When I married into a French family decades ago, my mother-in-law, Francoise, explained that in her family, and in many other French families, chicken is traditionally the centerpiece of Sunday lunch.
She explained that hundreds of years ago, King Henry IV of France (a well-intentioned king who is credited with trying to improve the lives of French peasants) proclaimed that everyone would eat chicken on Sundays. So, she said, it’s common for many French people to eat chicken on Sundays.
As a result, I estimate that my kids ate at least 1,000 French-style chicken dishes before I sent them to college. Most often, these birds were roasted. Simple and cheap for the time.
I’m a bit nostalgic about Sunday chicken, but now its preparation deviates from the roast mode. Here are three recipe ideas for presenting chicken that are delicious any day of the week.
Sautéed chicken breast with mushrooms, hazelnuts and cream
My nephew Don Haderle met my niece Holly when they were training to be chefs at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. After graduating, he worked at Joyce Goldstein’s treasured San Francisco restaurant, the now-defunct Square One.
Don told me that Goldstein loved this chicken dish and took great care to develop the flavors and textures with special techniques and ingredients. She didn’t want it to taste like chicken cooked in canned mushroom soup. In fact, it is tasty and bears no resemblance to soup chicken.
Yield: 6 servings
1/4 cup dried porcini mushrooms, about 1/2 oz
3 large (8 to 10 ounces each) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, halved horizontally
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon, shared use
4 cups finely chopped fresh button mushrooms, such as cremini or white button mushrooms, or a combination (I often just slice them thinly)
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup heavy whipping cream
6 to 8 tablespoons toasted chopped hazelnuts
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
1. Rinse dried porcini mushrooms to remove most of the surface dirt, then soak them in a cup of very hot water for about 1 hour. When completely soft, pour the soaking liquid through a cheesecloth-lined strainer into a bowl and set aside. Wash, press dry, then chop the porcini mushrooms.
2. Lightly pound chicken breasts (using a meat mallet, meat tenderizer, or the bottom of a saucepan) to an even thickness of 1/3 inch between plastic sheets. Dip the chicken in flour that has been seasoned with salt and pepper. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken 2 to 3 minutes per side or until almost done. You don’t want the chicken to develop a crust. It has to stay tender. Remove from the pan and keep warm.
2. Set to medium-high and add 1 tablespoon oil to skillet used for chicken. Add fresh mushrooms and cook until mushrooms release some liquid, 3 to 4 minutes. Add broth, 3/4 cup porcini liquid and porcini; Simmer for 2 minutes. add cream and hazelnuts; Cook on low flame for 2 minutes. Return the chicken to the pan and heat until cooked through. Arrange the chicken on plates. If the sauce is too thin, cook it a little longer and then spoon it over the chicken. Garnish with chopped thyme and parsley.
Source: Adapted from “Kitchens Conversations” by Joyce Goldstein (William Morrow, $25)
Chicken braised in wine with orange and olives
These delicious, braised chicken thighs need to marinate in the fridge for at least 4 hours (or up to 24 hours) before cooking. The dish can be prepared up to 1 day before serving; cool and then refrigerate. Before serving, scoop off any solidified fat and discard. Cover and reheat at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes; If the sauce isn’t enough, add a tablespoon or two of chicken stock before placing in the oven. Garnish with fresh chives.
Yield: 4 servings
1 navel orange
Grate: 2 teaspoons kosher salt, 2 large cloves garlic (minced), 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice, 1/4 teaspoon ground mace (or nutmeg if you don’t have mace), 1/4 teaspoon ground coriander, 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper, 6 sprigs of fresh thyme, 1 bay leaf
8 chicken thighs with bone and skin; see chef’s notes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, more if needed
1 large leek or 2 small leeks (white and light green parts, halved lengthways, thinly sliced, rinsed with cold water, drained
1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup chopped pitted green olives or small pitted green olives left whole
Fresh lemon juice, optional
Garnish: chopped fresh chives
Optional to serve: boiled rice
Chef’s Notes: Sometimes chicken thighs have a large flap of skin hanging down the sides. I like to trim off this excess skin with scissors and discard it.
