 2: Stuff the thyme into the cavity of the chicken, and tie the legs closed. Wash all of the vegetables thoroughly, and peel or trim where needed. Remove the dark green parts of the leeks and tuck them (and the feathery tops from the celery) around the chicken. Peel and quarter the onion, and stick the outer layer of each quarter with a clove. Add the onion quarters to the pot. Add the bay leaves to the pot. Gently pour cold water over the chicken until it is almost covered, with just the top of the breast above water.


Step 3: Turn the heat on high, and cover the pot until the water starts to just barely boil. Remove the lid and skim away any grey scum that may rise to the surface (there will be a lot less scum if you have exfoliated the chicken - I only needed to wipe the inside edge of the pot with a towel). Turn the heat to low, cover the pot again, and let simmer very gently for 80 minutes. Check it from time to time, and it if is bubbling too vigorously on the lowest temperature, leave the lid cocked to release some of the heat. You can use some of this time to peel and trim the vegetables.


Step 4: Use tongs or a slotted spoon to removed the leek tops from the pot. You can discard them (they are fibrous and have given up all of their flavour to the stock already). Raise the heat under the pot, and carefully add the raw vegetables to the pot, tucking them around the chicken if possible. If you really need more space, you can lift the chicken up (carefully!) and put the raw vegetables underneath it. More of the chicken will stick out of the water, but that's fine. If you need to remove some of the liquid to avoid the pot from overflowing, scoop some of the broth out with a measuring cup into a clean bowl or mug. The raw vegetables will cool the broth, which is why you've turned the heat up. When it begins to bubble once more (gently!) turn the heat back to minimum and cover the pot. Continue to cook for another 30 minutes (35 minutes if your potatoes are as large as these ones).


Step 5: While the vegetables finish cooking, and make the Sauce Suprême (see below). Warm some shallow bowls or plates, if necessary.

Step 6: Test the potatoes for doneness with a fork, and if they are not ready, continue to cook for another five or ten minutes, as needed. When they are cooked through, use a slotted spoon and/or spider to gently remove the vegetables and the chicken from the stock, being careful not to crush them.


Arrange on a platter if serving at the table, otherwise, divide the vegetables between the individual bowls. Carve the chicken into quarters (or sixths) and distribute amongst the bowls. You can add a little of the chicken stock to the bottom of each bowl, if you like. Spoon a little sauce over the chicken, and garnish with freshly ground black pepper. Serve with extra sauce on the side, if you like.

Accompany with a crisp white wine.

Sauce Suprême

Serves 4 - 6

30 grams salted butter
30 grams flour
400 mL chicken stock (or a combination of chicken stock and whole milk)
1 egg yolk
200 grams crème fraîche

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and stir in the flour. Cook and stir over medium heat for about five minutes, but don't let the roux darken. Add the chicken stock to the roux, slowly, whisking constantly, until smooth, and then turn the heat to low. Add a spoonful of the crème fraîche to the egg yolk, and stir to combine. Add the yolk mixture into the sauce, and whisk until thoroughly incorporated. Add the rest of the crème fraîche, and stir it through. Keep the mixture on low heat, stirring, and let it heat thoroughly, but do not let it boil. If you see any bubbles at all, remove the pot from the burner entirely. The sauce can stand while it awaits the chicken and vegetables to be ready.

One final note - you can of course customize the vegetables, and even the seasonings, to your taste. I've seen versions with green cabbage (blanche, before adding to the pot, to defeat the infamous "cabbagey smell"), rutabaga, parsnips, fennel bulb, tarragon, parsley, and shallots. Sweet potato might be nice, too. Essentially, any vegetable you'd like in a stew, you can pretty much use here. If you are not a fan of potatoes, feel free to omit them from the recipe and instead cook up some rice on the side (or do both if you just really like carbohydrates). Plain rice or mushroom pilaf both appear to be popular choices.

March 18, 2017

DDR Wurstgulasch mit Kartoffeln: East German Sausage Stew (with potatoes)



This is a classic dish from the days of two separate German states, using cheap, variable ingredients and single pot preparation. The type (and amount) of sausage used depended on availability and one's position in society, and the tomato-y base could be anything from fresh vegetables, to ketchup, to tomato paste mixed with water, to letscho (AKA lecsó in Hungarian and leczo in Polish, amongst others), a prepared sauce made primarily from tomatoes, onions, and peppers. Availability of such things was unpredictable, although it should be noted that wartime East Germany's tables didn't suffer quite the same extreme shortages common in the Soviet Union or economically squelched areas like Romania. For those who had it, this was one of its uses.

