Those of you who know me well enough know that my favorite cooking mentor is Julia Child–and it’s not because of the book or movie, Julie & Julia (though I really enjoyed both).
Around this time last year I completely absorbed myself in The French Chef videos, those early years where Julia Child enlightened the American housewife about how to cook French food. I was enamored with her from the first moment–and it was literally the first time I’d ever really watched her instructional videos. She was serious about food but could also laugh at herself. She knew how to teach, how to encourage someone to attempt difficult and multi-step dishes, even those with funny French names.
For an entire month I watched every single video where Julia taught me how to make gateaus, wrap roasts properly with twine or perfectly blanch fresh green beans. Her scientific approach to cooking didn’t sound so scientific and those black and white videos of the food she prepared really made me want to jump right into the kitchen to satisfy my rumbling tummy. I just felt bad for my husband having to endure the jingly musical intro and exit tunes from each show. Other than that, he was a great sport about my new discovery, which soon became an obsession.
Fast forward to the present and my own copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1 (which I bought just before hearing about the Julie/Julia Project) is my most prized possession in my library of cookbooks. I don’t even want to cook around it for fear of splattering it with the orange sauce from the Duck a’la Orange dish or all that heavy cream used in Gratine Dauphinoise. I may cook well, but I’m not so neat…
Mastering the Art of French Cooking isn’t the only good cookbook Julia ever wrote, although it is a culinary masterpiece, no doubt. My own bad timing in ‘finding’ Julia is that now because of the movie probably all her cookbooks will be expensive and unaffordable. This Spring I was lucky, however, to snatch away one book people probably just overlooked at a recent booksale: Julia Child & Company. It contains many recipes for whole menus of appetizers to salads to whole roasted meats. She explains how to buy certain cuts of meat and then how to prepare them for a crowd. From this book, I chose our first iftar (meal to break the fast) to be the Chicken Bouillabaisse.
I’ve made some changes to the original recipe. For example, it calls for enough ingredients to serve 6 people, but I halved it to serve 3. Some ingredients I didn’t have on hand so I chose my own substitutes. I also substituted white grape juice for the vermouth (alcohol). It also calls for serving this dish with Rouille, a type of sauce. For the sake of saving time I didn’t make this addition and the result was still absolutely delicious.
So, the recipe below is my own version, although you could find the original on pages 41-42 of Julia Child and Company by Julia Child. Published by Alfred A. Knopf. 1979. New York.
2 Tb. olive oil
1 chicken fryer, about 3.5 pounds, cut up into 8-16 pieces
1 cup white onion, thinly sliced
2-4 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
2 bay leaves, crushed
4 large tomatoes, quartered
1 tsp. ground fennel
1 tsp. french tarragon 1/2 tsp. thyme
large pinch saffron threads, optional
2 two-inch strips dried orange peel, optional
salt, to taste
ground black pepper, to taste
1 Tb. tomato paste
2 Tb. water
1 cup white grape juice or apple juice (must be 100% juice of a high quality)
- Clean and pat dry all of the chicken pieces. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven.
Add chicken and sauté over medium heat, approximately 10 minutes. Turn pieces several times during this process so as not to allow the chicken to brown too much.
During this time, prep the tomatoes and garlic.
Add the tomatoes and garilic to the onions. Saute for about 1 minute.
Add fennel, tarragon, thyme and any other herbs or seasonings you want to add.
Salt and pepper the chicken on both sides and add back to the pan, covering with all of the vegetables. Add tomato paste and water and blend well. On medium heat, uncovered, cook the chicken on each side for 5 minutes.
*At this point you could allow the dish to cool, then cover and refrigerate if you would like to finish it off later on in the day or the following day. Just bring to a simmer again, covered, before proceeding.*
An hour before you’d like to serve the dish, add the grape juice. Mix well, then cover and allow to simmer for one hour.
Mixture should be a good consistency- not too thick, but thin enough to serve in a soup bowl. Top with chopped fresh parsely and serve with a rustic Italian, French or pita bread for dipping. Or, serve with a side of white rice or couscous.
Bismillah and Buon Appetito!