When I went away to college, and lived in my first apartment, I was just dying to start cooking. My mother, a fantastic, creative cook, had set a high standard. She was a total control freak in the kitchen, and could not bear "help" of any kind, but she did permit spectators, and I was generally there, hovering, and carrying her delicious food to the table. I think this may be the best method ever for the psychological conditioning of future generations of enthusiastic home cooks. I learned a lot from watching, and as I was not allowed to participate, cooking seemed a privilege, rather than a duty.
It still does. And, after all, it is a privilege, to have the wherewithal to bring home baskets of lovely local produce, to afford some meat and poultry, to buy the nicest imported coffees, and to never run out of King Arthur's unbleached all purpose flour, when there are many, many people going hungry, and many more with no stove to cook on.
In any case, a couple of the many things I learned watching my mothers fine hand at work, were the importance of timing, and the benefits of keeping a hot summer kitchen from roasting the cook. The latter was especially important pre-air conditioning, but is still relevant for those of us who like to feel cool enough to be hungry for supper.
Quite a few of my more impressive early kitchen tricks were copied directly from my mother. The cacciatore /fricasee of chicken was a cornerstone of her dinner party cooking repetoire, embodying both principles, and allowing for all sorts of great variations. I got a lot of mileage out of these concoctions, which could be both homey and fancy. You browned the chicken in butter or olive oil, removed it briefly, sauteed some good combination of vegetables in a bit of the exuded fat combo, and deglazed the pan with wine, broth, tomato sauce or some combination thereof. The chicken and some herbs went back in the pan, to be covered and braised. These dishes could be done in the morning, without lighting the oven and reheated, with no last minute flurry- except perhaps the adding of a bit of cream sometimes, and sauce reduction.
There were all sorts of classic variants, or you could make up your own. I was especially fond of one done with mushrooms, artichoke hearts, tarragon, garlic and white wine. A friend used to make a recipe from a supermarket women's magazine, where the braising liquid was canned cream of mushroom soup with a little white wine, and there was grated gruyere in at the end. It was, frankly, delicious, and in those days, we were far less suspicious of and /or embarrassed by prepared foods with mysterious chemical additives.
If there were no potatoes in the veg mix, you could make some plain noodles or rice, and put some pan juices on top. A green salad, crusty bread for moping up, and you were good to go. Pretty much everyone liked this sort of food- so what happened? Why did I stop making this sort of chicken? It was really a perfect solution for jazzing up fairly tasteless supermarket chicken, was it not?
I am not entirely sure, but I think that supermarket chicken has deteriorated in quality, even since the 1980s. They were already less tasty than the best free-range hens our ancestors presumably had, if they were lucky enough to afford chicken, but there was still some decent texture. It may be my imagination, but I think mass produced chickens are getting mushier and flaccid? Is this craziness on my part? In any event, that's what it seemed like to me. So, I sort of began making only the sort of chicken dishes that firmed up- roasted, grilled, sauteed, and abandoned the tenderizing cacciatore type dishes.
I've noticed that the 2 free range chickens which I get each month from the neighbor of my CSA farmer, delivered one week each month with my vegs, have, in addition to excellent flavor, a welcome toothsomeness. So I thought I try a scratch version of the gruyere topped stuff, and I'm here to tell you, it was great. And it is also very easy, as long as you have a proper organically raised free range chicken. You will definitely want some crusty bread for mopping up the pan juices here. I won't pretend it's diet food- but it is special occasion worthy, IMHO.
Cut up your chicken and dredge it with flour which you have seasoned with salt, sweet paprika and pepper. Brown it very thoroughly in butter in a heavy skillet or saute pan which has a cover and can go, coverless, into the oven. Make sure it is quite thoroughly browned, as the longer, damp cooking will make it pale, otherwise. Remove the chicken from the pan, and deglaze with 3/4 of a cup of dry white wine.
Reduce the wine by half. Put the chicken back in the pan with chunks of carrots and a fair number of peeled shallots, a branch each of fresh tarragon, thyme and parsley. Add 1/2 cup of broth. Partly cover, and cook very slowly until quite tender, adding a bit of broth or water if the liquid gets too low. I cannot tell you how long this will take, it really depends on your chicken. It is easy to overcook supermarket chicken; my farm chicken takes longer. so you will need to poke at it a bit to be sure.
You can stop now, and cool and refrigerate until just before serving. If you do that, bring it to a simmer before you go on. Stir in 2/3 cup of heavy cream, blending with the pan juices, and sprinkle the top with a generous handful of coarsely grated gruyere, or other swiss type good cheese. Run under the broiler until the top is brown and bubbly, and serve, with the aforementioned crusty bread and some salad.
Sorry about the terrible photo.