Even for those of us who seem born to it, there are times when cooking is just plain too much. In the rare instances I feel this way, it hits hard. I seem physically unable to open the refrigerator, call for takeout, pop something in the microwave. I don’t even feel like going to a restaurant. That’s where I’ve been for the last week or so.
It’s all because I’ve recently acquired a granite kitchen. This has always been a dream. And now, the shock! Granite, I’ve found, is porous! It will slurp any water or oil that hits its surface and an ugly stain blooms on the spot. Not the indestructible rock that I’d been lured to believe was so easy to care for. In a professional kitchen, I’d worked on stainless steel. Now, that’s indestructible. Granite, once marked, takes myriad cleaning products plus texts and emails for advice to “countertop experts.” Will it ever turn out as happily as a Hallmark movie? (I never thought I’d admit to watching Hallmark, but there it is.)
TV still running, I switch the channel from Hallmark to cooking shows. I’m still amazed by how those shows run so smoothly. In a restaurant, cooks deal with constant drama. (That’s the fun of it.) Delivery trucks are late so menus must be rethought; the dish machine stops midstream bringing all hands to washing; a spill runs onto the floor and requires mopping before an accident. Everything needs immediate action.
TV shows are the epitome of calm. They employ an army of prep cooks who set up and chop, more who merely choose that flawless bright asparagus and the perfectly marbled and trimmed steak. There are staffers who shine up the copper cookware. And the ones who find the exact stainless steel ruler “necessary” to measure the diameter of a pie crust or the length of a lasagna sheet. (I’ve never seen one of these in a kitchen supply shop.) Or fluff up dish towels that always launder without a spot.
Oh, I’m just ranting now. I’ve got to learn how to deal with these countertops. Yes, I miss stainless steel and prep cooks. But I can do this. I will flex some culinary muscle. A French bistro stew sounds about right. Then I’ll hang up my dish towel and settle in with a Hallmark movie. Both will have a happy ending.
This stew is technically considered a braise. The two techniques are very close, only the size of the main component and amount of liquid used distinguish them. Larger pieces of meat and a smaller amount of liquid — or sauce — make this one a braise. (Bite size cuts of meat and more liquid make stew.) This one is authentically made with rabbit. I’d advise using chicken for the uninitiated. Chicken thighs most closely resemble the flavor and texture of rabbit.
The real thing is available, fresh, at specialty meat shops in Boston’s North End. You can find frozen rabbit in some grocery stores or on the internet.
The chicken should be skinless. Cut off any visible fat and pat the pieces dry with a paper towel before coating them with mustard. Salt and pepper the pieces before adding to the skillet. Seasoning while cooking produces more flavorful results — and no one at the table will be tempted to empty half a shaker of salt over their food.
Leave a little space between the chicken pieces to let steam escape between them as they brown. This means cooking in batches. Once browned, the chicken can go back into the skillet for the finish cooking.
The finish cooking takes about one hour, partly covered to keep the sauce at a good consistency. No pot-watching is needed, although it’s okay to check in for a taste from time to time.
Okay, I’m hanging up the dish towel. Ready for some soothing entertainment — with a happy ending.
CHICKEN IN MUSTARD SAUCE
Makes 6 servings.
8 to 10 chicken skinless thighs
1⁄2 cup Dijon mustard
Salt, ground black pepper
3 tablespoons peanut oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 cups dry white wine, more if needed
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon superfine flour
1 teaspoon dried thyme
A large handful of chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
8 ounces egg noodles (from a box of 12 ounces)
1⁄2 stick unsalted butter
– Thickly brush one side of each chicken piece with mustard. Season generously with salt and pepper.
– Heat oil and butter in a heavy skillet on medium heat. Add chicken, mustard side down, in batches so that the pan is not crowded. Cook until browned, about 10 minutes. Turn the chicken pieces, brushing the second side with mustard, and seasoning with salt and pepper. Cook until golden brown for 10 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter.
– Add 1⁄2 cup wine. Raise the heat slightly, and stir, scraping the bottom so all the nice browned bits flavor the sauce. Add the onions. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes until they soften and turn golden. Remove the skillet from the heat. Sprinkle flour over the onions and stir until coated.
– Pour in the remaining wine and the dried thyme. Return all the chicken pieces to the skillet. Simmer until tender, partially covered, for 1 hour, or until the sauce thickens.
– Shortly before the chicken is done, cook the egg noodles in a large pot of salted water. Drain and toss with unsalted butter. Heap onto a serving platter.
– Top the noodles with the cooked chicken and pour the sauce over the top. Sprinkle with the chopped parsley. For best flavor, serve this right away.
Marblehead resident Linda Bassett has worked as a cook, trained up-and-coming chefs, studied food history and led food tours. Her book, “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai,” is about local cooks and cooking.