This recipe is both filling and strangely satisfying, and I imagine that for folks raised on the stuff it is either a slightly guilty comfort food, or a horrifying memory of childhood. Possibly both.

There are a number of recipes online, most of which have a very similar basic recipe, with whatever additions the author fancies, from mushrooms to eggplant. I've chosen a minority version of the dish that incorporates potatoes, to make it a one-pan meal. More commonly, the dish without the addition of the potatoes would be served over noodles (a classic school lunch version), or over mashed potatoes.



DDR Wurstgulasch mit Kartoffeln

Serves 4

4 Frankfurter Würstchen (aka European Wieners in North America) or equivalent sausages, such as Bockwurst, sliced
1 large onion, diced
2 medium potatoes, diced (optional)
1 green bell pepper, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 cup letscho OR canned diced tomatoes with their juices
1 tablespoon butter, vegetable oil, or bacon fat (margarine or bacon fat would be classic from the era)

If you are using larger sausages, you will want to dice them rather than just slicing them.

In a large skillet, heat the butter (or oil, bacon fat, or margarine) over medium-high heat and gently fry the sausages, onion, and bell peppers until the onions are softened and the sausage pieces are at least a bit browned, and then add two or three tablespoons of water, and stir through. Let cook for a couple of minutes until the water is mostly absorbed/evaporated, and the mixture is still a bit loose (not sticking to the pan).

Add the tomato paste and ketchup, and stir through, adding a bit more water if you like to achieve a sauce consistency. If you are using the letscho or tomatoes, add them now and stir them through. Add the diced potatoes (if using). Continue to cook and stir until the letscho is bubbly and integrated into the sauce (about 10 minutes without potatoes, 20 minutes with potatoes), or the tomatoes have cooked down. Tomatoes will take a bit longer than letscho to cook down. If the sauce is too thick, add a little water to thin it out. If it is too thin (should be unlikely), add a slurry of cornstarch and water (1/2 teaspoon cornstarch in a tablespoon of water) to the dish and cook until thickened. Test the potatoes for doneness, and when they are ready, it's time to serve.

If you are making the non-potato version, you might serve this over short noodles (school-canteen-style) or over mashed or separately boiled potatoes.

A final optional ingredient is finely sliced or diced sour pickles (cucumbers), whose sourness give the dish a bit of a Soljanka flavour - perhaps the Soviet influence? Some recipes include the pickles with the letscho, and other add them at the end, so if you want to use them, take your pick. Of course, they would be a bit softer in texture if cooked into the dish.

Most recipes for this dish are merely a list of ingredients without proportions, as it is based on affordability and would be customized by what one had on hand at the time, in whatever quantity was available.

March 09, 2017

Dutch Pannekoeken


Let's start by clarifying that this is not at all the same as a "Dutch Baby" pancake. This pancake is cooked entirely on the stovetop, and has more in common with the French crêpe than the puffy, popover type of pancake. It is notable for its silky texture, which is derived from beaten egg and not a chemical leavener, and famous for the variety of fillings and/or toppings, both sweet and savoury.

Yes, fillings and/or toppings. At it's most simple, the pancake is topped with the ingredients of choice after cooking, but there are other versions that require you to cook the fillings right into the pancake. The ones with fillings are accomplished by laying the (paper thin) filling ingredients in a single layer on the raw side of the pancake while the first side cooks, which then sink a bit into the batter until the pancake is flipped, and they cook right into it. Some recipes call for adding a little extra batter once the fillings have been laid, but this makes a much thicker pancake, and you don't get to see the various toppings at the end.

We're big fans of savoury toppings, so that's my usual go-to, but you can of course also deploy syrup or even the classic combination of a dusting of confectioner's sugar and a squeeze of lemon.

If you're making them filling-style, you should precook any fillings that will take longer than a few minutes in a hot pan to cook, or they might still be partially raw when the pancake is finished. Thinly sliced mushrooms don't need to be precooked, but bacon probably should be.

This recipe makes two large pannekoeken, which is perfect for two people. Double, or even triple the recipe if you're cooking for more (and keep the finished ones warm in the oven until ready to serve).

