Once considered the arbiters of la haute cuisine, the French are losing their edge. Top chefs in Japan and America are moving up in the ranks with the winning combination of ingenuity, flavor and risk. Less interested in infusing punch into classic recipes, many French dishes, particularly chicken, suffer from a case of same old, same old. Tweaking their recipes just a tad would make all the difference. But how?
When I first met my French in-laws I was primarily concerned about two things. First, would my humor translate properly into French or would I have to completely alter my personality to communicate with them? Second, how would they react to my disinterest in wine? Would they disown me immediately? As it turned out, I had little to worry about – over time, they understood my jokes and my father-in-law still teases that the only reason they have bottled water in the house is for me. What did come as a shock to them, however, was my no-pork rule. Worse, I also had to tell them I didn’t care for lamb, duck and certainly not foie gras. I am a head-scratcher for most French people but my selectiveness generally fares far better than vegetarianism which is more of a trend among young generations than an ethical or dietary choice.
On most French menus you can find at least a few beef dishes, lamb and/or duck, one or two fish options, a vegetarian plate (which inevitably means pasta or vegetable gratin) and a poultry platter accompanied by rice, French-fries, mashed potatoes or a green-salad- clearly offering a variety of vegetables isn’t as important as the main dish itself. But the preparation, from restaurant to restaurant, varies only slightly. Chicken is generally served roasted or grilled, tandoori or curry, shredded or whole, and sometimes on a skewer but with very little invention. All it takes is a little tweaking and imagination to turn an ordinary chicken dish into a far more flavorful meal. Here’s one of my go-to chicken dishes: Mushroom and Herb Chicken Breasts.
2 skinless chicken breasts
Sprinkling of salt and pepper
2 large shallots
4-8 ounces sliced mushrooms
½ teaspoon fresh oregano
Less than 1/3 cup of dry sherry
Extra freshly ground pepper (as desired)
Placing each chicken breast between sheets of plastic wrap, flatten with a mallet to about 1/3 inch thickness. Coat the chicken with olive oil spray and sprinkle the desired quantity of salt and pepper.
Heat a medium-sized non-stick pan over medium heat with a bit of olive oil (or butter, if so inclined). Drop in the chickens breasts and cook each side for about 5 minutes.
While these cook, slice the shallots vertically. Remove the chicken breasts from the pan and set them aside. Coat the pan once more with olive oil spray and throw in the shallots and sliced mushrooms. Add a bit of olive oil to the shallot and mushroom mix and let cook for approximately 1 minute.
Stir in the sherry and fresh oregano just before returning the chicken breasts to the pan to finish cooking with the vegetables. Cover the pan and let cook for an additional 3-4 minutes or until done.
Place the chicken breasts on a plate and spread the mushroom/sherry mixture over top. Serve with a side of steamed broccoli or spinach atop a petit mound of sweet-potato purée. Include a wedge of fresh French baguette tradition and enjoy!
Lindsey Tramuta is a home & culture columnist for BitchBuzz and the creator of Lost In Cheeseland where she writes about food, love, life and obstacles in Paris. Follow her on twitter @LostNCheeseland.
Photo courtesy of Special*Dark Flickr. Not associated with above recipe