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Poulet sauté - a lucky dip

"If she is in a hurry the French cook will cut up a roasting chicken into joints, fry them gently in butter or oil, add stock or wine, perhaps vegetables and little cubes of salt pork as well, and the result will be the poulet sauté which, in a restaurant, will be glorified with some classic or regional label, or named after a minister or a famous writer or actress." Elizabeth David

This is one of those coincidence posts that has gradually slipped sideways here and there as I investigated. It began with a lucky dip which I had picked out some time ago and set aside for an uninspired day. (Today) It was from the classic Mastering the Art of French Cooking and the recipe was for Poulet sauté. Now how basic can you get really? So it has been sitting there at the back of my mind to look into for a while, And then I saw the beautiful photograph above which is virtually the first photograph in my Provence the Beautiful Cookbook by Richard Olney. I was flicking through it looking for something else entirely the other day. The dish is called Poulet sauté à la Barthelasse, Barthelasse apparently being an island in the Rhone near Avignon. It's a very basic poulet sauté recipe - you sauté the chicken and when it's finished cooking add a bit of wine and a persillade (parsley and garlic chopped finely), toss it around and serve. So very simple. So very delicious. Basically the same recipe as in Mastering the Art of French Cooking although their recipe takes almost three pages to describe. Which is both a bad thing and a good thing. Bad because it's off-putting. Good because it tells you exactly what to do, from cutting up your chicken to chopping your herbs and also tells you what bits you can do in advance. And why you should do the things you have to do. It's very thorough.

So I could have left it at that, but then I started rambling.

First of all there's the history. When did people start frying things? Well apparently back in Ancient Egypt, which is a very long time ago. It's sort of hard to think about how somebody thought about frying rather than roasting. Maybe they just had a small piece of meat, and cooked it on a hot stone? ...

Then there's the pan itself - but I might leave that for another post sometime.

Sauté means jumped of course, and for most sautéed dishes, like the ever popular potatoes you sort of jump the pan.

"The sauté technique involves gripping the handle of the sauté pan firmly, and using a sharp elbow motion to rapidly jerk the pan back toward the cook, repeating as necessary to ensure the ingredients have been thoroughly jumped." Wikipedia

I have never grasped this technique and now I suspect I am just too old and feeble. Not that I think it's a technique that you would use for chicken. The pieces are too big. It's more for vegetables and little pieces of meat and/or fish. And incidentally all of those old recipes began with a whole chicken that you then cut into pieces, which led Elizabeth David to have another little grumble:

"The success of all dishes in which the chicken is cut before cooking its in having presentable portions, Nothing is more dismal that those poulets sautés and fricassées de poulet, in which all you get on your plate is an unidentifiable and bony little joint from which the dry feels is detached only with great determination. some skill is needed to joint a chicken into several pieces and, on the whole, it is more satisfactory to buy smaller chickens and simply split them, or have them split, in half." Elizabeth David

As in her Poulet sauté aux olives de Provence. Nowadays, of course, we have the luxury of being able to buy particular pieces of chicken already cut up for us.

So back to recipes. First of all when I started browsing my vast cooking book library for sautéed chicken recipes I was amazed to find how few there were. Just the faithful oldies - Elizabeth David, Richard Olney, Mastering the Art and Robert Carrier. The modern cooks did not have any - well not on my shelves anyway, although you can find some recipes on the net. Not that many though. Nigel Slater had a Classic poulet sauté recipe but he was virtually the only one and he didn't seem to be all that enthusiastic about it. Felicity Cloake didn't have a How to cook the perfect poulet sauté either. Just potatoes. There are specific poulet sauté dishes here and there, but some of them I think are not technically poulet sauté because the chicken might be fried to begin with but then it finishes cooking in a sauce of some kind. As Elizabeth David says the sauce dictates the name - or vice versa.

So I had another look at what Elizabeth David had to offer and found a curiosity - Le poulet sauté Dauphinois. Her recipe - was taken from a recipe book by one Paul-Louis Couchoud. It was tantalisingly imprecise.

"This is a simple dish but a difficult one to do well. With the chicken you must cook some cloves of garlic as large and as round as hazelnuts. They must be as saturated with the juices, as rissolées, and (this is of capital importance) as tender and sweet as new potatoes. To bring about this miracle, you must have heads of garlic from Provence, which have matured quickly and have not had the time to become too impreganated with their special aromas."

Which is not only imprecise. It's also somewhat daunting. So I looked online and found two recipes - one in French - Poulet sauté Dauphinois- from a website called La cuisine d'Annie and another from one Pierre Franey of the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, again called Poulet sauté Dauphinois. Alas neither of them had a photograph of the dish but I did find one, shown above, from Provence the Beautiful Cookbook of a roast chicken dish which is very similar. I think if it was a sauté the chicken would look more appetisingly brown. Elsewhere it is called Chicken with 40 garlic cloves. Yes 40! I think I made the above dish once. It was really good but yes, you would have to like garlic.

As I say the thing that amazed me about all of this was how few of my favourite, and even less favourite cooks had a recipe for a poulet sauté of any kind. It's obviously not in fashion these days. Even Nigel Slater was suggesting

"you could add finely chopped lemon grass and red chillies to the pan and finish with lime juice and a splash of fish sauce instead of wine."

Which sort of reflects the move from European/French to Asian influences does it not? Now we stir fry rather than sauté. I think I'm getting old.


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