Portrait of a recipe
Our first guests on Word-of-Mouth TV were Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist, the husband-and-wife writing team who together wrote the charming romantic comedy Two Steps Forward, which is set in France and Spain as the hero and heroine both walk the famous Camino.
Their favourite cookbook is Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells, published in 1989; a warm and intimate collection of recipes gathered from France’s best bistros. Anne explains that they lived in France for six months, and the house they rented had only two cookbooks: Bistro Cooking and an Indian cookbook. Since they couldn’t get any spices in rural France, they cooked their way through Patricia Wells’s recipes.
‘Easy, tasty recipes, and they always take us back to that wonderful six months,’ Anne says.
Out of the two hundred recipes in the book, ‘Bouillabaisse de Poulet Chez Tante Paulette’ became a favourite, and so I thought I would try my hand at re-creating it for them. I made a few subtle changes to the recipe, for ease of cooking and for a richer taste. I’ve indicated my changes in the recipe below; you may prefer to cook it the traditional way.
Patricia Wells was given the recipe by Marie-Louise Auteli, better known as Tante Paulette, who at the time the book was published ran ‘Chez Tante Paulette’, a bistro in Lyons, the third-largest city in France.
- 4 tomatoes, peeled, cored, seeded, and chopped
- 2 large onions, peeled and quartered
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
- 4 large fennel bulbs with feathery leaves attached, coarsely chopped
3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- ⅓ cup licorice-flavored aperitif, such as Ricard or Pernod
Generous pinch of saffron
Small handful of fresh thyme, or several teaspoons dried thyme
4 imported bay leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 chicken legs with thighs attached, skin removed
- 1 lb. boiling potatoes, peeled and quartered
- 2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
I replaced the fresh tomatoes with a 400g jar of Barilla Basilico tomato sauce, plus a 400g can of La Gina diced tomatoes for extra colour and richness. The Pernod was replaced with a good quality dry white wine for a lighter taste, and I used fresh thyme and bay leaves from my garden.
I used four chicken legs plus four chopped chicken thighs, with the skin on, and 500 grams of tiny cocktail potatoes. I also added French beans, for their colour and nutrients.
- The day before you plan to serve the dish, combine the tomatoes, onions, garlic, fennel, olive oil, licorice-flavored aperitif (or wine), saffron, herbs, and seasonings in a nonreactive large covered casserole or Dutch oven. Stir to blend. Add the chicken and stir to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least 8 hours to blend the seasonings. (I marinated it for 16 hours for extra flavour).
- At least 1 hour before you begin to prepare the dish, remove the chicken from the refrigerator. Stew the chicken in its marinade, covered, over medium heat, stirring from time to time, for about 30 minutes. Add the potatoes and (beans) and chicken stock and simmer until the potatoes are cooked, an additional 30 to 45 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Serve in warmed shallow soup bowls.
I served the dish with aioli, a creamy garlic mayonnaise, and Graeme brought some rouille, which is a Provençal sauce traditionally served with bouillabaisse. It’s usually made with red capsicum and/or chilli, garlic, smoked paprika, breadcrumbs and olive oil, all finely chopped and combined. Sadly I have an intolerance to chilli and capsicum, but I was very happy devouring my Bouillabaisse de Poulet with a big dollop of aioli instead
The meal was accompanied by a chilled Beaujolais, which Graeme and Anne very kindly brought with them too.
It was all utterly delicious!