Jacques Pépin: The Apprentice—My Life in the Kitchen

Poulet la Crème
(Chicken with Cream Sauce)

Yield: 4 servings
There is no question that the first and foremost dish cooked at the Hotel de l'Europe was chicken. It was roasted, stewed in red wine or morel sauce, served cold with tarragon aspic, and broiled with mustard and breadcrumbs, but the undisputed specialty of the house was poulet à la crème. The thick, acidulated cream sauce, slightly pink in color, velvety, and wonderfully rich, was served not only with chicken, but with pike quenelles, frogs (as a tarragon cream sauce), as well as poured liberally on fresh farmer cheese and raspberries. The special chicken of Bresse, with its white feathers, blue feet, and red comb-our tri-color bird-gave its unmistakable flavor to poulet à la crème, which was usually served with rice seasoned with onions and thyme.

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 chicken, about 3 pounds, cut into 4 pieces (2 legs and 2 breasts with bones)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup fruity white wine (I used macon white, a chardonnay)
1/2 cup good chicken stock
1 small onion (about 3 ounces), peeled and left whole
1 bouquet garni, made of a dozen sprigs of parsley, 2 bay leaves, 2 sprigs thyme, all tied together with string
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon soft unsalted butter mixed with 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (a beurre manié, or kneaded butter)

Melt the tablespoon of butter in a sturdy saucepan, and add the 4 pieces of chicken, skin side down.

Sprinkle the chicken with the salt and pepper, and brown over medium heat for about 10 minutes. The chicken should be lightly browned, with the skin a blond rather than a dark brown color. Remove and discard some of the rendered fat, leaving only 1 to 2 tablespoons of fat in the pan.

Add the wine, chicken stock, onion, and bouquet garni. Bring to a boil, and boil gently, covered, for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the chicken is tender. Transfer the chicken to a platter, and discard the onion and bouquet garni. Boil the liquid in the pan until it is reduced to about 3/4 cup.

Meanwhile, whisk together the tablespoon of soft butter and the flour, then pick this mixture up on the looped wires of a whisk, and whisk it into the reduced liquid in the pan until it is smooth. Bring to a boil to thicken the liquid, then add the cream, return to a boil, and boil gently for 5 minutes. While the sauce in boiling, remove the carcass bones from the breast and leg pieces of the chicken, leaving the thigh, drumstick, and wing bones in place. Arrange the chicken on a serving platter.

Taste the sauce for seasonings, and add salt and pepper, if needed. Strain the sauce through a fine sieve held over the chicken, and serve immediately.

Note: With the addition of 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh tarragon, the dish becomes poulet à l'estragon.

Copyright © 2003 by Jacques Pépin, Houghton Mifflin Company