Back in December, when Adam and I were in Toulouse, we visited this wonderful bookstore called The Bookshop, where the shelves overflow with English titles. Before leaving the U.S., we got some really good advice from Adam’s friend, Tom Kern, whose appetite for reading gives Adam a run for his money. He suggested that instead of packing a heavy suitcase full of books, we should seek out English speaking bookstores abroad, making our reading lists more spontaneous and more memorable.
While Adam was immersed in the French novel section, I was looking for shiny books with pictures when a cookbook happened to catch my eye – a guide to casual French recipes made from ingredients widely available in the United States. Check out the website here.
Bonne Femme is French for “good wife.” But in French cuisine, the expression refers to a style of cooking. It is the fresh, honest, and simple cuisine served every day in French homes.
Everyday bonne femme cooking favors frugality over splurges – the good wife knows how to make a beautiful meal from less-expensive cuts of meat; ease of preparation trumps fussy techniques any day. The good wife’s cooking also marches to the beat of the seasons – whatever looks at its freshest, in-season best is likely to end up on her table. Intuition and improvisation are key – French home cooks know how to substitute an ingredient they have on hand for something they don’t, and how to make a pan sauce for just about anything.
Before coming to France I, of course, fantasized about living in my own little version of Julie & Julia (aaaand Molly!) – until I reminded myself that as much as I love to cook, I have no desire to roast an entire duck and I flatly refuse to make anything that requires beating egg whites until they form “peaks” – which I’m pretty sure is a cruel joke because they never do.
Plus, the house we’re living in has a dorm-sized fridge and no oven, so much like the sailboat that preceded the house, we get creative with minimal ingredients and only pots and pans that will fit on a two burner stove top.
Which brings me to a recipe from The Bonne Femme Cookbook that I’ve been making a lot lately: chicken sauté with a pan sauce. This recipe is amazingly versatile and always satisfying, especially paired with a simple salad. You will find yourself playing around with it a lot – just keep in mind the basic steps below.
1. Start with chicken breasts, pounded to 1/4 inch thickness. (I’ve always been finicky about cooking chicken on a stove top because I could never seem to master that delicate point between pink and dry. For a foolproof solution, first pound the chicken. It will cook faster and remain moist and tender – worth every second of extra effort.)
2. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper, then dredge in flour and shake off the excess. (The flour is optional, but give it a try and see what you think. I prefer the subtle crust to plain chicken and find that the process is much more simple than using eggs and breadcrumbs.)
3. Heat 2 Tbs of olive oil in a large pan over med-high. Add the chicken and cook, turning once, until no longer pink inside, 6-8 minutes (reduce heat if meat browns too quickly.) Transfer the chicken to a platter and cover with foil to keep warm.
1. Add 1 Tbs of butter to pan; when melted; add garlic and/or shallots – saute briefly until translucence.
2. Add 3/4 cup of dry, white wine (accompanied by 3/4 cup of chicken broth or 3 tbs of fresh lemon juice – whatever tickles your fancy), stirring to loosen browned bits from the bottom of the pan.
3. Boil until the liquid is reduced by half – about 2-3 mins. Reduce heat to low and whisk in 2 Tbs of butter, one at a time, to thicken sauce.
4. Arrange chicken on plates, spoon on sauce and garnish with fresh parsley or chives.
For a delicious variation, experiment with sherry instead of white wine. Also considering adding mushrooms, brussels sprouts, spinach, bacon, pancetta, etc. to any pan sauce by sautéing these ingredients before deglazing the pan with wine. You’ll notice that this recipe, like most French cooking, does not shy away from using butter. If you were raised in CA like I was and liberal amounts of butter make you squeamish, just think of it as extra-virgin olive oil that thickens your sauces and elevates your mood.