Fowl the '80s forgot is party bird of the '90s


October 11, 1992|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Staff Writer

Chicken is for the cook what canvas is for the painter.

--Brillat-Savarin, 18th century French gastronome

Picture the dinner party of the '80s: A canvas by Gustav Klimt -- rich, lush and exotic, with surreal, even disturbing, combinations.

Now picture an evening meal for friends in the '90s: A scene by Edward Hopper -- all clear, plain light with straight angles, and simple fare.

Dump the duck ravioli and bag the champagne zabaglione. Scratch off Donald Trump and concoct a toast to Harry Truman. It's not that hard times are here again, but hosts and hostesses all across the economic spectrum are thinking less of money and more of responsibility, less of indulgence and more of health, less of style and more of comfort, less of fads and more of `D familiar tastes.

In short, it's time for chicken.

But not just any chicken. Company chicken. Chicken with oomph. International chicken. Faye Levy's chicken.

Ms. Levy, a French-trained chef and author of 10 cookbooks who has just published the "Faye Levy's International Chicken Cookbook" (Warner Books, $29.95), with more than 300 recipes for chicken, says chicken is a natural for entertaining.

"First of all, you can prepare it by a lot of different cooking techniques," she noted in a recent interview. Some are simple techniques that home cooks may not think of, but which offer special advantages when cooking for guests.

"I really like braising," she said, because the technique produces such an intense chicken flavor. "You can do it completely ahead -- for entertaining, that's really useful," she said.

As she explains in the book, "For braising, the chicken is first browned in a little bit of oil or butter, so it gains an appealing color. Browning also melts some of the fat under the skin, which can then be poured off, resulting in a leaner dish."

While health-conscious Americans are leaping on the chicken bandwagon with enthusiasm (consumption is expected to reach pounds per person in 1992, up from 50.5 pounds 10 years ago, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Broiler Council), we are not the first and may quite possibly be the last culture to do so.

The "international" in the title of Ms. Levy's book reflects chicken's prominent place in many of the world's cuisines. "It seems that people everywhere have developed delicious chicken recipes," Ms. Levy said. "Whenever I meet someone who's from an exotic country, I try to find out how they cook chicken. I'm lucky to have relatives from all over the world, and I've learned a lot from them."

Ms. Levy, who studied and worked at La Varenne in Paris and lived in Israel for many years, now lives in Los Angeles. All are places where cultures, and their cuisines, meet and mingle, she said. She's discovered that the main difference in chicken dishes around the world is not in techniques, which tend to be the same -- grilled, roasted, sauteed, braised or poached -- but in the "flavor notes," or groups of seasonings that are central to a particular region.

For instance, she said, there is the "holy trio" from the Mediterranean: olive oil, garlic and tomato. Or the Mexican style: tomato, cilantro and chilis. In Poland, onions and dill are universal seasonings; in Hungary, sauteed tomatoes, onion and bell pepper are.

"My mother-in-law, who's from Yemen, cooks everything, including chicken, with cumin, turmeric and black pepper," Ms. Levy said. "If you make a mix of those spices and rub them on the chicken before roasting, it smells wonderful and comes out a wonderful golden color.

"You can use these seasoning styles with all sorts of chicken dishes," she said. "Even salads."

If it all sounds very easy, she means it to. "So many delicious dishes can be made without being complicated," she said. "Those dishes can be left to chefs and restaurants. And just because something is complicated doesn't mean it tastes better."

She worked on the book for about two years -- not counting the 20 or so years before that when she was studying cooking techniques and gathering chicken recipes for her own collection. "I tried to show all the major cooking techniques, and to show dishes from all the major cuisines -- and all the others I could find out about," she said.

"People ask me, 'Didn't you ever get sick of chicken?' But I didn't -- the dishes are all so different," she said, and she laughs. "Even my husband didn't get tired of it."


Ms. Levy's book includes a section on seasonings around the world and notes on pairing poultry with wine. There are also tips on buying, storing and handling poultry, and chapters on basic recipes and cooking techniques.

Here are three recipes from the book that would make entertaining an easy and elegant proposition -- not to mention delicious.

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