Yet another kitchen disaster made good in the name of invention. However, unlike the apocryphal tale of Stephanie Tatin screwing up an apple pie and ending up with a tarte Tatin, the tale of Reine Geneviève Bourgogne’s rough day in the kitchen is probably true.
Unbelievably, the same person credited with naming the tarte Tatin after Stephanie and Caroline’s hotel is the same person who was invited to dinner one evening at the home of Gaston Gérard, the then Deputy Mayor of Dijon. This disaster-magnet guest was none other than food writer Curnonsky (real name Maurice Edmond Sailland), the so-called ‘Prince des Gastronomes.’ Curnonsky is considered by some to be the inventor of gastronomic motor tourism as espoused by Michelin. This is incredible for the simple fact that Curnonsky could not drive a car. Nevertheless, somehow, he made it to Dijon one evening in 1930.
In the Gérard kitchen, the deputy mayor’s first wife, Reine Geneviève Bourgogne, was preparing a beautiful Bresse chicken for the famous gourmet. Gravity intervened and dumped a load of paprika in to the dish (some say mustard, but paprika seems more likely, despite what Wikipedia might say). Bourgogne rapidly applied her ferociously keen cooking head to the problem, and decided to knock back the spice with a load of cream, cut that with the acid of some white Burgundy (what else for a Bourgogne?), and add a dollop of the local mustard – it was Dijon, after all.
The result is spectacular, and so utterly French. Curnonsky loved it too; and, in his usual style, he named the dish after his host – and so, we have poulet Gaston Gérard.
Poulet Gaston Gérard
- For the chicken:
- 1 very good chicken (Bresse was the original), jointed
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 50g unsalted butter
- 50ml olive oil
- 1 tsp paprika
- For the sauce:
- 1 tbsp of Dijon mustard
- 500ml double cream or creme fraiche
- 200g Comté cheese
- 300ml white wine
- To finish:
- 2 tbsp breadcrumbs
To start the chicken:
Heat an oven to 180˚C and season the chicken on all sides with sea salt and black pepper.
Heat the oil and butter in a large, oven-proof sauté pan and brown the chicken piece all over. Sprinkle over with the paprika and place in the oven for 30 mins.
For the sauce:
Remove the chicken pieces to a dish and keep warm. Return the pan to the heat and add the grated cheese to the cooking juices. Melt it gently and add the white wine, then the mustard and the cream.
Heat the sauce until boiling and pour into a jug. Put the chicken pieces back in the pan, pour over sauce to coat. You may have sauce left over, which is fine.
Sprinkle the chicken over with the breadcrumbs and return to the oven to brown (about 5–10 mins). Serve straight to the table.
You can do this in a cast-iron casserole, but it will look better to the table served in a sauté pan if you have one that can go from hob to oven. We are lucky to have French copper sauté pans in a range of sizes that are perfect for this recipe.