It’s the first of the month again, time to share three more things I love, in my ongoing effort to focus on the positive…
Pauline Gedge, Lady of the Reeds
Set in ancient Egypt, this is one of my absolute favorite novels. Gedge tells the story of a girl whose sharp intelligence and driving ambition lead her away from the rural village in which she grew up to the court of Ramses III. She studies, eventually becoming a physician, and before long is intimately connected to the pharaoh. Gedge’s vivid writing will pull you in entirely, so that when you look up from the book you’ll be shocked to find yourself in the modern world and will long to return to the banks of the Nile. Wonderful characters and a consuming story. Plus, if you never before thought you wanted a body servant, you’ll change your mind after reading this.
Le dîner de cons…or, The Dinner Game. Yes, I love French movies. This one, starring Thierry Lhermitte and Francis Verber, tells the story of a man whose snark catches up with him. He and his pals host a weekly “Idiot Dinner,” where each brings an idiot (unbeknownst to the idiot, of course). I hesitated to watch this at first, as I can’t stand people being mean (and, hi, the entire idea of the dinner is mean), but it’s executed brilliantly and things turn out exactly as they should. Funny, charming, and all-around entertaining.
Julia Child’s recipes are quite simply the best. They’re reliably delicious and she explains her methods with perfect clarity, including when she tells you how to fix anything you’ve messed up. Her Chicken with Tarragon is a go-to for me, but she doesn’t have to explain fixes on this one because you’re not going to mess it up. It’s more labor-intensive than an ordinary roasted chicken, but well worth the investment of time. I serve with sautéed potatoes and haricots verts.
Poulet Poêlé à L’Estragon
(Casserole-roasted Chicken with Tarragon)
Adapted from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking
When a chicken is cooked this way, it is trussed, browned in butter and oil, then set to roast in a covered casserole with herbs and seasonings. It is a lovely method, as the buttery, aromatic steam in the casserole give the chicken great tenderness and flavor.
Preheat oven to 325
A 3-4 lb roasting chicken
¼ tsp salt
Pinch of pepper
2 TBSP butter
3-4 springs of fresh tarragon (or ½ tsp dried)
Season the cavity of the chicken with salt, pepper, and 1 TBSP of the butter. Insert the tarragon leaves, or sprinkle in dried tarragon. Truss the chicken. Dry it thoroughly and rub the skin with the rest of the butter.
A heavy fireproof casserole just large enough to hold the chicken on its back and on its side
2 TBSP butter
1 TBSP olive oil, more if needed
Set the casserole over moderately high heat with the butter and oil. When the butter foam has begun to subside, lay in the chicken, breast down. Brown for 2 to 3 minutes, regulating heat so butter is always very hot but not burning. Turn the chicken on another side, using two wooden spoons or a towel. Be sure not to break the chicken skin. Continue browning and turning the chicken until it is a nice golden color almost all over, particularly on the breast and legs. This will take 10 to 15 minutes. Add more oil if necessary to keep the bottom of the casserole filmed.
3 TBSP butter, if necessary
Remove the chicken. Pour out the browning fat if it has burned, and add fresh butter.
½ cup sliced onions
¼ cup sliced carrots
¼ tsp salt
3 or 4 springs of fresh tarragon (or ½ tsp dried)
Cook the carrots and onions slowly in the casserole for 5 minutes without browning. Add the salt and tarragon.
¼ tsp salt
A bulb baster
A tight-fitting cover for the casserole
Salt the chicken. Set it breast up over the vegetables and baste it with the butter in the casserole. Lay a piece of aluminum foil over the chicken, cover the casserole, and reheat it on top of the stove until you hear the chicken sizzling. Then place the casserole on a rack in the middle level of the preheated oven.
Roast for about an hour to an hour and 10-20 minutes, regulating heat so chicken is always making quiet cooking noises. Baste once or twice with the butter and juices in the casserole. The chicken is done when its drumsticks move in their sockets, and when the last drops drained from its vent run clear yellow.
Remove the chicken to a serving platter and discard trussing strings.
Brown Tarragon Sauce
2 cups brown chicken stock, or 1 cup beef broth and 1 cup chicken broth
1 TBSP cornstarch blended with 2 TBSP Madeira or port
2 TBSP minced tarragon
1 TBSP softened butter
Add the stock or broth to the casserole and simmer for 2 minutes, scraping up coagulated roasting juices. Then skim off all but a tablespoon of fat. Blend in the cornstarch mixture, simmer a minute, then raise heat and boil rapidly until sauce is lightly thickened. Taste carefully for seasoning, adding more tarragon if you feel it necessary. Strain into a warmed sauceboat. Stir in the herbs and the enrichment butter.
Pour a spoonful of sauce over the chicken, and decorate the breast and legs with additional fresh tarragon leaves. Platter may be garnished with sprigs of fresh parsley or—if you are serving them—sautéed potatoes and broiled tomatoes.
If the chicken is not to be served for about half an hour, make the sauce except for its butter enrichment, and strain it into a saucepan. Return the chicken to its casserole. Place aluminum foil over it and set the cover askew. Keep the casserole warm over almost simmering water, or in the turned-off oven, its door ajar. Reheat and butter the sauce just before serving.