I'm continuing on with the chicken theme this week, with another favourite family recipe. Although my husband was born in England, he spent a lot of his childhood elsewhere. His dad worked for IBM, which insiders joke is an acronym for ‘I’ve Been Moved’. His family spent time in the US, but much of my husband’s childhood was spent in Paris. His parents still had a home there when I met him, and my husband had gone the American University there. As a result, we have spent a lot of time in France, particularly Paris, over the years as well. This has meant that French food and cooking has had a huge influence on me. And of course, it is a cuisine my husband finds very familiar and comforting. Our son learned about it from an early age, and one of my fondest memories is when I took a jar of pureed food for him into a Michelin starred restaurant in the Normandy countryside. I was terrified the staff would be snooty about it, and about the idea of a child in such formal surroundings, but a highchair appeared out of nowhere, much cooing over the baby commenced and the jar was whisked away to the kitchen. Its contents returned, with our main courses, in a china bowl under a huge silver dome which was unveiled with a flourish worthy of, well, a Michelin starred restaurant!
As I speak enough French to get by, I’ve been able to learn a lot about French recipes and cooking from anyone willing to talk about it - from friends to restaurateurs and chefs. Of course, being me, I play around with recipes once I have learned about them, and I won’t pretend for one second that anything I cook is utterly authentic to its source. I prefer to think that when I cook ‘French food’ I’m cooking in the French style - more as an homage to the cuisine than as an attempt to imitate it.
This is an old French recipe that I tasted in our travels, asked many questions about and then played around with over the years. Like many French recipes, it is heavy on the butter and cream, so it is definitely not low-cal or heart healthy and is a dish for special treats, not every day.
Don’t let the vinegar scare you; you really do have to taste this to believe how yummy it is. And despite the very grown up ingredients, kids absolutely love it. (The majority of the alcohol cooks off, so it really isn’t a problem.) In fact, this is the recipe I make when we have visitors whose kids are really fussy. I have one friend whose son refused to eat much else other than bread and Marmite (a spread here in England) when he was little, but this he would ask for, and he always cleaned his plate. And now he is practically grown up, he still asks for it!
The quantities here are for four, but I have doubled this recipe on many occasions with no problems at all. Many people use chicken thighs in this recipe, which is actually more authentic and perfectly fine. I only use chicken breasts because my family prefer white meat.
4 chicken breasts, free range or organic if possible
Salt and pepper
2 generous tablespoons butter
1 to 2 garlic cloves, peeled
¼ cup red wine vinegar
3 large shallots, very finely chopped
1 cup dry white wine (it doesn’t have to be expensive, just delicious)
2 tablespoons tomato puree
1 cup heavy cream (not whipping cream)
1 Dijon Mustard or 2 tablespoons Wholegrain Dijon Mustard (it’s milder)
Melt butter in a frying pan. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Cook the chicken for 10 – 15 minutes on each side until nearly done. Grate in the garlic cloves and continue frying. Turn the heat up to high and add the red wine vinegar. Boil for a few minutes to let the chicken absorb the flavour of the vinegar.
Remove the chicken from the pan, cover with aluminum foil and place it in a dish in a warm (not hot) oven.
Add the shallots to the juices and vinegar remaining in the frying pan and stir until the shallots are nearly translucent. Add the wine and the tomato puree. You need to boil this mixture until it reduces by half, stirring all the while. When it has reduced, lower the heat and stir in the cream. Add mustard to taste. Put the chicken back in the pan and turn to coat.
Serve the chicken with a bit of sauce on top, and pour any remaining sauce in a container to serve at the table. I like to serve this with roast baby new potatoes (Jersey Royals this time of year), but it is equally delicious with boiled potatoes or rice.