An Evening in France

In a sort of tragic way, I often find that I'm gleefully hugging myself when I find a recipe to bookmark "for later on..." Mysterious as that may sound, what it really represents is the onset of whatever season we are NOT currently enjoying/tolerating/hibernating in.
It's human nature of course. We always want what we can't have: curly hair, straight hair, fast cars, vintage cars, summer food, winter food. (See: The Shaggs-Philosophy of the World)
It's true. After 5 months of stews and steamed puddings and roast dinners, we want salads, we want roast chicken sandwiches, we want ambrosia! In the summer we long to be able to tolerate the oven being on for longer than 15 minutes, to be able to ladle thick meat stews into deep bowls and to serve custard with dessert.
It's OK though, we know all about the rapidity that time passes by with, and as you get older the seasons start to pass by in a disturbing blur before you start to question "what happened to the summer?" or "I can't believe it's 6 months since I submerged the turkey in brine....I really should remove it by now..." Part of getting older is just complying with this fact and instead of clinging on to our misspent youth, accepting our present and future.
You're definitely wondering what on earth this has to do with last night's supper, aren't you? Well, not much really, although it is a noted fact that the existentialist philosophers enjoyed chicken above all other poultry. Or perhaps I made that up, trying frantically to find a tangible link between supper and my musings on getting older.
Whatever. Last night's supper was far more appetising than a three hour long debate on the futility of man and whilst I will always make time for Andre Gide, I wouldn't give you tuppence for Kierkgaard's complaints about how he/we got here. Instead, any pent-up frustrations from the day were spent bashing a couple of chicken breasts between two pieces of clingfilm until they clucked for mercy. There is a French name for this procedure, paillard, which refers to an escalope of veal, chicken, pork, beef. Curiously, the word Paillard (pron. pay-ard) also means to be bawdy and lewd. How a thin piece of meat garnered the reputation for being bawdy and lewd is beyond me but I am charmed by it nonetheless.
The paillard in question is served with a warm red wine dressing and Pommes Lyonaisse, and whilst it sounds like a complex dish to prepare, it was ready to eat within 45 minutes. I wouldn't recommend cooking it for more than four people, unless you want to skip the potatoes altogether (the diced potatoes need to be cooked in a single layer in a sauté pan, so the greater the quantity required, the more hot surface space will be required).
Once assembled, the hot dressing concealed by dainty lambs lettuce and peppery watercress, and then the chicken gently infusing in the red wine aromas, the dish is so redolent of a warm summers night in France that you can almost smell the nearby vineyards.
If you want to recreate this simple dish, I would make a couple of recommendations which you you don't have to follow, but which will help to give you the best flavour.
1) Use Free Range Organic Chicken Breasts. Not only for ethical reasons but these free-roaming birds will give you back so much more in terms of flavour.
2) If you are not using Organic Chicken, then I would suggest brining the chicken for at least 12 hours. Sprinkle half a teaspoon of sea salt over each chicken breast, massaging well into the flesh, cover and refrigerate for 12 hours or more. Before preparing, rinse well.
3) You don't need to use the expensive wine that the original recipe noted. There are two schools of thought when it comes to using wine in cooking: those who say use any old crap (me) and those who insist on only using wine that they would drink. I am not a wine drinker in any respect so to me it all tastes pretty putrid, but cooking does seem to bring it to life. I suspect this is where my own opinion is formed. Wine drinkers are probably on the other side of the fence. If you want to use an expensive wine then go ahead, but I wouldn't recommend buying a bottle specifically for this recipe as you need less than a glassful.
4) The salad leaves can be switched around depending on what you can get hold of but you do need a slightly bitter, soft leaf to offset the rich dressing and the gentle chicken.
5) This recipe relies on your following the right steps in the right order to ensure everything is ready at the same time. Hopefully you'll find that my method works, so here's the recipe....
(adapted from Rick Stein's More Food Heroes)
2 Organic, Free Range Chicken Breasts, skin on or off
Some Soft Salad Leaves (Lambs Lettuce, Watercress, etc)
1 Small Shallot, finely chopped
4-5 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 Teaspoons Red Wine Vinegar (I used Cider Vinegar because I was all out of red wine vinegar)
150ml Red Wine of your choice
Teaspoon Caster Sugar
Pommes Lyonnaise:
600g Potatoes (I used white baking style ones, but you need a floury variety), peeled and chopped into 1/2" dice
3 Tablespoons Butter
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 White Onion, peeled and thinly sliced.
Firstly, prepare the chicken breasts. If you have bought the breasts with the fillet still attached, don't remove the fillet but fold it outwards. Apparently it should resemble a heart shape but mine looked more like a map of India. Anyway, place between two pieces of clingfilm and using a rolling pin, bash the chicken until it is half an inch thick. Brush lightly with some oil and season. Leave to one side.
Peel and dice the potatoes. Place in a large pan of salted water and bring to the boil. Simmer until barely tender. Drain and leave to cool slightly.
While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the warm dressing. In a small saucepan, bring the red wine, sugar and 2 teaspoons of the vinegar to the boil, the reduce the heat to a rapid simmer. You need to reduce this to about 2 tablespoons.
Remove from the heat and leave to cool for a couple of minutes, then whisk in the remaining 1 teaspoon of vinegar, the olive oil, the shallots and some salt and pepper to taste.
Whilst the dressing is steeping, finish of the potatoes. In a large, heavy bottomed saute pan, heat 2 tablespoons of butter and olive oil over medium high heat. Once melted, throw in the boiled, diced potatoes and cook for a further 10-15 minutes or until golden on all sides.
In another frying pan, melt the remaining tablespoon of butter and gently fry off the sliced onion until it is soft and golden. Stir this into the potatoes once both are cooked (I omitted this stage with the onions to save time). Season if necessary.
Whilst the potatoes are frying off, heat a griddle or saucepan until, then cook the flattened chicken for about 2 minutes on each side.
To prepare the dish:
Spoon a tablespoon or so of the dressing on each plate and top with the salad leaves. Then, place a chicken breast on top of the leaves and cover each plate with another plate. Leave to stand for 5 minutes to allow all the flavours and aromas to mingle.
The potatoes should be ready by now so serve alongside the chicken and salad.


