In my first post inspired by Jacques Pépin’s new cookbook, Essential Pepin, I said I was more of a Julia fan than a Jacques fan. But really they are two points in the same timeline and were close collaborators and friends. They both were immensely popular during that age of food television (before sunglasses came in back-of-head models) that was about helping viewers become better home cooks.
The videos attached to this New York Times piece show Jacques Pépin at his best: explaining traditional techniques with much more than just an automatic reliance on dogma. For instance, eggs should be cracked on a flat surface when making an omelet and not on the lip of the bowl so that broken pieces of shell aren’t forced into the egg where they can break the yolk or introduce bacteria.
For my second shot at an Essential Pepin recipe I chose the tarragon chicken. This one used two traditional techniques that are not often found in contemporary recipes but that work excellently here.
First, the chicken breasts are gently poached in chicken broth augmented with onion, thyme, vermouth, and bay. This introduces some meat-supporting flavours to the chicken and simultaneously builds the base for the eventual sauce.
Secondly, that sauce is thickened with an unusual ingredient: potato starch. This means there is no need to build a separate roux but also more flavours that work well with chicken. This being a traditional French recipe the sauce is enriched with a bit of cream.
The best part is that the tarragon, a distinctive but delicate herb, is held back and only sprinkled on at serving time. This way none of its flavours are dulled and stands in complementary contrast to the chicken.
Traditional techniques that are rigorously questioned for their usefulness are the default style for my cooking. That Jacques Pépin is one of the masters of presenting this way is just gravy. I look forward to the opportunity to cook more from this new cookbook.