Sunday, November 26, 2006

Mustard Capital of the World, and a Great Chicken Dish

Dishes labeled “Dijon” usually mean “seasoned with mustard”, since the south-eastern French city of Dijon, in the heart of the former province of Burgundy, is famous for its mustard seed and its prepared mustard. The region is also famous for rich foods and fine wines, notably reds made from the Pinot Noir grape and whites from Chardonnay. The dish below combines all three features of Burgundian cuisine: richness, mustard, and wine. And this dish will go well with a full-bodied Chardonnay or a medium-bodied Pinot Noir or Beaujolais.

While in France, Dijon simply means the center for mustard, as it has for centuries, "Dijon mustard" came to popularity in the US 20 to 30 years ago when fancy vinegars (remember raspberry?) and mustards became trendy among the chefs and the young urban professionals of the time. But it was the skillful marketing of Grey Poupon that was the driver of the fancy mustard fad and relief from the nasty yellow paste that (to me at least) is only good on a hotdog smothered with sweet relish. The key thing about a real Dijon mustard is the absence of turmeric, the slightly acrid yellow spice that dominates the traditional American mustard. (Grey Poupon also uses white wine in their mixture.) Unfortunately some American manufacturers claiming to make "Dijon mustard", including Emeril, have started slipping turmeric back into their mixes. Check the label. Any of the French mustards are good, but are expensive. Kroger's own brand of Dijon mustard is actually pretty reasonable, both in taste and in price.

Chicken Breasts Dijonnaise Tim
(serves six)

3/4-inch chunk of a stick of butter
6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Wooden toothpicks, not colored
2 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons butter for frying
1 tablespoon olive or canola oil for frying
2/3 cup white wine, such as chardonnay
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/3 cup sour cream or heavy cream
4 teaspoons Dijon mustard, smooth or whole grain "Ancienne" style
Finely minced parsley for garnish

Warm the oven to about 175 degrees.

Cut 3 slices (1/4-inch thick) from a stick of butter. Lay them flat on a piece of waxed paper and cut each in half. Place in the freezer 5-10 minutes to harden.

Trim away excess fat and any tough parts of the chicken breasts. Pat them dry with paper towels. For each chicken breast, insert a sharp knife from the thicker side into the middle to make a pocket, and immediately slide in a frozen piece of butter. Seal the opening by skewering the flesh together with half a toothpick. Mix the flour with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt plus the pepper on a plate. Lightly dust the chicken pieces with the mixture. If not ready to cook the chicken, refrigerate it at this point.

In a large non-stick frying pan, heat the butter and oil together over medium heat. Fry the chicken pieces, turning occasionally, until golden on all sides, about 10-15 minutes. Test the chicken for doneness by sticking the end of a knife into a thick part and twist the knife gently. No pinkness should remain in the meat or in the juices. When done, remove the chicken to a warm oven.

To make the sauce, add the wine to deglaze the frying pan over medium heat, stirring well to get the crusty bits mixed into the wine. Add 1/4 teaspoon of salt plus the sugar. Simmer until the wine is reduced by half. Remove the pan from the heat. With a whisk or fork, stir in the sour cream or heavy cream plus the mustard until smooth. Taste and add salt, if necessary.

Arrange the chicken pieces on a warm serving platter or on individual plates. Either pull the toothpicks out with tongs, or warn the diners about them! Spoon the sauce over the chicken breasts and lightly dust them with finely minced parsley. Serve accompanied with buttered and lightly parsleyed potatoes or egg noodles.

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