Anh said...

Believe it or not, I was dreaming of some chicken cooked in red wine and mash potatoes before seeing your post. Must be the winter mood! Love your dish!

Lydia said...

It is a cold and raw day here in Rhode Island, so I am definitely in the mood for something warm and comforting like this dish. Thank you for sharing the recipe.

Ash said...

That sounds awesome! Thanks :)

Kelly-Jane said...

That does sound lovely. I like chicken and potatoes the very best!

Janet said...

I am so bad at picturing what a meal will look like from just a recipe - I hope you get your USB cord soon! Also, it's probably been there a week, but I just noticed your new drop down menu that replaced "Freya's Cookbook" on your sidebar. Makes it very easy to navigate your recipes - like it...must do something similar.

Little Foodie said...

This sounds delicious. Also just incase it's a problem. Some of the links in your drop down menu aren't working for me. It comes up with a blogger message saying error or not found.

Deborah said...

Sounds fabulous!! And I'm always glad to see a recipe that is scaled for 2 people.

Joyce said...

Comfort food with a beret!
The little bit of greenery adds a nice touch. And a drinkable wine will give great flavor—after all, the alcohol cooks off and what's left? Good flavor, we hope.
Chicken and spuds make great partners and this treatment sounds savory.

Susan said...

This is a beautiful little meal. I don't know that it would be spoiled by cooking wine vs. the real deal. To each his own.

Helen said...

My husband complains because we "always" have pommes one day I told him they were "pommes bordelaises" and he asked what was different about them: "duck fat" I said. You are not allowed to complain about your food if you never step foot in the kitchen!
That dinner sounds great!

annauk said...

My eyes tend to glaze over when I see a recipe with a french title, apalling i know. but they become inachievable in my eyes.
Don't know why - the same never happens in Italian!
I admire you tremendously (and the recipe sounds easy enough even for me!) LOL

Bruno said...

Freya and Paul,
That looks like a beautiful and tasty meal! Cheers!