In Normandy, the butcher tosses in a recipe

April 22, 2001|By Rob Kasper

When the butcher in the French village of Louviers sells you a chicken, he takes the trouble to remove the nearly invisible pinfeathers. Then he sears the bird's feet with a propane torch, a step, he explains, that tenderizes these often-overlooked parts of the bird. Then the butcher, or his wife, gives you a chicken recipe. So says Susan Herrmann Loomis in her "On Rue Tatin," (Broadway Books), an engaging new book I read recently.

Loomis includes the recipe for braised chicken in white wine and mustard that came from her butcher, Monsieur Richard. It was his favorite Sunday supper and now, Loomis writes, it has become one of hers.

This is one of the tales she tells of a place where the lettuce sold in the market is "gorgeous," and where the fish merchant sells fresh scallops and his wife sells spoonfuls of her homemade cooked scallop creation, a dish "drowned in cream and garnished with golden bread crumbs."

Yet life in the Normandy town was not all fresh goat cheese and cream of turnip soup for Loomis, who moved to France from the United States to set up a cooking school.

When she and her husband began turning a dilapidated convent into their home, they encountered customs as old-fashioned and perplexing as the building's ancient plumbing system. In the years that the property had been neglected, the townsfolk had become accustomed to using the grounds to park their bicycles, store flowers and take their ease. They did not readily abandon these habits. But over time, her courage and resourcefulness grew as she alternately fumed at the locals for ignoring her pleas or bribed them with baked goods. Eventually, habits were modified, and Loomis and her family began to feel like accepted members of the community.

"On Rue Tatin" reminded me of another tale of life in a French village, Peter Mayle's "A Year in Provence." Both books are full of good stories; many made my mouth water.

Fortunately, Loomis includes recipes in her book, so we can attempt to replicate a Sunday night dinner in France, sans chicken feet.

Braised Chicken in White Wine and Mustard

Serves 4

1 cup perfumed white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc

3 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 chicken, 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 pounds with giblets, cut into serving pieces

2 medium onions cut in paper-thin slices

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

flat-leaf parsley for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 475 degrees.

In a small bowl, whisk together the wine and mustard. Reserve.

Heat the olive oil in large, flameproof baking pan or ovenproof skillet over medium heat and brown the chicken on all sides, 6 to 8 minutes.

Remove each piece of chicken as it browns. Add the onions to the pan, stir and cook until they are tender and turning slightly golden brown at the edges, 4 to 5 minutes.

Return the chicken to the pan along with the giblets and season the chicken and the onions with salt and pepper.

Pour the wine mixture over the chicken and place the pan in the center of the oven. Bake until the chicken is golden brown on the top, about 25 minutes, turn each piece, then continue baking until the chicken is baked through, an additional 20 to 25 minutes.

Transfer the chicken to a serving platter. Place the cooking pan over a low heat, and using a wooden spatula, stir the juices in the pan, scraping up any browned bits that have stuck to the bottom. Taste the sauce for seasoning, then pour it evenly over the chicken. Garnish with parsley.

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