Cozy French Bistro Chicken with Creamy Mustard Sauce

January 27, 2016

Life gets busy, and before you know it you haven't seen your friends for ages or done something "just for you." When a good friend and I were trying unsuccessfully to coordinate our hectic schedules she said, "Well, I am teaching a French cooking class tonight if you want come." So I packed it up and headed out. While I wouldn't be getting one-on-one time with her per se, I was about to glean some great cooking tips and recipes from an astute culinary instructor and chef - and I couldn't wait.

The class was located at Columbia City's PCC Natural Markets, a member-owned cooperative market located here in Seattle that also offers a range of cooking and baking classes, including fun classes for kids. My friend Erin (also a cookbook author) teaches a number of courses there and, since I recently returned from Paris, I was eager to take her "Cozy French Bistro" class. I walked away with a veritable apron full of useful cooking tricks and hacks, like the NoCry glove she uses with her mandoline (ever shave off the tip of your finger or knuckle with one of those? You'll want these gloves then); who the best knife sharpener is in Seattle (sorry to those of you non-locals); why you should cook with clarified butter, also known as ghee (because it has a higher smoke point than non-clarified butter, yet you still get that nice buttery flavor); or how to know when to turn your chicken or fish over in the pan without the skin sticking (leave it, the skin will naturally shrink and pull together, thus naturally pulling away from the pan). You just never know what you'll end up learning from your friends!

The following chicken recipe was the main course Erin taught and served, along with a light and fluffy rice pilaf (TIP: Sauté the rice first in butter until translucent. This will prevent the rice from absorbing too much liquid, thus allowing the grains to cook up light and fluffy). This dish is so easy to make and so full of flavor! The bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (do not skimp here - you want the flavor from the bones and the skin!) are first massaged with a mixture of sweet paprika and Dijon mustard, then sautéed in clarified butter (ghee) and fresh thyme. A velvety sauce is then made by scraping up the delicious browned bits on the bottom of the pan with the help of some white wine, followed by more mustard (here you'll want to add some whole grain mustard for texture), and finally heavy cream. It is a French dish after all.

Chicken with Creamy Mustard Sauce (Poulet à la Moutarde)
Adapted from David Leibovitz’s My Paris Kitchen
Serves 4-6

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard, divided
3/4 teaspoon Hungarian sweet paprika or Spanish pimentón
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter), divided
8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
1 small onion, finely diced
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1 cup white wine
1 tablespoon whole grain Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons heavy cream
Chopped flat-leaf parsley or chives, for garnish

Mix 1/2 cup Dijon mustard in a bowl with the paprika, a few generous grinds of the peppermill, and the salt. Toss the chicken pieces in the mustard mixture, lifting the chicken skin and rubbing some of the mustard mixture beneath. Set aside.

Heat a wide skillet with a lid or a Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon ghee. When the ghee has melted, add the onions to the skillet and cook for about 5 minutes, until soft and translucent. Stir in the thyme an let cook for another few minutes, then transfer the cooked onions to a small bowl using a slotted spoon.

Add the remaining ghee to the skillet, if necessary, and add the chicken pieces to the skillet in a single layer over medium-high heat (if the pieces don’t all fit, cook them in two batches). Brown well on both sides. Place the chicken pieces on the onions. Add the wine to the hot skillet, scraping the darkened bits off the bottom with a wooden spoon.

Return the chicken to the skillet along with the onions. Cover and cook the chicken over low to medium heat, turning the pieces in the sauce a few times, until the chicken is cooked through, about 15-25 minutes. Check for doneness by sticking a knife into the meat next to the thigh bone; if the meat is red, continue cooking for a few more minutes. Note: poultry is cooked when it reaches 165° F.

Remove the skillet from the heat. Transfer chicken to a platter and stir the remaining 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard, plus the 1 tablespoon of whole grain mustard, and the heavy cream into the pan drippings. Pour the sauce over the chicken, sprinkle chopped parsley over the top and serve. Excellent served with rice.

Herby Rice Pilaf
Serves 6-8

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

4 tablespoons butter
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cups long-grain rice, such as jasmine
3 cups chicken stock
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 small bay leaf
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley, dill or chives, to garnish

In a large, heavy saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until just softened. Add the rice and cook, stirring frequently, for 1 to 2 minutes, until the rice becomes translucent but does not brown.

Add the stock, dried thyme, bay leaf, salt and pepper; bring to a boil. Cover and reduce the heat to very low and cook for 20 minutes.

Serve hot, garnished with fresh herbs.