When it comes to food, I subscribe to the following formula “Good Things Are Found in Weird Places,” and to the related formula “The Older the Weirder.”
That’s why I have been cooking out of Auguste Escoffier’s monumental cookbook, “Le Guide Culinaire.” Published in 1903, the guide contains 5,012 recipes, each described in the space of a small paragraph, without details, as if he had scribbled them down in the kitchen while racing around sauteing tongues and livers for his guests at the Savoy Hotel in fin-de-siecle London.
There are all manner of oddities to be found in Escoffier’s book, including such quirky dishes as tangerines, hollowed out and stuffed with cold, roasted buntings and meat jelly (#3738), and boiled calf’s udder, which apparently tastes nice with a lard stuffing and a garnish of fresh spinach (#2725). I haven’t cooked those dishes yet (although I’m not promising not to cook them), but I have learned a great deal of useful information from the “Guide,” one of which is the proper way to saute a chicken.
To wit: begin with a chicken. Cut said chicken into four pieces. To cut up a chicken, begin by cutting the legs off where the thigh attaches to the torso, and then cut lengthwise along the breastbone to remove the two breasts. (This allows for breast-people to eat breast, and leg-people to eat leg. I am a leg person.)
Do not remove the skin from the chicken. Removing the skin of a chicken is the culinary equivalent of shooting a man in the back. Just Don’t Do It.
Now preheat the oven to 400 F, and heat up one tablespoon each of oil and butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Salt and pepper both sides of the chicken. Lay them in the pan when the butter has stopped foaming. Brown the pieces on one side, and then turn them over to brown on the other side (which means golden brown, not brown brown). This should take about 10 minutes. Cover your skillet, and put it in the oven.
After about seven to 10 minutes, flip the pieces of chicken and finish cooking in the oven. The cooking time will vary here depending on the size of the pieces, so check them periodically by piercing them to see if the juices run clear. (Don’t pierce too much, because the juice is good and should stay on the inside, where it belongs.) Done chicken will also feel firm if you press on it. When it’s done, take it out of the oven. End Of Part One.
Chicken prepared this way will taste fantastic by itself. You can serve it with mashed potatoes, cooked vegetables, salad or whatever else is around. But if you have a desire to go further, there is much to be done in terms of sauces. Although the possibilities for sauces are endless, here is one option.
Remove the chicken from the pan in which it was cooked. Pour off some of the oil that will have accumulated in the pan. Place it over medium high heat with one tablespoon of butter and two tablespoons minced shallots. Saute them until they are golden, and then add one cup each white wine and chicken stock (you can use bouillon cubes, canned broth, or preferably, homemade stock). Scrape the pan in order to incorporate the bits that have stuck to the bottom. Add one tablespoon chopped tarragon to the liquid, and let the sauce reduce.
When the sauce has reduced by about half, add one tablespoon of butter and let reduce further. Taste the sauce for seasoning, add salt and pepper as needed and put the chicken back into the pan for about five minutes.
Now you are ready to serve. Place a piece of chicken on each plate, spoon some sauce over it and garnish with chopped tarragon or parsley. Enjoy.
In general, the production of sauces in this manner is very straightforward: Use the same pan that you used for the chicken, saute some things (like shallots and mushrooms, for instance), add some liquids, add herbs and spices, reduce, add butter, etc. This outline can be tweaked in an infinite variety of ways and is itself just one of many procedures for the production of sauces that all taste good. And tasting, as Escoffier puts it, is a good way “to counteract the disastrous effects of the modern pace of living on people’s nerves.”