1. Grate 2/3 cup orange zest and set aside in a large bowl. Squeeze orange juice into a measuring cup; You will need 1/3 cup of juice. chill the juice.
2. In large bowl with bowl, add salt, garlic, allspice, mace, coriander, pepper, sprigs of thyme, and bay leaf; stir to combine. Add the chicken thighs and rub all over with the rub mixture. Cover and refrigerate for 4 to 24 hours.
3. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Pat the chicken dry without removing the rub mixture and reserve any leftover juices in a bowl, including the thyme and bay leaf. Place the chicken thighs in the saucepan, skin-side down, in a single layer (if they don’t fit, cook them in 2 batches). Cook until lightly browned on all sides, turning a few times and reducing the heat if they start to burn. Put the chicken on a plate.
4. Stir the leeks into the chicken roast in the saucepan, adding a little more oil as needed. Cook over medium-high heat until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, wine, reserved orange juice, and any reserved marinade with thyme and bay leaf. Place the chicken, skin side up, in the pot along with any collected juices, cover and bake for 35 minutes.
5. Increase oven temperature to 450 degrees. Add olives and squeeze them in pan juices a little. Bake uncovered for 15 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and tender. Taste the sauce (make sure it’s hot); If necessary, add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice along with a little salt or pepper.
6. Serve the sauce over the chicken, garnished with fresh chives. I like to serve it over rice to soak up some of the delicious sauce. Garnish each serving with half an orange slice, if you like.
Source: Adapted from “Dinner in French” by Melissa Clark (Clarkson Potter, $37.50)
Lidia’s Chicken Parm Light
Chef Lidia Bastianich, author, restaurateur, and award-winning TV host, takes a different direction in her “light” version with Chicken Parmigiana, avoiding dunking the breaded chicken in a thick tomato sauce. Instead, she oven roasts the roasted, breaded chicken thighs (or breasts) topped with sliced fresh tomatoes and fresh mozzarella or fontina cheese.
Once plated, the tomato sauce is courtly spooned around the chicken or spooned under the chicken. She makes the tomato sauce from scratch, of course. I take a shortcut and use heated store-bought marinara sauce.
Yield: 4 servings
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or breasts if you prefer), about 1 1/2 pounds
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
All-purpose flour for dredging
3/4 cup dry breadcrumbs
2 large eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
3 ripe plum tomatoes, seeded and thinly sliced
6 ounces fresh mozzarella or fontina cheese
To Serve: 8 ounces store-bought marinara sauce
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. If you’re using thighs (which I prefer), trim off any remaining fat. Place the chicken between cling film and pound the chicken to an even thickness (use a meat mallet, meat tenderizer, or the bottom of a saucepan – Bastianich uses the serrated side of a mallet). Season with salt and pepper. Divide the flour and breadcrumbs between 2 rimmed plates or cake tins. Beat eggs in a wide shallow bowl. Working one chicken thigh at a time, dip in flour and shake off excess, then dip in eggs and coat in breadcrumbs, patting gently to ensure it is well coated.
2. Heat oil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, fry the breaded chicken, turning once, until golden brown, about 8 minutes. Drain on plates lined with kitchen paper.
3. Place chicken on rimmed baking sheet, top each with overlapping tomato slices and distribute tomatoes evenly. Drape sliced cheese over tomatoes to completely cover the chicken. Bake until cheese is lightly browned, about 10 minutes. While the chicken is baking, heat the marinara sauce.
4. Put the chicken on four plates. Spoon the heated sauce around the chicken. Or, if you prefer, spread sauce on plates and garnish with chicken.
Source: Adapted from “Lidia’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine” (button, $37.50)
Question about cooking? Contact Cathy Thomas at email@example.com