One of the most interesting things about chefs at the top of their game is finding out what they like to eat at home. In their off hours, starred chefs are not poncing around the kitchen making sous vide flying fish with a wasabe foam served under a bowl of smoke with a iPod Shuffle playing ambient bloody whalesong. Rather, all of the ones I have seen open their homes up to the cameras are cooking family favourites, albeit very well and with pro-level tidiness. Marcus Wareing and his wife split the cooking, but Jane Wareing admits that her husband is “faster and tidier.” Gordon and Tana Ramsay’s house in Wandsworth, London has two kitchens – one with Mr Ramsay’s £67,000 Rorgue range cooker in it, and another that Mrs Ramsay uses for cooking for the kids. Like the food in Wareing’s home cook book, the Ramsays are making family favourites done properly with a bit of imagination. Ramsay’s fish fingers and chips are lovely. Make them. His wife’s might even be better.
When generalised food lunatic Heston Blumenthal was filming his obsessive-compulsive BBC television series In Search of Perfection, he visited Bourg-en-Bresse, the home of the undisputed King of chickens. Up the forest road in Vonnas, just north of Lyon, Blumenthal met with triple-Michelin starred chef Georges Blanc to pump him for information on how to cook the perfect Sunday roast Bresse chicken. The response Blumenthal got was unexpected:
“For you, Heston, Sunday dinner is roast chicken and roast potatoes. But I’m from a different culture. Of course, we too had the family meal on Sunday. It was a great ritual, but poulet à la crème was the main course. When I was young, every Sunday was this. Do you want to see how it was done …?”
With English roast chicken summarily dismissed as ‘a bit crap’ by the great French gourmand, Blumenthal sucked it up and watched Blanc cook his family chicken dish. Blumenthal summarised this encounter in his 2006 book that accompanied the television series. In his report, he described how Blanc cooked the dish. Suffice to say, Blumenthal was enchanted, and The Nosey Chef got nosey. In the recipe provided here, I have given the reported method some quantities, and also made notes so you can make it for your family next Sunday. It’s a glorious change from roasted meat, and is as French as Charles de Gaulle smoking a Gauloises and taking ‘une merde‘ in Winston Churchill’s bowler hat.
There is a video clip available here that shows Chef Blanc making a slightly more complicated version of this dish with a whole chicken, separately cooked mushrooms and some foie gras.
Restaurant Gastronomique Georges Blanc can be found at Place du Marché, 01540 Vonnas, France.
Poulet à la crème Georges Blanc
- 70g butter
- Four fresh free-range chicken legs, jointed (obviously Bresse chicken would be great, but free-range and corn fed will suffice)
- Half an onion, studded with about 10–12 cloves
- Half and onion, roughly sliced
- 1 whole head of garlic sliced through its waist, upper part discarded
- 200g mushrooms, chopped (I used wild mushrooms – chestnut would be nice too; see notes)
- 2 tbsp plain flour
- 175ml dry white wine
- 750–1,000ml double cream (the volume depends on your pan because you need to cover the chicken pieces; a 26cm sauté pan will require 1l)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Melt the butter in a pan large enough to take all the chicken pieces in one layer with space for the onion and mushrooms. Once foaming, add the chicken pieces and season them in the pan. Cook the chicken gently until lightly browned on both sides. If you have any other chicken offcuts like neck or wingtips, then add those before you turn the chicken. Take care here – you want to lightly brown the chicken to the colour of a straw hat; if you get to oak siding board, then the meat will toughen.
Add the studded onion, chopped onion and garlic, and evenly spoon over the flour. Add the mushrooms.
Increase the heat for a moment, and then deglaze the pan with the wine. Turn the chicken in the wine and flour, and the pour over the cream to cover the meat. Season to taste.
Turn down the heat to low and cook uncovered for 45 minutes.
Once cooked (test a thigh with a probe close to the bone, and look for 74˚C), lift out the chicken pieces and plate them. Sieve the sauce into a warm jug and spoon over the chicken.
Serve with a crusty baguette to mop up the sauce.
Although not in the original account, I garnished this with finely chopped, fresh tarragon because that seemed sensible. I also cooked some whole mushrooms in with the chicken, refreshed them under a lukewarm tap, and served them to add texture, richness and a bit more colour. Wine pairing: Roussanne Marsanne blends are excellent with rich, creamy chicken dishes. Marks & Spencer do a very nice Australian Marananga Dam Roussanne Marsanne Viognier for £15 a bottle.