This recipe is from Mastering The Art of French Cooking, by Simone Beck, Louisette Bertholle, and Julia Child, originally published in 1963. I am fortunate to have an original edition, although to tell the truth, this is the first recipe I've attempted.
When our friend Jean-Claude was staying at the ranch for a month, I was tempted to try a Tart Tatin, an apple tart, but it never came to pass. Since we are committed to visiting Jean-Claude in Paris (and at his country house in the South of France) in summer 2010, and I do own this lovely cookbook, I decided I would start some French cooking. Plus, I was flipping through this cookbook the other day and came across this recipe which sounded surprisingly easy, but elegant and delicious as well.
So we'll see.
I went to the liquor store last Wednesday, looking for cognac. But I couldn't see paying $15.00 for a pint of Courvoisier just to light it on fire. I consulted with two knowledgeable staff members, who confirmed that brandy would be a good substitution, and would flame on command. And, they sold me a half-pint of brandy to satisfy my 1/4 cup requirements without having a bunch of brandy left over. I love it when people know their stuff! Thanks, liquor store staff!
Oh. My. Heavens. This chicken is FABULOUS. It is my absolute new favorite. The Best Chicken Ever. I can't even tell you how amazing and delicious and subtle and wonderful this sauce is. I could, I mean I did, eat it with a spoon. I LOVE IT. The whole family loved it, and the flaming brandy just pushed the recipe over the top, and really impressed the boys. I'm not even sure why you flame the chicken, but the end result is simply incredible. The four of us ate the entire chicken, mushroom sauce and all.
I know exactly what I am ordering when we get to Paris next year, if I can figure out how to say it without sounding like an American (or a Mexican, with my Spanish degree)!!!
There are a lot of steps, but they're not too difficult. Just take your time, pay attention, and you'll do fine. Don't forget you need to roast the chicken first, so allow time for that. With roasting the chicken (and intervening in sibling disputes), the whole deal probably took 2-1/2 hours start to finish. Keep that in mind. But do try this, you will fall in love.
Poulet au Porto
[Roast Chicken Steeped with Port Wine, Cream and Mushrooms]
For 4 people
Chicken, cream and mushrooms occur again and again, as it is one of the great combinations. This perfectly delicious recipe is not difficult, but it cannot be prepared ahead of time or the chicken will lose its fresh and juicy quality. The chicken is roasted, then carved, flamed in cognac, and allowed to steep for several minutes with cream, mushrooms, and port wine. It is the kind of dish to do when you are entertaining a few good, food-loving friends whom you can receive in your kitchen.
Vegetable Suggestions: Nothing should interfere with these special flavors. It would be best to serve only potatoes sauteed in butter, or a perfectly seasoned risotto. Peas, or asparagus tips, or braised onions could be added if you feel the necessity for more vegetables.
Wine Suggestions: Serve very good, chilled, white Burgandy such as a Meurault or Montrachet, or an excellent, chateau-bottled white Graves.
A 3-pound, ready-to-cook, roasting or frying chicken
Roast the chicken as described here.
1 pound fresh mushrooms
Meanwhile, trim and wash the mushrooms. Quarter them if large, leave them whole if small.
A 2 1/2-quart enameled or stainless steel saucepan
1/4 cup water
1/2 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
Bring the water to a boil in the saucepan with the butter, lemon and salt. Toss in the mushrooms, cover, and boil slowly for 8 minutes. Pour out and reserve the cooking liquid.
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch blended with 1 tablespoon of the cream
Salt and pepper
Pour the cream and the cornstarch mixture into the mushrooms. Simmer for 2 minutes. Correct seasoning, and set aside.
When the chicken is done, remove it to a carving board and let it rest at room temperature while completing the sauce.
1/2 tablespoon minced shallot or green onions
1/3 cup medium-dry port
The mushroom cooking liquid
The mushrooms in cream
Salt and pepper
Drops of lemon juice
Remove all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the roasting pan. Stir in the shallots or onions and cook slowly for 1 minute. Add the port and the mushroom juice, and boil down rapidly, scraping up coagulated roasting juices, until liquid has been reduced to about 1/4 cup. Add the mushrooms and cream and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, allowing the liquid to thicken slightly. Correct seasoning and add lemon juice to taste. (I didn't add any more lemon juice).
A fireproof casserole or chafing dish (I used a cast iron pan)
1 tablespoon butter
1/8 teaspoon salt
Smear the inside of the casserole or chafing dish with butter. Rapidly carve the chicken into serving pieces. Sprinkle lightly with salt, and arrange in the casserole or chafing dish.
1/4 cup cognac (I used brandy)
Set casserole over moderate heat or an alcohol flame until you hear the chicken begin to sizzle. Then pour the cognac over it. Avert your face, and ignite the cognac with a lighted match. Shake the casserole slowly until the flames have subsided. Then pour in the mushroom mixture, tilting the casserole and basting the chicken. Cover and steep for 5 minutes without allowing the sauce to boil. Serve.