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Rich chicken “basquaise”, the French recipe. One French Word: basquaise


One French Word: basquaise, a French recipe : poulet basquaise

Poulet basquaise

Basquaise is a feminine adjective, pronounced bass-kezz and means “from the Pays Basque”.

In fact, it should be “à la basquaise“: chicken in the manner in which it is cooked in the Pays Basque. Like “à la bordelaise” is a dish as it is cooked in and around Bordeaux.

The Pays Basque is situated in the south western corner of France (Biarritz, Bayonne, St Jean de Luz) but also the north western corner of Spain. The Basque people are a cultural and linguistic entity, who have for a long time demanded their autonomy, with some force, from both Spain and France. But I won’t go into politics, it is not the vocation of this blog, and I’m hardly qualified.

(A la) basquaise” denotes a dish cooked with green bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic and piment d’Espelette.  Green and red are traditional Basque colours. Basquaise does NOT include aubergine/eggplant or courgette/zucchini. That would be ratatouille,

 something quite different.

Espelette is a village in the Pays Basque where this particular hot pepper is grown. In the autumn, you can see strings of peppers drying on south facing house fronts, before being ground into coarse, fragrant powder for sale. It is the only pepper which has an “appellation d’origine contrôlée” (AOC),  which means that any pepper sold as “Espelette” must have been produced there, and only there.  It is extremely fashionable at the moment, and rightly so, it is quite delicious and adds a distinctive flavour to any dish.  It is easily found anywhere in France. Abroad I don’t know… if you can’t find it, use a pepper which is slightly hot, but very flavoursome. Not simple cayenne, something Mexican maybe?

When I was a very small child, I spent some time with my family on the outskirts of St Jean de Luz, a Basque fishing village, because my Father’s work had taken him there. I remember little, but have retained a love of Basque crockery and table linen, some of which has been handed down to me by my Mother, and which dates back to that time. It is the deep red and navy pattern you see so often in my photos. I have collected it over the years, and have far more than I really need! The only original pieces are four raviers (hors d’oeuvre dishes, often oval) and a table cloth and napkins. 

This dish was always a favourite with guests eating at my table d’hôte. It is not difficult to make, but requires fresh, high grade ingredients. Good quality chicken, ripe tomatoes and if possible “old variety” (I used tomates cornues,  horned tomatoes, large, long pointed ones).

Main ingredients

Main ingredients

Ingredients for 2 people with good appetites, or 4 with smaller appetites:

  • 2 chicken legs and thighs, separated at the joint, or 4 thigh pieces
  • One very large onion, roughly chopped
  • 500gr tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped
  • One large green bell pepper, cored and sliced into rings (or two if you are fond of bell pepper)
  • 2 cloves of garlic, smashed with a cleaver
  • 2tbs olive oil
  • 1 level tsp piment d’Espelette
  • salt, pepper
  • 1/4 bottle of dry white wine

Rice to accompany

Basque colours - red and green

Basque colours – red and green

Preparation:

  • Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan and fry the chicken pieces so that they are golden all over
  • Remove the chicken from the pan, and fry the onion, browning it slightly
  • Replace the chicken in the pan, together with the tomato, garlic, bell pepper, a tsp sea salt, a few grinds of black pepper and a tsp of piment d’Espelette. Do not stir.
  • Add the white wine, and as soon as it looks like boiling, turn down to a simmer.
  • After 10 minutes, put water on to boil for the rice, or start getting your rice cooker ready.
  • After 20 minutes, stir gently to mix the ingredients top to bottom to cook evenly. Put the rice on.
  • Cook for a further 20 minutes. Your rice should be ready. Make a bed of rice, and serve the chicken and the sauce on top of it.

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The white wine makes a far finer sauce than chicken stock, water, or chicken cubes. But you cannot really identify the fact that it is white wine. So if you wish to drink red with the dish, you can do so perfectly well. Or the remainder of the bottle which you opened to cook with.

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Bon appétit!

