Sunday, June 24, 2007

Chicken Breasts with Cream Sauce

Adapted from The French Chef Cookbook by Julia Child

Serves 4

When I was young, living in St Louis, and just getting my feet wet in the kitchen, I discovered my first Julia book, The French Chef Cookbook. This is the book that chronicals Julia's first foray into WGBH's television studio in Boston, where she attracted a loyal following, mesmerizing them with her cooking and her recognizable voice charmingly (and sometimes alarmingly) lilting up and down. I know everybody has Mastering, but this book is very nice and a good addition to your library if you don't already have it.  It's actually my favorite Julia book.

This recipe was written by Julia at a time when all the fabulous food we now have at our fingertips was not so readily available, and for the most part, we had to be our own butchers, so there are explicit instructions for how to prepare suprêmes yourself. Read the instructions carefully so you know exactly what a suprême is, and then if your store or your butcher has them already prepared, which is likely, by all means purchase them*; if not, step up to the plate and prepare your own.

A suprême is the skinless and boneless meat from one side of a chicken breast. These are now easily available in any supermarket, but when Julia wrote The French Chef, that was not the case. Julia advises against cooking them in liquid, which would toughen them. In this recipe they are poached in a covered casserole, and although the dish is rich, it is delectable. You will need one suprême per serving.

Preparing Suprêmes for Cooking According to Julia

Take a bone-in half breast from a chicken. Pull off the skin, then cut against the top of the rib cage pulling the flesh from the bone, and remove the meat in one piece. Find the tendon that runs underneath the suprême. You want to remove the tendon, so cut along it for about an inch; then try and grab it with a kitchen towel, and pull it out. Failing this, continue to remove it by cutting it. Trim the meat so it looks neat (I use my kitchen shears for this), and flatten the meat lightly with the side of a chef's knife or meat pounder. If you are not going to use it right away and need to refrigerate it, Julia suggests wrapping it in wax paper as opposed to plastic wrap or aluminum foil.

*Preparing Suprêmes from Boneless Chicken Breasts

Now that plump, high-quality boneless chicken breasts (NOT thin pounded chicken cutlets) are generally available, you can skip the step above and use them. To make a boneless breast into a suprême, you need to take a sharp knife - I use my 8-inch chef's knife - and cut the extra flap of chicken off. (I freeze these pieces to use either in chicken soup or poached for chicken salad when I have enough of them.)  If the piece you are left with, has one part that is a lot thicker, that can also be cut off using your chef's knife, and the piece left over can either be saved or discarded depending on how large it is.

Suprêmes de Volaille a Blanc
Adapted from The French Chef Cookbook by Julia Child

Cooking the Suprêmes

4 suprêmes
½ teaspoon lemon juice
¼ teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter
A heavy, covered flameproof casserole about 10 inches in diameter
A round of waxed paper cut to fit the casserole
A hot serving dish

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Rub the suprêmes with drops of lemon juice, and sprinkle lightly with salt. In the casserole, heat butter until foaming. Quickly roll the suprêmes in the butter, lay the waxed paper over them, cover the casserole, and place in the oven. The lengt
h of time it takes to cook the suprêmes depends on how thick they are. Check them after 6 minutes by pressing them with the tip of your finger; they are done when they feel lightly springy and resilient. If still soft, return to the oven for a minute or two more. Remove the suprêmes to a warm dish; cover, and make the sauce, which will take 2 to 3 minutes.

Wine and Cream Sauce 

¼ cup chicken or beef stock
¼ cup port, Madeira, or dry white vermouth
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and lemon juice

Pour the stock and the wine into the casserole with the cooking butter, and boil down rapidly over high heat until the liquid is syrupy. Add the cream, and boil until lightly thickened. Season to taste with salt and drops of lemon juice. Pour the sauce over the suprêmes and serve.

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