"There's a universal sweet spot by the fridge, a familiar space in which we've all stood, door ajar and locked into a staring match with the fridge's contents. It's existing in that limbo between yourself and the next meal, waiting for inspiration to strike until ... you see it." Yotam Ottolenghi
After all that dithering yesterday, here is the finished result - looking a bit beige I have to admit. I made it up rather than choosing a particular recipe. Still it was really quite good though I say it myself and David gave it the thumbs up and said I should publish the recipe. Which I think is really a bit over the top, but actually it will give me the chance to ramble a bit on two things - recipes and blogs; and cooking techniques.
But first the recipe. I'm just going to call it Chicken with mushrooms, peas, wine and cream. Nothing fancy. There are various things I might have been able to call it - but I will come to that when I wander around those techniques.
Ingredients (for two)
1 large chicken breast, cut into four pieces
Olive oil - a good glug
Juice of half a lemon
1 large clove garlic, crushed
Large tablespoon of mustard - I used a Dijon kind but - your choice
Salt and pepper
2 rashers of streaky bacon, sliced across into narrow pieces.
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
5 or 6 button mushrooms thinly sliced - a matter of taste really as to how many
About a glassful of white wine
About a tablespoon of chopped thyme leaves
About 1/4 cup of cream - the ordinary stuff
About 3/4 cup of frozen peas
Mix together in a bowl the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, mustard and salt and pepper. Put the chicken pieces in this, whilst you prepare the bacon, shallot, mushrooms and thyme.
Fry the bacon pieces in a small frying or sauté pan. No oil. When they are crispish remove to a plate. Strain off a little of the oil from the soaking chicken if you can, into the pan and add the shallots. Fry for a minute or so to soften. Add the mushrooms. Fry until liquid has gone and they are beginning to brown. Push to the side of the pan and fry the chicken pieces in the middle until browned a bit. Pour in the wine and the cream, and add the thyme. Mix all together, making sure you scrape up the brown bits on the base of the pan. Cover with a lid and cook on a low heat until the sauce has thickened and the chicken is almost tender. Add the peas and cook with the lid off for a few minutes until the peas and chicken are cooked.
I served it with a potato gratin and a green salad. I am no food stylist so I recognise that this does not look that wonderful, but, yes it did taste quite good.
As I said, I feel very diffident about publishing this. I'm sure you have all done something very similar to this at some point. It did give me a moment to reflect though on how I differ from most blogs in that I rarely publish an actual recipe whether it's mine or somebody else's. Sure I give links but I don't actually concentrate on just one recipe. Maybe I should every now and then. And actually I suppose I have done it very occasionally - when something has been particularly good, or a recipe has seemed particularly noticeable for some reason. My approach, when dealing with a particular dish has been more to present the variations. There are always so many. But perhaps I shall focus a bit more on individual new recipes that I have tried in future.
For most foodie blogs however, that's what they do. They present a recipe. Now that presentation may range from the extremely basic - no comment, a pretty poor photograph, sometimes, even no photograph - just the recipe. I have even found that some of these are actually pinched from other people with no acknowledgement at all. And I do wonder why these very basic sites bother. What do they get out of doing it? Surely not money, and if they do, they don't deserve it.
Then there are those that present a recipe - mostly one of their own devising, but sometimes somebody else's - acknowledged - with tips, and tricks, and detailed explanations. I would have to say that this is probably the bulk of the foodie blogs I come across. I guess Recipe Tin Eats is a good example of this - and to demonstrate here is her version of Chicken fricassée. She is just one of many, although one of the more successful - after all it's pretty professionally done, informative on all the 'how to' things, and very good photographs. My granddaughter loves it. These are the professionals with many, many readers. If you're looking for a recipe for something - like if you Google 'chicken, mushrooms, wine', as I did yesterday, these are the kind of sites that will come up.
The last kind of recipe focussed foodie blog is the one that will give you a lot of background information about the dish in question, maybe some personal story or stories. A bit of a ramble, which, I must admit I mostly find more interesting - and my example here is The Guardian's Rachel Roddy and her own personal blog, Rachel Eats which is actually in abeyance at the moment. This is her take on Pollo alla cacciatore - the same kind of thing I was looking at - indeed one of my possibilities. I suppose it is entirely possible that somebody meandering on about this and that to do with a recipe is not necessarily interesting. They could be awfully boring I suppose, but I'll certainly give them points for trying.
The last kind of foodie blog, is like mine I suppose. Mostly food related but not particularly recipe focussed. I think these are rarer. Indeed I haven't really found any as yet. Even Nigel Slater who regards himself as a writer first and foremost, always features a recipe.
Enough on blogs. What about the techniques. Well this came up when I was pondering on what to call my fridge raid dish. Did it fit into any of those categories that you know about?
At first, I thought that what I had created was a kind of sautéed chicken. I vaguely remember seeing dishes labelled sauté, especially in my Provence the Beautiful Cookbook, so I looked. And indeed there were - and they had sauces. But as I flipped through the pages I saw that there were other possibilities - fricassée, blanquette, braise or ragoût. What was mine?
So first I turned to my Larousse Gastronomique, written by Prosper Montagné back in 1960. It's the food bible after all. There may be an updated version by now, but anyway as I looked up one of those techniques it directed me to Culinary Techniques, where I found this:
"All culinary operations, from the simplest to the most complicated, must be carried out according to precise rules. It is advisable to adhere scrupulously to these principles in order to achieve success in the preparation of all dishes."
