with Donna Sweeny

A Blank Canvas

Poulet, pollo—no matter how you say it (or slice it), the universal popularity of chicken continues to skyrocket—and with good reason. Chicken is readily available, nutritious and economical; it blends as readily with hot chilis and pungent curry as it does with the more subtle flavors of chervil, rosemary, tarragon and basil.

For thousands of years, chicken has been a boon to cooks, and there is evidence that even the ancient Romans enjoyed chicken poached in red wine, a forerunner of today’s popular Coq au Vin. Versatili­ty is the name of the game, and perhaps the 19th century gastronome Brillat-Savarin said it best when he observed that, “Poultry is for the cook what canvas is to the painter. It is served to us boiled, roast­ed, fried, hot or cold, boned, skinned, stuffed and always with equal success.” This versatility is illustrated in the recipes which follow; the in­gredients do not differ marked­ly, but the end products do.

Belgian Chicken Waterzooi (serves 4)

Waterzooimeans “water to a boil” and, in this recipe, chicken and vegetables are brought to a boil in broth and then baked. There are many variations of this dish (it can be made with fish, too), but boiled potatoes are the usual accompaniment for this Belgian classic.

  • 1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces
  • 4 carrots, peeled, cored, and sliced
  • 3 leeks (white part only), sliced
  • 2 ribs celery, sliced
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 3 egg yolks
  • Salt and white pepper to taste
  • Preheat oven to 350°F.
  • Place the chicken pieces and vegetables into a large baking dish and add the chicken broth. Cover the; dish, bring to a boil on top of the stove. Bake the chicken in the oven until it is done, about 1 hour.
  • Take the chicken and vegetables out of the bak­ing dish, reserving the liquid.
  • Remove the skin and bones from the chicken and place the chicken pieces on a serving platter, with the vegetables around it; keep warm.
  • Strain the cooking liquid into a saucepan; whisk the cream and egg yolks together and add to the saucepan. Add salt and white pepper to taste.
  • Cook the sauce over low heat, stirring constantly until it is slightly thicken­ed, about 5 minutes. The sauce should have the consistency of a creamed soup. Pour the sauce over the chicken and vegetables, or serve it separately.

Boiled New Potatoes(serves 4)

  • 12 new potatoes, peeled*
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • Put the potatoes in a saucepan with enough water to cover; bring to a boil.
  • Cover the saucepan and boil the potatoes for about 30 minutes until they are tender.
  • Drain the potatoes; put them back on the heat for a few seconds to complete­ly dry out.
  • Remove the potatoes to a heated serving bowl and garnish with chopped parsley.

* The potatoes can also be boiled in their skins. After the potatoes are cooked, drain them, remove the skins, and serve garnished with chopped parsley.

Chicken in Mustard Cream Sauce (serves 4)

This dish is easy to make and preparation time is short— perfect for a day when you are   racing with the clock. Serve it with mushrooms and leeks, a delicious combination.

  • 4 chicken breasts, boned, skinned, and split in half
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • Put the 8 pieces of chicken between sheets of waxed paper or plastic wrap and pound them with a mallet or the flat side of a cleaver. Cut each piece of chicken into four strips.
  • Heat the butter and oil in a skillet and saute the chicken strips until they are done, about 6 minutes on each side.
  • Add the mustard and cream to the skillet and stir gently, coating the chicken.
  • Cook over very low heat, stirring constantly, until the sauce is heated through, about 5 minutes. Do not allow the sauce to boil.
  • Remove the chicken and sauce to a warm serving platter and garnish with parsley.

 Sauteed Mushrooms with Leeks (serves 4)

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
  • 1 pound button mush­rooms, quartered
  • 1 leek (white part only), finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dried dill
  • Melt the butter and oil in a skillet and add the mushroom and leek.
  • Shake the skillet until the mushrooms are coated with butter; and dill to the skillet.
  • Continue cooking over moderate heat, stirring often for 6-8 minutes, until the mushrooms are done.

Herbed Chicken (serves 4)

This is a great party dish; saute the chicken ahead of time and put it in the oven when your guests arrive—you’ll be able to enjoy your guests in­stead of spending all your time in the kitchen.

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 chicken legs with thighs
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 3/4 cup sweet sherry
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon each of dried tarragon, chives and basil
  • Salt and white pepper to taste
  • Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  • In an ovenproof skillet large enough to hold the chicken in a single layer, melt the butter. Saute the chicken pieces over me­dium heat for 15 minutes; the chicken should be lightly browned on all sides.
  • In a bowl, mix together the onion, sherry, tomato paste, cream and herbs; add to the skillet and heat through.
  • Cover the skillet and bake for about 50 minutes, basting once, until the chicken is done. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with rice or egg noodles.

Danish Chicken (serves 4)

This has long been a favorite in our household; preparation (and basting) takes a bit of time, but it’s worth it. Dilled cucumbers are a nice foil for this rich dish.

  • 3 1/2 pound chicken
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • Large bunch parsley
  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • Preheat the oven to 350°. Spread 5 tablespoons of butter inside the breast cavity   of the chicken, coat the outside with 1 tablespoon of butter.
  • Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a heavy flameproof cas­serole; add the vegetable oil and brown the chicken evenly on all sides.
  • Remove the chicken from the casserole and stuff the cavity with parsley; truss the chicken and return it to the casserole.
  • Pour the cream over the chicken and cover the casserole. Bake for one hour basting frequently with the cream.
  • After one hour insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh without touching the bone; the chicken is done if the temperature is 165°; bake longer if necessary. If you do not have a meat thermometer, pierce the chicken with a fork; it is done when the juices run clear.
  • Remove the chicken from the casserole and put it aside for carving.
  • Simmer the cream sauce on top of the stove for a few minutes and then pour it into a sauceboat and serve it with the carved chicken.

Dilled Cucumber Salad (serves 4)

  • 8 cucumbers, peeled and very thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 3/4 cup white vinegar
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 2 tablespoons dill weed
  • Place the cucumber slices in a shallow bowl in layers; sprinkle each layer with salt. Put a plate with a weight* on it over the cucumbers and re­frigerate for three hours.
  • Drain the cucumbers and put them in a serving bowl. Add all the other ingredients and toss light­ly. Serve chilled.

* Canned goods make con­venient weights.