1 chicken, about 1.2 kilos
Half a litre of brown chicken stock (see recipe after chapter 17)
For the sauce you will need:
2 shallots, finely chopped
250g button mushrooms, half of them chopped the rest – smaller ones – whole
10ml white wine
A little of your chicken stock
A little tarragon – a couple of stalks
A little chervil
Salt and pepper
This is a very traditional French recipe. I just managed to outrage my French wife by remarking that I haven’t cooked this recipe in ages, so guess what we’re eating tonight? Well, this weekend anyway.
First, you need to cut up your chicken. In a professional kitchen, we’d cut up say half a dozen chickens and use the resulting carcasses to make the stock in this recipe, and if you have the time I recommend doing the same yourself. Start with the chicken side-on to you, breast uppermost. Using a sharp knife (I know, I shouldn’t have to specify but….) cut around the skin between the thigh and the body – you’ll find that there’s a gap there under the skin. Pull the thigh away gently and you’ll find the joint – cut through the tendons holding it together. Then cut the drumstick away from the upper thigh – two portions.
Do the same with the wings, taking a little of the breast with them. Two more portions.
Now with the breast uppermost, cut down from the pointy end towards the bum, until you get to the wishbone. A professional chef, or a culinary student, would already have removed this. Lazy chefs and students leave it in and just cut along it. Then insert your knife between the flesh of the breast and the ribs, with the blade parallel to and even lying along the ribs and cut down to separate the meat from the carcass. Cut each breast in half to give two portions. Go slowly and you’ll manage it, the first two or three hundred are the hardest.
Or just by chicken joints. Your choice. Note, the official cook book allows 30 minutes for this procedure, but it is for two chickens not one and 15 minutes seems generous to me.
Anyway. Salt and pepper the chicken pieces and fry them in hot butter and/or oil, until they’re nicely tanned – about 10 minutes. Then pop them onto a metal dish and cover with foil to finish cooking them in the oven at 180C for another 10-12 minutes. You may want to take the breast portions out a few minutes before the thighs, which need more cooking.
In the pan in which you cooked the chicken, carefully pour off any excess fat and fry the chopped mushrooms for a couple of minutes, then add the shallots. Fry the mushrooms on the highest heat possible – the aim is to get rid of the water in them.
Once the shallots are tender, add the cognac and flambé the mix. If you’re a steely-eyed professional chef you do this by tipping the pan casually to one side so the brandy slops onto the gas flame and sets fire to the whole pan. If you’re a wimpy civilian you point your blowtorch at it at arms length and shriek mightily when it catches light.
Deglaze with the white wine – that means slosh it in and stir it round with a wooden spatula to pck up all the nice crusty maillard reaction bits from the bottom of the pan – and add in the stock and button mushrooms. Reduce it down ferociously to about half its starting volume then remove from the heat and whisk in the 20g of butter. This is called ‘monter au beurre’, to mount with butter. When your guests remark on the unctuosity of the sauce you can say, casually yet professionally, “Oh yes, it’s monté au beurre” and make as if they’d understand what you meant. Which they will if they’re French.
Add in the herbs, lightly chopped, and nap it over the finished chicken portions. Note, the official recipe book require that, when you dress the plates, the points of the wings and drumsticks must point towards the centre of the plate.
Etiquette. You may have heard of it?