Oh dear. And also, surely not. I obviously have not adhered to any rules here. And when I thought about it I reckon no celebrity chef worth his Michelin stars adheres rigorously to principles either. After all they are trying to make a name for themselves by doing something completely different. By making a new set of rules, even a set of very laissez-faire rules. Times have changed, although, for all I know, cookery schools still teach rigorous techniques. And maybe there is in fact a case for saying that you first have to know the rules before you can break them.
So I decided to check out those definitions mentioned above in my Larousse to see what exactly those rules were - I checked Robert Carrier and Elizabeth David too. I also tried Stephanie's A Cook's Companion, but none of those techniques were covered in her Basics section. Delia probably has it covered somewhere but it was too hard to find on her website. So here is what I did find - in alphabetical order:
Blanquette - According to Larousse a:
"White ragoût, based on lamb, veal or chicken meat, bound with egg yolks and cream."
My other two gurus did not define a blanquette, but when I looked at various recipes here and there, it does indeed seem to involve egg yolks and cream being added to cream separately, before pouring over the cooked meat and vegetables at the end of the cooking process. There is also no frying of the meat or vegetables - it's all just put in a pot and cooked with stock or wine. Mostly the vegetables are cooked separately and added at the end, and sometimes a bit of frying is involved for them. Blanquette de veau is the most well-known example of course. Anyway - my effort is definitely not a blanquette - no egg yolks here and there was definitely some preliminary frying.
Braise - Larousse is a bit brief here:
"Braising Method which can be applied to most food substances, cooked in an airtight pan, adding very little liquid."
Though to be fair there is then a recipe which demonstrates the method. Robert Carrier obviously thinks it's all too obvious and doesn't define the braising method, but Elizabeth David is quite lengthy about what she calls Braisage:
"The process of braising consist of lining a heavy cooking pot ... with sliced onions and other flavouring vegetables, fat pork or bacon, and/or pork rinds and a calf's foot to supply a gelatinous element to the sauce. The meat to bird to be braised is laid on this bed. Cooking is started off on the top of the stove, and when some of the fats and juices from the underneath layer of of ingredients have been released by the heat and protective browning of the meat accomplished, liquid in the form of stock and/or wine is added, the pot is covered with a hermetically-sealing lid, and cooking continued by very moderate heat. ... Nowadays, after the preliminary cooking essential to a true braise, it us usually placed in the oven."
I think the key things here are very low levels of liquid, preliminary cooking on the cooktop and then long slow cooking in the oven. I get the impression that this is also intended for larger cuts of meat. So not applicable to my quick dish. It probably only took around half an hour tops.
Fricassée Now it looks as if we are getting somewhere. According to Larousse:
"In modern French usage, the word fricassée applies almost exclusively to a method of preparing poultry in a white sauce.
In earlier times the term denoted various kinds of stew made with white or brown stock, not only from poultry but from meat, fish and vegetables."
Elizabeth David agrees on the old and new split, but is a bit more prescriptive:
"Literally this means to cook something in a saucepan, and although nowadays a fricassée is understood to mean a dish of chicken stewed in butter, the sauce thickened with egg yolks and/or cream, it formerly meant all sorts of ragoûts of meat, fish, poultry, etc."
Although I think she's wrong about the meaning - most sources seem to think it's a blend of 'frire' meaning to fry and 'casser' to break. I'm also a bit troubled about the egg yolks.
Robert Carrier - a man after my own heart simply says:
"To cook chicken or veal in fat until golden, and then in a sauce. Fricassée is, in fact a form of braising."
And I think he's technically right about it only referring to veal or chicken as well.
Ragoût - which means 'to revive the taste' is according to Larousse:
"made from meat, fowl or fish cut in pieces of regular shape and size, browned or cooked without colouring and with or without an accompaniment of vegetables. ..."
And then there is this extraordinary outburst that I can't resist including, although it's got nothing to do with what is a ragoût:
"It is as well to note that meat ragoûts, especially those incorporating a roux are particularly indigestible. According to the dieticians, only those with excellent constitutions should eat ragoût."
Why, why, why?
Elizabeth David has given up on me now and so we shall once again turn to the easily understood Robert Carrier:
"a stew made from regular-sized pieces of meat, poultry or fish, sautéed in fat until brown, and then simmered with stock, meat juice or water, or a combination of these until tender.
And indeed stew is the word to note here because ragoût is often translated as stew, and because lots of ragoût recipes seemed to require long slow cooking in plenty of liquid - not my dish.
"To fry lightly in a small amount of hot fat or oil, shaking the pan or turning food frequently during cooking."
says Robert Carrier, and I think this seems to be a common idea, with very occasionally some deglazing of the juices to make a sauce. A bit like pan-frying, which I suspect is a modern term for sauté.
Of course it really doesn't matter what we call a dish does it? It matters to restaurateurs but they also tend not to stick to strict definitions of what is a sauté for example. Of the above I suspect that a blanquette is the only to which most chefs would adhere to the rules.
As to my chicken dish - I think the closest type to my dish is a fricassée because there are no egg yolks, I think Elizabeth David is wrong in mentioning egg yolks. Anyway - try my recipe if you like, but I'm sure you could think of other things to do with it - no peas for a start - it was just what I had available, although I did ponder on using broccolini. Different herb? Different liquid ...