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Guest appearance: Mexico Pete’s Poulet au cidre, Vallée d’Auge (chicken in cream and cider)


When I first explored Normandy many years ago I took the Nationale 13 instead of the motorway from Paris. It was a more picturesque route and I often left it to visit small towns and historic sites along the river Seine.

I passed through the charming town of Cormeilles when I left the N13. I didn’t stop there at that time, saving it for my return maybe, but continued towards Pont l’Eveque and Deauville as I wished to reach the coast.  A few kilometers after Cormeilles, I reached a lovely hamlet called Bonneville-la-Louvet, boasting a 13th century church and a sign for a restaurant. Having been warned of the inflated prices of seaside restaurants, I made a frugal decision to stop and dine here.

The village was beautiful, black and white timber-frame houses, a flower-clad bridge over the clear, fast-flowing river and a bent but elegant church built of creamy local stone. It was like stepping back in time.

I entered the small, busy restaurant and was immediately assailed by wonderful cooking aromas hanging in the heavy, slightly humid atmosphere. The owner, Henri, held court in impressive fashion from behind the bar counter, his girth making it impossible for a belt to retain his trousers in place so a large set of braces helped to defy the pull of gravity.

I was seated with astonishing rapidity and was told that only the “Plat du jour” was left.

“Fine, what is it?” I asked.

“Poulet au Cidre, my own recipe and the best you will find anywhere”.

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So this was my introduction to that particular and excellent regional dish. Henri became a friend, along with his wife Marcelle and I actually bought a piece of land in the town and built a house there. This is his recipe. The restaurant has changed hands, Henri has gone and like so much of French culinary heritage that is disappearing, it is now a pizzeria.

Enjoy, and raise a glass to Henri.

The Recipe (for four people)

 

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  • 4 chicken pieces (thighs, drumsticks, breasts)
  • 1 large onion or 3 shallots, finely sliced
  • 300ml dry cider
  • 2 tbs crème fraîche
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 100gr butter
  • 2 pinches tarragon
  • 1/2 level tsp fresh grated nutmeg
  • 1 apple (Granny Smith), peeled and cubed
  • 1 heaped tsp flour
  • 100ml good chicken stock

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Preparation:

  • Trim the fat and excess skin on the chicken pieces.
  • Melt the butter in a pan and fry the chicken for 4 minutes each side until golden, remove and set aside.
  • Add the finely-sliced onions to the pan and sauté for 4 minutes at medium heat until slightly golden.
  • Sprinkle in the flour, nutmeg and pepper and mix with the onion and juices and then add chicken stock.
  • Put the chicken pieces back in the pan, add the cider and cubed apple, bring nearly to the boil and reduce to a simmer.
  • Cook for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally and add the chopped tarragon.
  • Stir in the crème fraîche just before serving. Salt to taste.

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I sprinkle a little chopped tarragon on the chicken when plated for colour and freshness.

I like to serve this dish simply with boiled new potatoes and a little spring cabbage, or if I am adding an British twist to this for my French friends, I make suet dumplings. A real Entente Cordiale!

Andrew David, alias Mexico Pete, has been a fellow participant (with many other writers) in Free Range Humans Writers’ Month organized by Marianne Cantwell. He describes himself as a “World Person”. He travels a lot, lives in different countries, and has a profound love of food. In every country he has visited, he has discovered wonderful, often simple recipes, based on excellent produce.  Andrew intends to start his own blog to showcase some of these as well as recipes of his own invention. When he does, One French Word will invite him back, so watch this space!

One French word: poulet, a French recipe : croquettes de poulet maison


Poulet=young chicken, masculine noun (un poulet, le poulet, les poulets), pronounced poo-lay

There are a multitude of words in French for different types of chicken. Une poule is a hen. Usually an old laying hen, best boiled and served as poule au pot, or poule au riz.  Un coq is a cockerel. Un poussin is a chick. Un chapon is a capon. Une poularde is a young female bird that has been fattened for the table.

Then you have the different colours: white ones, yellow ones. Grain fed, free range, organic, etc. I personally won’t eat battery produced chickens, but they don’t necessarily have to be organic.

