I saw “Julie and Julia” with a personal friend of Julia Child’s and then heard more about the grand dame of the French kitchen over dinner. Sure I was ready for Roasted Chicken with Tarragon Cream Sauce and Chocolate Mousse but we settled for Italian and imagination.
My friend, Terry Ford, is a fascinating epicurean and culinary guru in his own right. He met Julia at a food professional meeting many years ago where he was asked to join her on the board of founding members. She immediately invited him to her home beginning a lifelong friendship.
Terry has dined in her Cambridge kitchen which is now housed at the Smithsonian and even gave her several items for her kitchen with kitty cat décor which she loved and they are now part of the exhibit. She was a gregarious woman from Pasadena who found her passion at the Cordon Bleu in Paris where her husband Paul was employed at the American Embassy. Terry has visited the small French kitchen where Julia learned to cook and says the film is for the most part on target. The one thing missing from the Paris home was a black cat she adored even if her husband was allergic to it.
Their friendship which spanned over two decades also included visits to the Child’s resort home in Maine, her California home and to Memphis and his hometown for lunch at the Lauderdale County Enterprise where she spent some private time looking at some of Terry's 17,000 cookbooks. She was treated to fried chicken and all the southern sides; never mind that the cook had a little too much to drink and burned the chicken a bit, Julia ate it, enjoyed it, and never complained. She encouraged everyone to cook and wanted to taste the different techniques and cooking styles. While in Memphis, she and Terry slipped into the Rendezvous for barbecue and ribs. Now can you imagine a messy plate of ribs and the woman who changed cooking forever sits down beside you. Oh my goodness!
One of the meals she often raved about was fresh vegetables from the garden cooked for her in New Orleans. She loved the way Southern gentlemen treated her and I guess she liked their cooking too! She wasn’t much for desserts and her husband Paul bragged on the breads she would make. Terry talked about the oysters they ate in her kitchen, that she preferred entertaining small groups of six or eight and she didn’t have a cook at home. Of course Sara Moulton was her assistant for a while and Julia would have a tuna sandwich for lunch just like the rest of us he said. Somehow I envision her tuna wouldn’t resemble the salad we were raised on.
Oh well, I did meet her once at the Bel Air Hotel in Beverly Hills. I was putting on some lipstick in the powder room when I heard that voice, saw her in the mirror and turned around to meet one of the most gracious legends of our time. She was there for a dinner prepared by the world’s greatest chefs and I learned later that of course Terry was part of the festivities too. We were all at the Bel Air at the same moment in time.
“Terry dear, it’s Julia,” as if you wouldn’t know if you ever heard that signature voice of hers. He was her friend and as he fondly reminisced about times gone past, you could just feel the fun, laughter, and great food and wine those two shared. Good wine only but Julia approved of store bought ice cream, as long as, you get the “good stuff” Terry whispered. Well I’m cooking French tonight for a friend who is recovering from surgery, a little recipe from Julia is bound to be good medicine and I’m taking her advice for dessert. So here’s to you dear Julia and Terry dear – Bon Appétit!
Today you can set your table with Julia Child roses and serve Julia Child tomatoes.
Meryl Streep’s Favorite Julia Child Recipe
Casserole-Roasted Chicken with Tarragon
3-pound ready-to-cook roasting chicken
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of pepper
2 tablespoons butter
3 or 4 sprigs of fresh tarragon or 1/2 teaspoon of dried tarragon
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Season the cavity of the chicken with salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon of the butter. Insert the tarragon leaves, or sprinkle in dried tarragon. Truss the chicken. Dry it thoroughly and rub the skin with the rest of the butter.
A heavy fireproof casserole just large enough to hold the chicken on its back and on its side
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon oil, more if needed
Set the casserole over moderately high heat with the butter and oil. When the butter foam has begun to subside, lay in the chicken, breast down. Brown for 2 to 3 minutes, regulating heat so butter is always very hot but not burning. Turn the chicken on another side, using 2 wooden spoons or a towel. Be sure not to break the chicken skin. Continue browning and turning the chicken until it is a nice golden color almost all over, particularly on the breast and legs. This will take 10 to 15 minutes. Add more oil if necessary to keep the bottom of the casserole filmed (3 tablespoons butter, if necessary.)
Remove the chicken. Pour out the browning fat if it has burned, and add fresh butter.
1/2 cup sliced onions
1/4 cup sliced carrots
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 or 4 sprigs of fresh tarragon or 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon
Cook the carrots and onions slowly in the casserole for 5 minutes without browning. Add the salt and tarragon.
Salt the chicken. Set it breast up over the vegetables and baste it with the butter in the casserole. Lay a piece of aluminum foil over the chicken, cover the casserole, and reheat it on top of the stove until you hear the chicken sizzling. Then place the casserole on a rack in the middle level of the preheated oven.
Roast for 1 hour and 10 to 20 minutes, regulating heat so chicken is always making quiet cooking noises. Baste once or twice with the butter and juices in the casserole. The chicken is done when its drumsticks move in their sockets, and when the last drops drained from its vent run clear yellow.
Remove the chicken to a serving platter and discard trussing strings.
Brown Tarragon Sauce
2 cups brown chicken stock, or 1 cup canned beef bouillon and 1 cup canned chicken broth
1 tablespoon cornstarch blended with 2 tablespoons Madeira or port
2 tablespoons fresh minced tarragon or parsley
1 tablespoon softened butter
Add the stock or bouillon and broth to the casserole and simmer for 2 minutes, scraping up coagulated roasting juices. Then skim off all but a tablespoon of fat. Blend in the cornstarch mixture, simmer a minute, then raise heat and boil rapidly until sauce is lightly thickened. Taste carefully for seasoning, adding more tarragon if you feel it necessary. Strain into a warmed sauceboat. Stir in the herbs and the enrichment butter. Garnish with 10 to 12 fresh tarragon leaves blanched for 30 seconds in boiling water then rinsed in cold water, and dried on paper towels. Pour a spoonful of sauce over the chicken, and decorate the breast and legs with optional tarragon leaves. Platter may be garnished with sprigs of fresh parsley.
Originally published on LHJ.com, June 2009. Recipes from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child (Knopf, 1961).
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