When it comes to ttrendy dining, the french like to think they are way ahead. Each time I go back to France a new crop of ingredients has become the latest chic. This summer, for instance, I found spices everywhere -- curry with shellfish, coriander with hake, cinnamon with turnip and in egg custard.
Echoing the concern in the United States, butter had become a bad word (temporarily, I am sure), its place taken by the finest virgin olive oil. Honey was being used instead of sugar, not just in desserts but also for glazing meat and vegetables like duck, carrots, onions and even radishes.
Translating these ideas into practical recipes to use at home is great fun. A rather elaborate dish of broiled oysters with a curry sauce at our table has become a soup, a lively version of the classic East Coast oyster stew. Based on milk and thickened with rice, its only tricky cooking point is to lightly cook the oysters so they do not toughen. As accompaniment, cheese straws are good, as are the traditional oyster crackers.
Chefs are constantly looking for new ways to present the breast of chicken -- the supre me. Lately they've taken to splitting it, butterfly fashion, to make a thin rectangle of meat that is spread with stuffing, then rolled and tied. To reduce work, I simply cut a pocket for the stuffing, with no need for string. Cream cheese, so delicious when freshly made, forms a light filling flavored with chives; ricotta or, best of all, fresh goat cheese, can be substituted.
For presentation, if you like to follow the current mode, the chicken breasts should be sliced diagonally and arranged overlapping on the plate to show the stuffing. However, sending six plates piping hot to the table single-handedly takes skill. Lacking help in the kitchen I'd opt for a platter presentation, leaving the breasts whole, coating them with the sauce of tomatoes and decorating with a cheerful bunch of watercress or parsley.
Thank heaven the fashion for vegetable pure'e has finally passed -- the appeal of baby food is, after all, limited. Now the vogue is for molded vegetables, sliced, coarsely grated or chopped to retain some texture. This recipe, with a small amount of egg custard holding the vegetable together, can be used for cauliflower or corn kernels, though it is most colorful with broccoli, which has finally reached the French table after years of dismissal as "that Italian stuff."
Blood oranges, which have existed for years, are another recent French discovery, now appearing as a main course garnish and for dessert. Their deep crimson (more wine than blood red) does indeed make an impact on the plate. In honey syrup with a topping of candied orange zest, blood oranges were an instant hit with our guests. In fact, like the other recipes in this menu, this salad just might outlast fashion to become a fixture. Timetable
A menu for the cook who is out all day, this dinner calls for some preparation one and two days ahead, with less than an hour in the kitchen at the last minute.
Up to 2 days ahead: Make oyster soup without adding oysters and refrigerate. Make tomato coulis and keep in refrigerator.
Up to 1 day ahead: Prepare chicken and filling and refrigerate. Bake broccoli molds and refrigerate in molds. Prepare oranges in syrup and candied zest and keep in refrigerator. Chill the wine.
1 hour before serving: Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Fill chicken breasts. Set the table.
30 minutes before serving: Brown chicken, bake in oven.
10 minutes before serving: Reheat soup on top of stove. Reheat broccoli molds in water bath. Transfer orange salad to plates or bowl and add julienne and walnuts.
Just before serving: Cook oysters, add soup and cream and taste.
After serving soup: Reheat tomato coulis. Slice chicken and arrange on plates with coulis and broccoli molds. POTAGE D'HUI TRES AU CURRY (Oyster Soup With Curry) (6 servings)
For a touch of color, add a tablespoon of chopped parsley to the soup just before serving. 2 tablespoons butter 1 onion, chopped 1 tablespoon curry powder 3 cups milk 2 tablespoons uncooked rice Salt and pepper to taste 1 quart standard oysters, with their liquor 1 to 1 1/2 cups whipping cream
In a saucepan melt butter and fry onion until soft but not brown. Stir in curry powder and fry very gently 2 minutes, stirring. Stir in milk, rice, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer until rice is very tender, about 20 minutes.
Let soup cool slightly, then pure'e in food processor or blender. Soup can be prepared 48 hours ahead and kept covered in refrigerator.
To finish, reheat soup on top of stove. In a large saucepan cook oysters in their liquor just until edges curl, about 2 minutes. Add hot soup with 1 cup whipping cream and bring almost to the boil. Taste for seasoning. Serve at once in individual bowls, topped, if you like, with a tablespoon cream whipped until it holds a soft peak.