It's a good idea to pre-warm the plates so that the pancakes don't go cold the instant they're plated.

Dutch Pannekoeken

Serves 2

1 egg, beaten
250 mL milk
1 cup flour
pinch of salt

butter for frying

Toppings of your choice (sausage, mushrooms, cheese, in this case)

In a large mixing bowl, beat the egg until very frothy. I use a whisk, but you could use a food processor or blender, too. Slowly add in the milk, continuing to whisk, and then slowly whisk in the flour and salt. Unlike most pancake recipes, where you need to be careful not to overmix or risk toughness, you can beat these ones until your arm tires, if you like, as long as you add the ingredients in the right order.

You can make the pannekoeken right away at this point, or you can let the batter rest a bit (good time to take a shower, for example, or even just use the time to prepare your toppings).

When you're ready to cook, heat a large, non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add a little butter (a couple of teaspoons or so is fine) and swirl it around to slick the bottom of the skillet. Add half the batter, and swirl the pan again to distribute the batter to the edge of the pan.

If you are filling your pancakes, as opposed to topping them after they're cooked, now is the time to lay your ingredients in a single, sparse layer over the wet surface. Continue to let the pancake cook a few minutes until the bottom is nicely dark golden brown, and then flip to cook the other side. When the second side is also done, flip the pancake onto the plate so the filling is showing. Here's one made filling-style, with ham, mushrooms, and green onion. It's not quite as pretty, but it's just as delicious (cheese was added post photography):



Otherwise, simply slide the plain pancake out without flipping it again and, if topping, arrange your topping ingredients immediately.



Serve, or keep warm whilst you cook the other pancake.



March 04, 2017

Zhajiangmian: Beijing-style "Fried Sauce Noodles"


This is a delicious and simple dish (炸酱面, zhá jiàng miàn) that appears in a variety of styles within China, as well many iterations and similar dishes in other parts of Asia, from the almost black Jajangmyeon in Korea to the dry-style ramen dish Ja Ja Men in Japan.

It's easy to make if you have a well-stocked Asian pantry, and it's good enough to warrant picking up any ingredients you might not already have on hand. I like spicy food, so I've added a bit of heat that may or may not appear in restaurant versions (some will serve it either way, and some will simply bring you a jar of chile oil if you ask). The amount of umami in this is ridiculous.

The uncooked vegetable garnishes are an important part of this dish, bringing a fresh crunch and brightness to the dark heat and intensity of the sauce. The use of dark soy sauce instead of regular brings depth to the colour of the fried sauce.

This serves two generously.

Zhajiangmian

Lightly adapted from The Woks of Life

Serves 2

175 grams thick wheat-based dry noodles

250 grams ground pork
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon peanut oil, plus 1 tablespoon
1/8 teaspoon white pepper

3 slices ginger, minced finely
4 cloves garlic, pressed or finely grated
6 fresh mushrooms (shiitake, if available), finely chopped
1 tablespoon Hoisin sauce
2 tablespoon chile bean paste
2 tablespoons yellow soybean paste
1/2 tablespoon sambal oelek or 1/2 - 1 teaspoon chile oil
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 cup water

Garnish
1/2 cup julienned carrots
1/2 cup julienned cucumbers
1/2 cup julienned scallions

In a mixing bowl, combine the ground pork, salt, cornstarch, 1/2 teaspoon peanut oil, and white pepper, and stir well until completely integrated. Set aside.

Prepare the mushrooms, ginger, and garlic. In a small bowl, combine the Hoisin sauce, chile bean paste, yellow soybean paste, sambal (or chile oil), and dark soy sauce, and mix well.

Set a large pot of water on to boil for the noodles. Meanwhile, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a medium or large skillet, and add the meat mixture. Fry and stir, breaking up the meat with a spatula, until the meat is well browned, and then add the chopped mushrooms. Continue to fry over medium high heat, adding a tablespoon of water if necessary to prevent sticking or burning. When the mushrooms have softened and shrunk a bit in size, add the sauce mixture and stir through until the pork is thoroughly coated. Add the water, stirring it in slowly, and simmer gently until the sauce is thick. While it simmers and the noodles are cooking, prepare the fresh vegetables - julienne the carrots, cucumber, and scallions.

When the noodles are cooked, drain them divide between two bowls. Spoon the meat mixture over the noodles, and garnish with the julienned fresh vegetables.