Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Collinsport Cooking: Devil's Chicken and the Two Julias

Good morning, sports fans! I'm Future Mrs. Cousin Barnabas, and I'm here to talk about French cooking!

<sounds of crickets>

Yeah, that's the weird thing, isn't it? There's no food in Dark Shadows! (Unless you count the unrealistic number of hookers down at the Blue Whale who keep getting turned into vampire chow. How many prostitutes can a small Maine fishing town possibly support?) I know there's no food in Dark Shadows because when I asked Cousin Barnabas what I should cook to guest blog Julia Child's 100thbirthday he couldn't think of anything anybody ever ate in that dank old house. He finally saw the dining room rewatching Episode 5, but they must have repurposed it to make other sets after that because these people spent the next thousand episodes living off dry ice and the occasional fly.

So, I flipped through my copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and decided that Poulets Grilles a la Diable sounded enough like the devil's chicken for my purposes, and for sides we'll go full Julia and have Champignons Sautes au Berre and Haricots Verts a la Crème, which are Frenchy ways of saying “let's take some perfectly good vegetables and dump butter and cream on them until somebody from the American Heart Association comes and kicks us in the face.” I also went by the local wine store and asked the oldest guy there for some authentic '60's housewife wine, aka, WWDDD, AFCC? (What Would Don Draper Drink, Aside From Canadian Club?) and he gave me something that “drinks just like Chablis” and suggested that, for accuracy's sake, I also pick up a bottle of sherry and drink it in silly little glasses with my lady friends. Coincidentally, I've been to the TioPepe winery (sherrery?) in Spain, where for a tasting they give each four-top table five almost full sized bottles of sherry. Cousin Barnabas' Future Mother-in-Law left that place with her arms around a woman she had met two hours beforehand on the tour bus, so I guess the wine store guy knows his stuff.

Give me a few glasses of this period-accurate dry sherry and I'm sure I could come up with a good post-feminist analysis of what it all means that only the vampires and monsters ever get to eat on this show, but I don't think I'd be asked back if I did that (and plus, it probably only means that the prop department couldn't afford plates.) Honestly, I think it's very interesting that this is a show where the primary movers are all female, but nobody cooks or eats or, er, takes anything inside their bodies that's nourishing in the generally accepted non-type-O sense. (It's about sex, isn't it? I bet it's about sex.) But let's talk about culture, escapism and aspiration, instead.

Volume 1 of Mastering the Art of French Cooking came out in 1961, just before the revised version of The Joy of Cooking that everybody's mom has. They were both amazingly popular best-sellers, both very well rounded cookbooks with excellent diagrams and sufficiently detailed directions that any cook from the neophyte to the expert could use them and get good results. The thing is, your mom probably used The Joy of Cooking (or that Better Homes and Gardens thing) on a weekly basis, but she only pulled out Mastering the Art of French Cooking on special occasions, if at all. It's the cookbook version of A Brief History of Time – often bought, seldom read. The other cookbooks of the day are evidence that the '60's were the world's most boring MMORPG – craft two different condensed soups with a can of chicken to make Wednesday Night, ready or not! Julia Child with her co-writers was doing her best to tell the Betty Drapers of the world that you don't have to eat Tuna Surprise if you don't want to – you can totally learn to make your own French bread, even if it takes 12 freaking pages for her to show you how! (No, really. It's 12 pages. That's in Volume 2.)

In other words, Mastering the Art of French Cooking is aspirational, like real estate photographs and... oh yeah, soap operas! Americans don't want to watch shows about people like themselves doing the sorts of things they do (drinkin' sherry, writin' blog posts with big slobbery dog on lap) – they want to see genteely land-poor people have extremely slow-moving conversations with vampires! Okay, most soaps don't have the vampire part, but they do have rich or aristocratic people doing exciting, emotionally thrilling things (like, and here the analogy breaks down, boning a duck, stuffing it full of weird meatloaf stuff, and then sewing it back up again. Or, hey, going back into time and boning your own grandmother. Whatevs, I'm not here to judge you.)

And then you've got Julia's TV show, The French Chef, which started airing in 1963. Let's say it had a certain Dark Shadows aesthetic. By which I mean that they didn't have any money for retakes, so if Julia set something on fire it was damned well going to stay on fire and let's hope she can put it out and rescue the dish. That glass of wine she drinks from to look more French? In the first few seasons they couldn't even afford wine, so that's water with Kitchen Bouquet in it. And she smiles when she drinks it. Can you even imagine somebody like her getting on TV these days? A great clumsy woman over six feet tall who talks like the nanny on Duckula? But there she was drinking gravy mix and trying to show America that seriously, y'all, you really can cook this shit! Put down the condensed soup and walk away! Alice Waters, Michael Pollan, all our modern food pioneers – they all owe everything to daffy old Julia, who took those gloomy fuckers at Collinwood from not-eating condensed soup Chicken Ohgodnotagain to not-eating stuff that tastes good and gives you a heart attack from the fat instead of the salt. (Is it possible we can thank her for the increasingly exuberant weirdness in Dark Shadows as the show goes forward?) We all owe her!

