ONE DISH that has traditionally struck fear in the hearts of new cooks is hollandaise. It sounds like a lot of work, even more skill and certanly a sauce for a special occasion.
But then a lot of things struck fear in the hearts of new cooks before Julia Child reduced sauces to simple and logical steps and discarded the magic. Hidden in the middle of her first and landmark book, "Mastering the Art of French Cooking", is a quick saute'ed chicken (inexpensive and certainly easy) flavored with herbs, preferably fresh (in celebration of the garden season). And its sauce of pan juices beaten with egg yolks is sheer simplicity, unless you recognize it as a hollandaise and that makes you nervous. That, of course, also can make you think of company.
Accompany the chicken with boiled or saute'ed potatoes and follow with a salad. The herbs can vary according to what is leafy in your garden or plentiful on your shelf, and the chicken can be followed by a salad of whatever is greening. Also on your shelf should be butter, salt and pepper; otherwise, all you need is what can get you through the express lane as fast as you can say Poulet Saute' aux Herbes de Provence. EXPRESS LANE LIST: Chicken, thyme or savory, basil (or preferred herbs), fennel (optional), garlic, dry white wine or dry white vermouth, eggs, lemon juice, potatoes. CHICKEN SAUTE'ED WITH HERBS AND GARLIC, EGG YOLK AND BUTTER SAUCE (4 to 6 servings) 1 stick butter 2 1/2 to 3 pounds frying chicken, cut up 1 teaspoon thyme or savory (substitute any preferred herb) 1 teaspoon basil (substitute any preferred herb) 1/4 teaspoon ground fennel (optional) Salt and pepper 3 cloves unpeeled garlic 2/3 cup dry white wine or 1/2 cup dry white vermouth 2 egg yolks 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1 tablespoon dry white wine or white vermouth 2 or 3 tablespoons softened butter (optional) 2 tablespoons fresh minced basil, fresh fennel tops or parsley
Heat the butter in a heavy 10-inch fireproof casserole or skillet until it is foaming. Turn the chicken pieces, which have been dried in a towel, in the butter for 7 to 8 minutes, not letting them color more than a deep yellow. Remove the white meat. Season the dark meat with herbs, salt and pepper. Add the garlic to the casserole. Cover and cook slowly for 8 to 9 minutes. Season the white meat and add it to the casserole, basting the chicken with the butter. Cook for about 15 minutes, turning and basting 2 or 3 times, until the chicken is tender and its juices run pale yellow when the meat is pricked with a fork.
When the chicken is done, remove it to a hot platter, cover, and keep warm.
Mash the garlic cloves in the casserole with a spoon, then remove the garlic peel. Add the wine and boil it down over high heat, scraping up coagulated saute' juices until the wine has been reduced by half.
With a wire whip, beat the egg yolks in a small enameled saucepan until they are thick and sticky. Beat in the lemon juice and wine. Then beat in the casserole liquid, a half-teaspoon at a time to make a thick creamy sauce like a hollandaise.
Beat the sauce over very low heat for 4 to 5 seconds to warm and thicken it. Remove from heat and beat in more butter by tablespoons if you wish. Beat in the 2 tablespoons basil, fennel tops or parsley, and correct seasoning. Spoon the sauce over the chicken, and serve with boiled or saute'ed potatoes.
Adapted from "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck