Chicken Marchand de Vin


I made this over-the-top rich Chicken Marchand de Vin to recreate one I once made in an electric fry pan for my friends in grad school.

I had forgotten I'd done this until I was watching an Anthony Bourdain documentary called The Last Magnificent about Jeremy Tower, the original chef at Alice Waters' Chez Panisse and his own Stars restaurants.  He was the father of the farm-to-table cooking movement, and arguably the first Star Chef.  In the doc, they noted that Jeremy would cook gourmet dishes for his friends on a hot plate when he was in college at Harvard.

"Wait a minute!" I thought to myself, "I did that too."  Only it was an electric fry pan instead of a hot plate.  I remembered especially making Chicken Marchand de Vin from Brennan's New Orleans Cookbook.

The summer before grad school, I had worked as the cook (!) in a church camp directed by my brother, serving three meals a day to 120 hungry campers and staff.  It's where I first learned how to chop stuff.  When you are chopping one onion, you can probably do it any which way, but when you have to chop 50, you figure out how to do it efficiently.  I learned the merits of a very sharp knife, and at that time, was partial to a carbon steel boning knife in the camp kitchen.  I bought one on the way to grad school at Harvard, along with an electric fry pan.  My entire cooking kit looked something like this:

My mother gave me a copy of Brennan's New Orleans Cookbook, I think because she and my dad had just come back from a trip there.  That was my only cookbook.

Once ensconced in my dorm room (which consisted of two beds, two desks and a fireplace that didn't kitchen, no sink), I flipped through the cookbook looking for something I could make in the fry pan.  I found the Chicken Marchand de Vin (Wine Merchant Chicken).  I liked the sound of that.  I figured I could make the sauce in it first, then put that aside and fry the chicken, and then pour the sauce over the fried chicken, and simmer it till done.  Not exactly what the recipe called for, but it worked.  My friends loved it.  Partly because we were all half-starved, working our way through grad school and subsisting mostly on ramen noodles and scavenging wine and cheese at college receptions.  But I think it actually was pretty good.

I looked around the house for that old cookbook, but it had been lost somewhere on the way.  I found a reproduction of the original on Amazon so I could recreate it, though this time I decided to do it in cast iron skillets and a tagine, rather than an electric fry pan.


But first:  A Ramos Gin Fizz

As I was preparing to cook the chicken and browsing the book again for the first time in 40 years, I saw that the Ramos Gin Fizz is Brennan's specialty drink.  It was also the specialty drink of the Buena Vista Bar in SFC, and I remembered ordering a few there when I was in college at UC Santa Cruz.  I know that I felt oh so sophisticated.  So decided to make a Ramos Fizz to drink while I was cooking the chicken.

You make it with one ounce of lemon juice, 2 tsp superfine granulated sugar, 1 egg white, 1 dash vanilla, 2 dashes orange flower water, 2 ounces light cream and 1 ounce gin. Shake thoroughly with ice in a shaker and strain into a glass.  The recipe suggests an 8 ounce high ball glass.  I used a martini glass.  My tastes these days run more to an extra dry gin or vodka martini, but this was a nice sensory memory.  I can almost see the boats in the Bay as I sipped it.

Making the Marchand de Vin Sauce

The first thing to note about Brennan's Marchand de Vin sauce is that it starts with 3/4 cup butter.  Say what?  Who uses that much butter with anything these days?  I didn't even know how many sticks of butter it would take to make 3/4 cup of melted butter (answer: 1 1/2 sticks, i.e., 12 T).  The recipe says to lightly saute 1/3 cup finely chopped mushrooms, 1/2 cup minced ham, 1/2 cup finely chopped onion and 2 T minced garlic in the butter until the onion is golden brown.  Good luck with that.  Hard to "lightly saute" onions in 3/4 cup butter and get them to a golden brown.  I gave up after a few minutes.

You then add 2 T of flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper and a dash of cayenne and cook till well browned.  Again, good luck with that, for the same reason.  The recipe said this would take 7-10 minutes.  I gave up after 10.  You then blend in 3/4 cup beef stock and 1/2 cup of red wine and simmer over low heat for 35 to 45 minutes.  This yields about 2 cups of sauce, which had a nice dark color at the end, so don't worry too much about the color at the beginning.

Making Chicken Marchand de Vin

While the sauce is simmering, you cut up a whole chicken, dredge in seasoned flour and fry till golden and just cooked through.

You then put the fried chicken in a casserole, cover with the hot Marchand de Vin Sauce, and bake in a preheated 350F oven for 20 to 25 minutes.  I used the bottom of one of my tagines as the casserole.

This was obviously a lot more than I could eat myself.  The good news is that it keeps and reheats well.  I just put some of the left over chicken in my nonstick skillet, covered it, and heated it slowly over medium-low heat, while I prepared a remoulade with the last of my OS Farmers Market celeriac and side salad of lightly dressed Trifecta greens.  Here are some leftovers, as plated:

It was amazing.  As I was eating some of this awesomely rich dish (as least for today's "nouvelle-trained" taste buds), I was again thrown by a sensory memory back to that grad school dorm room.  I couldn't remember what I used for a cutting board, or how I cleaned the dishes.  Maybe better not to know.