So let's get cooking! First off, I have a confession to make. There's a really long and stupid story about why I'm using boneless skinless chicken breasts rather than bone-in skin-ugh-full chicken pieces, but it's really boring and you don't care. Suffice it to say that I wanted bone-in pieces but I couldn't get them at the nice butcher shop and I didn't want to go anywhere else. (I didn't want skin, though – what kind of pervert likes chicken skin? Sorry, Julia. You know I love you, but that stuff is naaaasty.)

(But Future Mrs. Cousin Barnabas, you say, wouldn't a real baller just buy a whole chicken and cut it up? Yeah, asshole, but FMCB is tired. She spent a perfectly good day off folding paper wedding flowers because some dumb broad a few months ago decided that paper flowers were just the cutest idea. The fact that that dumb broad is me does not make me any less inclined to take one of those handy Collinwood staircases into the past to punch her in the face.)

So anyway, here's all the crap you need to make your devilish chicken, which I have never made before so this should be a barrel of laughs. Your first step is, you forgot to stale up your bread for bread crumbs so you hurriedly throw some slices in the oven for a few minutes and food process them a bit and you know they're really too wet but you just figure it will be okay, and this is in no way foreshadowing.

Yes, weird-ass butcher store that doesn't sell meat or anything wraps its chicken up like the world's grossest bon-bons. (Also hiding the fact that they're double breasts, which is fine except that strip of fat in the middle wigs me out. We all have our issues.) So anyway, you take your broiler pan and take off the top part and you dry your chicken bits and put them in there – but not until you've brushed some of that butter and oil mixture all over them bad boys, because this is Julia Child up in the house and America's dairy farmers are giving her some scratch under the table. (Why butter and oil? Julia doesn't tell you but I will – butter has a low smoke point, so you add the oil to keep everything from burning at too low a temp.) Throw that under the broiler for ten minutes a side, basting at the 5 minute mark. (Basting with what? The recipe doesn't tell you, so I figured, hell, more butter.)

My broiler scares the living crap out of me, by the way. There is fire all over my oven and it is on purpose!

When you've got both sides brown, you take the meat out of the oven, mix up your mustard, herbs, and minced shallots, and throw some of that fat from the chicken up in there and whisk it like a mayonnaise. (Yes, there really is extra fat in here thrown back in the recipe.) I was surprised that even just breasts did make some fat to do this with, by the way. Then you coat the breasts with the mustard mixture and bread crumb 'em up.

Oh wait. The bread crumbs don't want to stick. D'oh!

Anyway, you smash them on there like a four year old and throw the whole ugly shebang back into the oven under the broiler to do ten minutes a side again, basting with the chicken fat. Unless, for example, visibility in your kitchen suddenly decreases in a dramatic sort of way.

Oh, well. They're done, by the way (check with your thermometer – of course breasts won't take as long, and of course weirdly heaped up not-really-breadcrumbs are going to burn. Of course.)

So let's forget that ever happened and make some green beans in milk!


Julia's got some confusing info on the green bean issue – she has instructions for fresh beans, of course, but then she has a page on perking up frozen ones. You can tell from the way it's written that frozen green beans used to taste like the inside of a polar bear's ass or something, and she wants you to cook them a bit in broth and (of course) butter before proceeding. The fresh bean instructions have you blanch them in a big pot of water and then drain and commence with the cream and butter. I sort of went halfway and cooked for a bit with broth and then threw in all the cow products and simmered it until it didn't taste raw anymore. Which I don't think is the spirit of the book, but hey. Anyone can cook. A rat once told me that.

The mushrooms I've made before as a part of the Boeuf Bourguignonne, which in case you're doubting me because of my burning bread crumbs I will have you know I have cooked the shit out of on several occasions. You can ask my mom and she'll tell you, so there. Anyway, I forgot to take a picture of what goes into those little fuckers, but it would just be a picture of some mushrooms and a stick of butter, and that's just really kind of embarrassing and I don't want the Weight Watchers people to find out about it. (Okay, there's a touch of oil in there too.)

The thing with doing mushrooms right (that I learned in this very recipe) is that if you crowd the pan with too many of them, they just steam and they're gross. (Well, I think mushrooms are gross anyway, but I can stomach them if most of the mushroom is replaced with butter. It's sort of like the Petrified Forest. Which by the way is one of our coolest national parks.) You turn up your heat real high and melt your butter in it, and once the butter stops foaming you put fewer mushrooms than you think in there and bang and crash and shake it for a good Five! Minutes!, which is so much longer than you think it is unless you're throwing a pan around. First the shrooms will soak up the liquid, and then they'll start to bead it back up on their surfaces and turn goldeny brown around their edges.