Poulet is also a slang word for the police (la police) = cop. Another French slang word for cop is flic.

A talent much appreciated in a cook is the art of using up leftovers (l’art d’accommoder les restes). It has been the subject of a book in its own right. My recipe for today uses leftover roast chicken.

Croquettes de poulet maison (home made chicken nuggets – use fresh chicken if you do not have leftovers)

Croquettes de poulet

For 4 people you will need:

  • The equivalent in leftover chicken meat of two breasts, although the dark meat is more moist
  • One quantity of sauce béchamel (see recipe below)
  • One quantity of batter (pâte à frire) (see recipe below)
  • a clove of garlic
  • one or two shallots
  • some parsley
  • a handful of pine nuts (pignons de pin) (optional, but they do add interest and crunch)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • flour to roll the croquettes in
  • oil for frying

 

Preparation:

  1. Chop the garlic and the shallot and fry in a little oil until transparent.
  2. Take the meat off the carcass, chop into chunks, pop in the food processor with the cooked garlic and shallot, parsley and a spoonful of the jellied juice left under your roast chicken in the dish. Add salt and pepper at this stage. Do not grind too finely, you do not want a paste, you need texture.
  3. Add the pine nuts after the grinding process, you want them whole.
  4. Make a quantity of sauce béchamel (now this is just white sauce, but that sounds like something we got at boarding school, béchamel sounds classier):
  5. Warm 1/8 litre milk in a saucepan or microwave. In another, non stick saucepan, put 2tbs flour and 1tbs butter. Heat to melt the butter and stir vigorously into the flour, using a wooden spoon. Leave the mixture obtained to cook for a minute. Add the milk gradually, beating with the wooden spoon. When you have used up all the milk, add a little salt and freshly ground pepper. Change to a whisk that won’t damage your non-stick pan and beat to a very smooth creamy paste with no lumps. It should be thick. If it is too thick, add a little milk. Let it bubble for a minute and remove from the heat. This mixture is going to bind your chopped chicken.
  6. In a bowl, mix this sauce with the mixture from the food processor. NOTE: if you don’t want to do this last stage (making béchamel), you can bind the mixture with a small egg yolk. It will be less creamy but perfectly acceptable.
  7. Make a quantity of batter: 3 tbs flour –  1 tbs cornflour – salt – pepper – beer (just any old can of beer, but fresh and frothy). Add the salt and pepper to the flour and cornflour, add the beer gradually, stirring until you arrive at the consistency you require (fairly thick). Do not stir too vigorously or you will defeat the object of the beer – that is the bubbles. It is the gas that makes your batter light and crispy. Dip a spoon into the mixture and let the batter drip off. It should coat thoroughly. If it drips off too quickly, add a little more flour. You can flavour this batter with herbs, spices, curry or turmeric for instance if you wish. Leave to stand for about 10 minutes. Any left over batter can be stored, covered,  in the fridge and used the next day. NOTE: you can also miss out this stage, and just roll your balls of chicken in seasoned flour. This makes crunchy morsels, but not as crispy and delicious as the battered ones. But we’re maybe getting a bit lazy here? If you do, just roll in flour, fry the nuggets in a frying pan, not a deep fryer.
  8. Form walnut-sized lumps of chicken mixture into little balls, rolling them between wet palms (they don’t stick that way), and then in flour. Place on a plate as you do them.
  9. Heat oil in a deep fryer or a saucepan. Test that the oil is good and hot.
  10. Dunk the balls into the batter, allow excess to drip off, and fry half a dozen at a time for a couple of minutes in all. Turn them over at half time.
  11. Remove with a slotted spoon to a serving dish covered with a layer of kitchen paper and keep warm in the oven while you cook the whole batch. They will stay crispy with this batter.

NOTE that if you are using raw chicken, you must first cook the mixture before rolling into balls. Always wash your hands thoroughly after touching raw chicken.

Serve with a green salad.  (Or chips if you are not trying to lose weight.) Much nicer than industrial type nuggets!

Bon appétit.

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