Sunday, May 4, 2008

Poulet Basquaise

On Monday this week (yeah, the post has been in the pipeline for a little while...), I made a dish that I fell in love with. Really. The recipe comes out of our Bistro Cooking cookbook, which I highly recommend if you can get your hands on a copy. Ours comes from a used bookstore in Austin, and it is fabulous. We have made a number of recipes out of it in the last 6 months and they are consistently surprising. My only caveat is that, despite having an entire chapter on potatoes, they are mostly potato gratin dishes (which I am reluctant to make just because of the time requirement for slicing all those potatoes). The rest of the cookbook has fantastic recipes, most of which are fairly simple to make but have a distinctly French flavor. High marks overall. (Though, I don't think I will be so bold as to recommend it to Kate, over at Thyme for Cooking.... There are some distinct advantages to living in the French countryside....)

The dish in question, in case you managed to miss the title of the post, is Poulet Basquaise. The dish is centered around the contrast of sweetness of bell peppers/chicken and the spice of hot peppers, but actually only calls for two hot peppers (seeded) to be used. Of course, since there are only two of us, I halved the recipe. I just didn't halve the hot peppers - and I didn't seed 'em either. :) This is yet another example of the dilemma that Neen finds herself in almost constantly. The pleasure of having a lover that will cook her dinner (and enjoy doing it), while simultaneously wishing that he would lay off the heat. The problem is that I really enjoy hot food, and there are very few dishes that would not be improved by adding some hot pepper. I am trying to be better, though - if only so that she will keep eating what I cook. Last night I made a pasta dish (to be described later) that I was very tempted to add Serrano peppers to, but I didn't! It took so much self-control not to add those little packets of delicious heat. They would have tasted great... I hope she appreciated it!

Back to the Poulet Basquaise, though. The dish worked out really well, but it was not at all what I had expected it to be. It was cooked in three different pots. One pot for the noodles (of course), one pot for the tomato and onion sauce, and one pot to bring them all and in the darkness bind them... Wait, that's not it. The other pot was for the fusion of chicken, bell peppers, hot peppers, ham, and garlic. I also added a reasonable dash of white wine. The result was fascinating - after cooking for an hour while covered the bell peppers released so much liquid as to make an almost soup-like mixture. The flavors had melded together to form a seamless whole that tasted richly of chicken and yet also light, almost spring-like with the flavors of bell- and Serrano peppers. One taste was enough - I was sold. I loved the combination of the chicken, garlic, and Serrano peppers all brought together by the sweetness of bell-peppers. The flavor of the wine offered additional complexity to the flavors, without being over-bearing.

To serve, the directions were very specific: the tomato sauce should put down and then the chicken placed on top. Of course, I added noodles (it sounded like a noodle kind of dish) so I put those on the bottom of everything.

I should note that while this dish quickly gained a spot in my heart, Neen had a couple of reservations. The chicken came out looking fairly dilapidated and the chicken skin had a flabby texture. Also, the sauce, since it is so broth like, will seep to the bottom of a bowl making it tricky to get a piece of chicken, noodles, and sauce all in one bite. I have two suggestions for modification to the recipe to correct for these issues. One, I would coat the chicken in seasoned flour before browning. Two, I would use the extra flour at the last step to make a roux for the soup and thicken it slightly. Not too much - you might loose the lightness of the flavor, but I would want to thicken it just enough that it can grab onto pasta noodles.
[Neen inserts: or we can serve the dish over rice, as the original recipe suggests, and thereby bypass the whole problem....]

Patricia Wells' Poulet Basquaise: Chicken with Hot Peppers, Ham, Tomatoes, and Onions
4-6 Servings

4 small, mildly hot green chiles (such as serrano), or 2 hot green chilies, or 1/2 tsp hot red pepper flakes (I doubled the quantity of chiles)
1 chicken (3-4 pounds), well rinsed, patted dry, cut into 8 serving pieces, and at room temperature
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 Tbs vegetable oil
12 fat garlic cloves, cut into thin slices
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
2 lb tomatoes, peeled, cored, seeded and chopped (or substitute 1 28oz can plum tomatoes, drained)
White Wine (my addition)
  1. If you're a weenie, Core and seed the chiles. Slice into 1/8-inch strips; set aside
  2. Season the chicken liberally with salt and pepper. Ina deep 12-inch skillet, heat 3 Tbs of oil over high heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the chicken and brown on one side until the skin turns an even golden brown , about 5 min. Turn the pieces and brown them on the other side for an additional 5 min. Work in batches, if necessary.
  3. Return all the chicken to the skillet. Add the garlic, bell peppers, chiles, and ham, burying all the ingredients admist the chicken pieces. (Add a general cup or so of white wine). Cook covered, over medium heat, until the chicken is cooked through and the peppers are meltingly soft (45min-1hr). The pan will make a lot of crackling noises as the peppers give off much of their liquid. Turn the mixture from time to time, and adjust the heat to avoid scorching. You want a tender sauce.
  4. Meanwhile, in another large skillet, heat the remaining 2 Tbs of oil over high heat until hot but not smoking. Ad the onions. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until very soft, about 5 min. Add the tomatoes and continue cooking for another 30min. The mixture should be soft and well-blended. Season to taste with salt. (The dish can be easily made ahead at this point. Reheat both mixtures separately.)
  5. To serve, layer the tomato and onion mixture on a preheated platter. Cover with the chicken mixture, and serve immediately, with white rice. (oops, I used noodles).


Ginny said...

Looks good to me! When can I come over for dinner?

Pixie said...

haha I do like neen's added rice comment!

I'm fortunate that hubs cooks as well; I tend to be a bit more critical of his methods and am learning to step away from the kitchen while he's cooking- I mean what woman doesn't appreciate their man cooking for them?

I only wish he would help me with writing the blog!

Vicarious Foodie said...

This looks really good!

I have a similar situation--I like things mild, my man likes them hot. He doesn't cook for me, though . . . if he did, I'd try to put up with the hot stuff.

Krysta said...

I need to make this! You two crack me up.

Anonymous said...

Looks so tender and flavorful! yum!

noble pig said...

What a lovely dish. I love that it is so rustic looking. Nicely done.

Psychgrad said...

Well...since I'm not a weanie, I would go with the full pepper. :)

I agree with Noble Pig - I like the rustic look of this dish. I also think your modifications sounds good. The chicken looks boiled, which I do like, but isn't always as eye-popping. The seasoned flour coating would be good..or even searing the meat on every side.

melissa said...

and one pot to bring them all and in the darkness bind them...

ok, now I officially love you guys. ;)

I ain't no weenie either so I'd probably leave the peppers with seeds. and double them. I run into the same problem with my husband; I like everything as spicy as possible and I have to be careful about it sometimes for his sake.

the recipe sounds and looks wonderful. I put that book on my amazon list, it looks like a great one and is very well reviewed. thanks for the recommendation!

kittie said...

I agree - there isn't much that some chili peppers don't make better (I even made chili peach cobbler recently ;) And I can't remember the last time I took the seeds out of a chili!

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