On MLK Day, I hopped in my car and drove to horse and sheep countryside of New Jersey to Frenchtown, down by the Delaware river to meet Cree LeFavour for a Poulet Talk.
Her coookbook Poulet (Chronicle Books, November 2011) takes us on a tour around the world in 50 chicken meals.
Here's our beyond the breast, chicken every which way conversation.
Q: Cree, from Idaho to Frenchtown, is there a French connection?
My family originally were French huguenots who came to the U.S some 200 years ago by way of Holland. I was born in Colorado, grew up in Idaho, them went to college in Vermont and ended up staying on the East Coast. I lived for a while in Garrison (Hudson Valley) and moved 8 months ago to Frenchtown.
Q: Chicken dishes are as common as books on Italian cuisine, what made you choose 'Poulet' as topic for this new book?
Living in small towns like Frenchtown, it is hard to buy organic pork. I do not like 'commercial' meat and healthier chicken is easier to find. I also felt that cheaper cuts like thighs, drumsticks were underexposed and that there were many things to share on roasting whole birds. Not withstanding the fact that with whole birds, you get a ready made stock that can be used in soups later. In a nutshell, I thought I could offer a fresh look at chicken recipes beyond breasts, taking it from boring to inspiring. I hope it makes readers want to get back in the kitchen and cook.
Q: Cubans (in Cuba) like different parts of the chicken than American customers. Does same thing apply in other countries?
The U.S exports a lot of thighs, legs, drumsticks to South Korea and Russia. Exports to Russia have slowed recently as they dislike some of the ways we process meat.
Q: Do you know any countries that do not eat chicken?
I can't think of any. It is a 'universal bird'. They can survive on very little, shells, bugs even though a harsh diet will make for tough meat.
Q: Do you have any favorite breeds, producers?
Obviously poulet de Bresse which is not easy to come by in the U.S. Amongst mainstream producers, I like air chilled line by Bell and Evans. I also like Murray's Chicken antibiotic free whole bird. On the egg laying side the Arracauna is a favorite for its blue and green eggs.
Q: Can you list the easiest and most elaborate recipes in 'Poulet'?
The easiest is Bacon Chicken (a summer recipe), the most challenging has to be 'Sichuan Chicken Hot Pot' not so much for the preparation, rather for ingredients list.
Q: Why did you include the words 'Honest Chicken' in the title?
Chicken is not just breast. You can enjoy every part of it. Thighs are easiest to cook because of their texture. For a whole bird, since all parts tend not to cook evenly I suggest using a Dutch oven, an open pot with stock. It is also more moist.
Q: Amongst 50 recipes which are your favorites?
Let me give you three: chicken goat cheese enchiladas, chana dal with chicken, chanterelle chicken.
Q: Did you have major sources of inspiration for 'Poulet'?
Ideas came from eating out, traveling, browsing through my large cookbook library. You then digest all that, head for the kitchen and start creating recipes.
Q: Did you start writing the book with the concept of sharing drinks, what's on the table and desserts at the beginning of each chapter?
It is a model i used in my previous book 'Steak'. I wanted a certain harmoby of flavors between main dish, side dishes and sweets. I approach it as a whole meal rather than stand alone recipes. There is a continuum of flavors with chapters built around regions of the world. I don't pretend being an expert in Thai or Indian cuisine. I see it as an introduction to other cultures.
Q: Beer and chicken, wine and chicken, your picks?
Give me spicy food, south Asian food and I reach for a Weisbier, girls like weissbier.
Bistro and American chapters are more wine focused, Cotes du Rhones or Cabernet Francs from Chinon for Bistro, Austrian Gruner Veltliner for summer and Pinot Noir for winter get my vote.
Q: Even though 'Poulet' is for meat waters, your side dishes will delight vegetarians, could some be turned into a meal?
The 'Lime cilantro succotash' along with black beans will work in summer.
During Winter months try brussels sprouts ribbons with wild mushroom risotto and green salad.
Q: Last, have you cooked some of the recipes from 'Poulet' in front of an audience?
Not yet, there has not been any book tour to speak of. I would like to do that though and capture it on video.
Thanks Cree for your time, it was a pleasure meeting you at Bridge Cafe in Frenchtown.
(* Photos by France Ruffenach, courtesy of Chronicle Books, all rights reserved...Author's pic courtesy of my Android phone)