I must confess. I have a crush on someone. I know, it’s shameful. He’s worldly and experienced and totally out of my league, but I can’t help it. I am completely enamored.
It all started innocently enough. One November afternoon, when Steve was playing games in the other room, I decided to tune in to Food Network. I never watched much Food TV, but I figured I would take advantage of having the big TV to myself to see what was going on.
Well. What was going on was food competition shows from 2 to 10. Um, no thank you. I vaguely recalled reading the Fresh Food on TV posts over at Serious Eats… something about shows on PBS… hm, let me try that…
Lidia! Lidia Bastianich was on! Making pasta! I felt a surge of joy. Real cooking by a respected chef. This I could deal with. I watched with a big smile on my face, excitedly telling Steve when he came in the room that I had found these wonderful new (ha) cooking shows. Little did I know that, for me, the best was yet to come.
4:00 rolls around. Some show called More Fast Food My Way with some guy named Jacques Pepin. Hm. I thought maybe I had heard his name before… somewhere, sometime, spoken of happily, perhaps admiringly. Alright then. Might as well sit and pay attention.
So I watched. I watched as he cut and chopped and diced the leeks and mushrooms and onions and garlic. I had never seen someone move so fast with a knife before. I was in awe. Then he butterflied a pork loin. It was the first time I had seen another cook do it and, even better, explain every step so clearly while they were working.
In fact, he explained everything he did, the why even more than than how, and for 25 minutes I was completed enraptured. He taught me more in that short time than I had learned in 2 years of catching shows on Food Network. I almost cried. Really. I finally understood why people moan and wail over the current state of cooking shows. There is just no comparison when you watch someone like Jacques.
And it’s not just his cooking. It’s things like…
In another episode, when he burned one side of his lamb burgers, he didn’t even really acknowledge the error, though you knew that he knew. He just continued on, took them out of the pan for their plating, and while arranging them dark side down, simply said “Never apologize.” I actually get emotional just typing that. But he’s right, and I need to learn that. I was grateful to hear him say it.
Then there was the time he was cooking a chicken thigh dish and, apropos of nothing, let loose this little gem:
“The recipe is only the expression of one moment in time… which is what happened the day that I did this. In fact, when I did that recipe before, it probably was different than it is now. Always different.”
Indeed. Even though I know I shouldn’t, I get hung up on recipes. I’m trying to learn not to do that either.
I can’t quite explain it, but his words are soothing to me. He makes me smile. He inspires me to cook and makes me feel confident that I can cook, I can cook anything, and that the experience of doing so can be whatever I want it to be.
And so I have fallen in love with Jacques. With his humor, with his tips and tricks and techniques. With his easy way about the kitchen. With his voice. My god, his VOICE. I am deeply affected by voices and, man, I could listen to him talk for hours.
As for Steve? Well, don’t worry about him. He’s okay with it. In fact, he’s more than okay. He actually loves him too. Jacques is the only chef he will watch with me, intently, smiling and nodding (and imitating his accent!) along the way.
I do realize I am late to the party. I’m a young cook, and Jacques has been around a long while. He’s famous the world over and god knows I’m certainly not the first to be enthralled with him. But now that I’ve been introduced, I intend to read and watch everything of his that I can.
So what’s with the chicken? Well, this is the first Jacques recipe I made. And it’s fabulous. Spatchcocking is a miracle method for roasting chicken and if you haven’t done it, I think you’re missing out. It’s simple to prepare it this way up front and there are so many rewards in the end – it’s easy to cut into pieces (sometimes simply falling apart), the skin is crispy and the meat is deliciously tender. You haven’t had breast meat quite like this. Promise.
Technique aside, the garlic mustard crust is phenomenal. It coats every single inch of the chicken and delivers a big punch of flavor in every bite.
But don’t take my word for it. It’s Jacques. And I think that speaks for itself.
Roasted Split Chicken with Mustard Crust
from Jacques Pepin (you can watch the entire episode through this link – I suggest watching at least the first bit of the video if you want to see how the spatchcocking is done before doing it yourself)
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons dry white wine
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Tabasco hot pepper sauce
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 chicken (3 1/2 to 4 pounds)
For the crust: Mix all the ingredients in a small bowl.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Using kitchen shears or a sharp knife, cut alongside the backbone of the chicken to split it open. Spread and press on the chicken with your hands to flatten it. Using a sharp paring knife, cut halfway through both sides of the joints connecting the thighs and drumsticks and cut through the joints of the shoulder under the wings as well. (This will help the heat penetrate these joints and accelerate the cooking process.)
Put the chicken skin side down on a cutting board and spread it with about half the mustard mixture. Place the chicken flat in a large skillet, mustard side down. Spread the remaining mustard on the skin side of the chicken. Cook over high heat for about 5 minutes, then place the skillet in the oven and cook the chicken for about 30 minutes. It should be well browned and dark on top.
Let the chicken rest in the skillet at room temperature for a few minutes, then cut it into 8 pieces with clean kitchen shears. Defat the cooking juices. If you like, mound some mashed potatoes on each of four warm dinner plates and place 2 pieces of chicken on each plate. Pour some juice on the mashed potatoes and chicken and serve.