Now, I can't stand these things, but Cousin Barnabas loves them, so when I'm feeling like I want somebody to think I'm an exceptionally nice person, I make them for him.

So I have to say, for a Mastering the Art of French Cooking dinner this one was awfully easy (okay, except for the burning part) and came together pretty quickly. Here's the finished plate:

Verdict? It would have been awesome if the breadcrumbs had stuck! Next time I'll know to go all ghetto with it and use the storebought crumbs in a can and it'll probably be perfect. “Green beans in milk” actually are pretty damned tasty, and I even ate a couple of those nasty little mushrooms.

So there you have it – I hope those of you who linked here as a part of the Cook for Julia project enjoyed the Dark Shadows slant and that all you regular Dark Shadows readers put up with me and dug the food. 

Bon appetit!


Will McKinley said...

Epic post. And congrats on your impending nuptials. Interestingly, the one time I can recall food being consumed on DS, it involved chicken. When Adam was being taunted by Willie in the basement of the Old House, Willie eats his chicken leg and graphically spits the chicken out at him. That's the one and only time I can think of.

Unknown said...

So I'm sitting here alone in my apartment at 12:40 a.m. SCREAMING LAUGHING AT THE TOP OF MY LUNGS at your post, and my two cats are looking at me like I'm insane. What a post! Please write again, and soon. (And I hope you're getting a nice caterer for your reception!)

Guy said...

Will, I wonder why you remember that particular scene so well? ;)

Guy said...

I enjoyed your yummy article! But as I read it, I experienced several instances of synchronicity! On the afternoon of August (Friday the) 13th 2004, several of my friends and I were traveling from Rhinebeck, NY (former home of our dear "Dr. Julia Hoffman", Grayson Hall) to Tarrytown, NY, where the Dark Shadows Festival was due to start later that day. Someone suggested we stop at the famous Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park and have lunch. I had never been there before and found it very interesting. In their restaurants, students prepare their own special scrumptious creations which can be purchased by walk-in customers such as my friends and myself. We walked down a hall of fame that had pictures of famous chefs and culinary experts. Among them, of course, was a picture of Julia Child, who had been a frequent visitor to the Institute. I remarked to my friends something that I had heard on the radio earlier that day. "Julia Child passed away today." It was a bit eerie to be there and see a picture of her on the very day that she died and your article made me remember this. Even more eerie... today, as I type this, is August 15th... what would have been Julia Child's 100th birthday! Cue the "Twilight Zone" theme! One more synchronicity. You mentioned ("Madmen's") Betty Draper at one point. If you follow Route 9 South (as we did after leaving the Culinary Institute) just before you reach Tarrytown, you pass by Ossining, NY. This is.... or was... the home of Betty and Don Draper! And just a stone's throw away from Ossining is Briarcliff Manor where the train station featured in episode 1 of "Dark Shadows" is located! I often wonder if Don looked out the train window one day in early 1966 and saw Dan Curtis and company filming on location? Here's to Julia and Julia!

Anonymous said...

Frozen beans? Philistine.

Sara said...

Fine, YOU make the paper flowers and I'll break out the fresh beans! If you aren't getting truly fresh local produce in season, frozen vegetables are in most cases superior to what you find in the grocery store.

Not to mention that this morning I cut into a fresh, local, in season zucchini and found a fresh, local, in season WORM OH MY GOD IT WAS SO FUCKING GROSS.

I hope everybody saw the cute Autotuned Julia Child PBS did? (Not as awesome as their Mister Rogers one, but it's cute enough.) http://www.people.com/people/article/0,,20621237,00.html

Melissa said...

I seem to remember Barnabas wearing a lot of double-breasted suits, so your double-breasted chicken breasts seem appropriate.

Maggie also served up a non-zero amount of pie and doughnuts during her tenure as chief hashslinger at the Collinsport Inn, if you're looking for desserts.

Cousin Barnabas said...

I totally forgot about the occasional appearances of food at the Inn. Nice call!

Anonymous said...

Man, paper flowers ain't no thang. I used to do that shit all the time when I was a kid! Grab some crepe paper, roll that sumbitch up, wrap a pipe cleaner 'round one end....


Sandi McBride said...

I must warn you that Cousin Barnabas's mother loves nice crunchy chicken skin and also the lovely browned turkey skin...and I think you may already know about my habit of eatig steak just warmed through...don't hate me because I love good food....

Sandi McBride said...

Oh I forgot to mention how wonderful it all looks and the mushrooms...now I adore them, hope they'll be on the menu next time we drive up...just waiting for the invite...like a good MIL to be

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