Note: Do not boil soup as oysters will overcook and be tough. SUPRE'MES DE POULET FARCIES, COULIS DE TOMATES (Stuffed Chicken Breasts With Coulis of Tomato Sauce) (6 servings)
If in doubt about the ripeness of tomatoes, use canned Italian ones instead. FOR THE TOMATO COULIS: 2 shallots or scallions, chopped 4 tablespoons olive oil 3 pounds tomatoes, seeded and coarsely chopped 1 bouquet garni (2 sprigs thyme, 1 bay leaf and 12 parsley stalks) Salt and pepper to taste FOR THE CHICKEN: 6 boned chicken breasts 1 cup (8 ounces) fresh cream cheese or ricotta 1 egg, beaten 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives 1 clove garlic, crushed 3 to 4 tablespoons dry white wine Broccoli flan or cooked broccoli spears for serving
For tomato coulis: Saute' shallot in 1 tablespoon oil until soft but not brown. Add tomatoes, bouquet garni and salt and pepper to taste and cook over medium heat, stirring often, for 20 to 30 minutes until nearly all moisture has evaporated. Work mixture through a sieve and taste; it should be thin enough to pour easily. Tomato coulis can be made up to 2 days ahead and refrigerated, or frozen.
With a sharp knife cut a large pocket in each chicken breast. Work cheese through a sieve and beat in egg to make a soft paste. Stir in chives and garlic with plenty of pepper and taste; salt may not be needed. Chicken and filling can be prepared up to 24 hours ahead; keep them covered in refrigerator.
Fill chicken breasts with cheese mixture, pushing mixture well inside, and fasten with toothpicks. In a shallow flameproof baking dish, heat 1 tablespoon oil and brown breasts on both sides. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and spoon over wine. Seal dish tightly with foil and bake in 350-degree oven until chicken is firm and no longer transparent in center, 20 to 25 minutes. Reheat tomato coulis on top of stove and whisk in remaining 2 tablespoons oil, off the heat.
To finish, spoon coulis onto 6 individual plates, shaking plate so base is evenly covered. Slice each chicken breast in 4 to 5 diagonal slices and arrange overlapping on plates so filling is visible. Add broccoli flan or cooked broccoli spears and serve at once.
Note: Do not overcook coulis when warming or oil will separate. FLAN DE BROCOLI (Hot Broccoli Mold) (6 servings)
This recipe is excellent as an appetizer, served with a tomato or mushroom sauce. 5 cups ( 1/2 pound) broccoli flowerets without stem Butter for ramekins 4 eggs 1 cup whipping cream Salt and pepper to taste Pinch of grated nutmeg
Cook broccoli in a large pan of boiling salted water until tender but still firm, 4 to 5 minutes. Drain, refresh with cold water and drain thoroughly. Coarsely chop the broccoli with a few strokes of the knife. Butter 6 ramekins or custard cups ( 1/2 cup capacity each).
In a bowl beat eggs until mixed and stir in cream with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Taste for seasoning and stir in broccoli. Spoon mixture into prepared ramekins or cups, set them in a water bath and bring to a boil on top of stove. Bake in a 350-degree oven until a skewer inserted in center of molds comes out clean, 15 to 20 minutes.
Molds can be cooked up to 24 hours ahead and refrigerated. Reheat them in a water bath on top of stove.
Note: Do not overcook or mold will be watery. To unmold, let cool slightly then run a knife around edge and turn mold upside down. SALADE D'ORANGES SANGUINES AU MIEL (Salad of Blood Oranges With Honey) (6 servings)
Equally good as dessert or as an accompaniment to roast duck, this salad can be made with navel as well as blood oranges. 14 blood oranges or 7 large navel oranges 1/2 cup honey 1/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts for garnish
With a vegetable peeler, thinly pare zest from 6 blood oranges or 3 navel oranges. Cut zest into the thinnest possible julienne strips with a sharp knife. Blanch julienne by boiling in water 2 minutes and draining. To candy them, in a small pan cook julienne with 2 tablespoons honey over low heat, stirring occasionally, until all moisture has evaporated and zests are transparent, 10 to 15 minutes.
For syrup, squeeze juice from 2 blood oranges or 1 navel orange. Put in a small pan with remaining honey and heat, stirring until dissolved.
Pare rind and pith from all remaining oranges. Cut them in 3/8-inch slices, reshape them and fasten with toothpicks. Spoon syrup over oranges and chill. Oranges and candied zest can be prepared 24 hours ahead and kept covered in refrigerator.
To serve, set oranges on individual plates and spoon over juice, or serve in a large bowl at the table. Sprinkle candied zest and chopped walnuts on top just before serving.