Sunday, April 6, 2008

Salade des nonnes (Rice salad with truffled chicken)

I’m so glad “Salade des nonnes” came with a translation, because I couldn’t find any information about “nonnes” at all. “Salad of nuns” is what it translates to. In my research, I found this quote:

John Parkinson, the 17th century grandaddy of all garden writers, recommended lettuces for "Monkes, Nunnes and the like of people... to keep them chaste." Poor Nunnes. Lettuce on its own is not much of a diet.
In one of my cookbooks, I found a recipe for chicken salad with truffles, so I’m going with that, substituting rice for the potatoes in the recipe.

I’ve never worked with truffles before, but I was game to give it a go. Truffles (and not the chocolate kind) grow underground at the roots of Oak, Chestnut, Hazel, and Beech trees. The biggest harvests are mostly in the Provence and Perigord regions of France. They are a “gourmet mushroom” with a strong, earthy, pungent taste. Prices can be as high as $2,500 per kg. The one I bought wasn’t that pricey—only $8! For centuries in Europe, female pigs and dogs have been used to help find truffles because some gourmet truffles produce a scent that mimics a male pig sex hormone. Here’s a good article about truffles, if you want to find out more information.

Rice is such an easy side dish to prepare. To add extra flavor, the onions are sautéed in butter for a bit, then the rice is sautéed until translucent. Steamed with a bouquet garni adds even more flavor to the rice.

In this recipe, the chicken is poached in an aromatic broth. Poaching is a low simmer, not a boil. After being immersed in this flavorful broth, the chicken comes out tender and tasty.

The trickiest part of this recipe was the mayonnaise. Mayonnaise is an emulsion—a mixture of two substances that don’t want to be together, namely oil and egg yolks. The flavorings of mustard and lemon juice or vinegar try to act as go-betweens to get these two substances to talk to each other. All ingredients should be at room temperature.

I first tried making it after watching this video. I even used my immersion blender, but it came out runny. After starting over, I tried the classic, patient method of adding the oil one drop at a time and whisking until my arm dropped off. This worked.

If the sauce breaks, add a teaspoon of cold water. If this doesn’t work, whisk 1 teaspoon broken mayonnaise into 1 teaspoon mustard to emulsify it. Then add it to the rest of the mayonnaise. If this doesn't work, try Hellman's Mayonnaise!


adapted from Le Cordon Bleu at Home

Serves 2-3

1¼ pound chicken
½ medium carrot, coarsely chopped
1 medium leek, coarsely chopped
½ stalk celery, coarsely chopped
½ large onion, studded with a whole clove
1 Bouquet Garni
½ tablespoon peppercorns, crushed

1½ tablespoons unsalted butter
½ medium onion, chopped
1 cup long-grain rice
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cups water
1 Bouquet Garni

2-3 heads Belgian endive
½ tablespoons strained lemon juice
6 ounces celery hearts

1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 black truffle, sliced
Micro mesclun

1 egg yolk
½ tablespoon Dijon mustard
Freshly ground pepper
½ cup vegetable oil
Juice of ¼ lemon, strained

For the chicken: In a large pot, combine the chicken, carrot, leeks, celery, studded onion, bouquet garni, salt to taste, and crushed peppercorn. Add enough water to cover. Cover the saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and poach the chicken for about 45 minutes. When the chicken is cooked, remove it and drain. When cool, cut into slices ⅛ inch thick. Cut the slices into julienne strips and set aside.

For the rice: Preheat the oven to 400°F. Heat the butter in an ovenproof pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until tender but not colored. Add the rice and cook, stirring frequently, until translucent. Season with salt and pepper. Add the water and bouquet garni and bring to a boil. Cover and put in the oven. Cook for 15-17 minutes. Remove from oven, let stand for 5-10 minutes while covered. Remove the bouquet garni and toss with a fork.

For the vegetables: Rinse and drain the Belgian endive. Reserve 1 Belgian endive for garnish. Remove the cores from the remaining Belgian endive. Trim the leaves to approximately the same size and cut them into ⅛ inch thick julienne. Toss with the lemon juice so they don’t discolor. Cut the celery hearts into ⅛ inch thick julienne.

For the mayonnaise: Combine the egg yolk, mustard, and pepper in a bowl and whisk. Whisking continuously, add ¼ cup of the oil drop by drop until the mixture has thickened and emulsified. Then whisk in the remaining oil in a thin, slow stream until it is smooth and thick. Then add the lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasonings.

To serve, combine the chicken, Belgian endive julienne and celery in a bowl. Add the mayonnaise and toss carefully to mix. Mound the rice in the middle of a serving platter. Cut the leaves from the reserved Belgian endive. Arrange the Belgian endive leaves in a ring around the rice, with the base of each leaf toward the centre. Arrange chicken, celery, and Belgian endive mixture on each Belgian endive leaf. Sprinkle with chopped parsley. Arrange the truffle slices.

Tasting Notes:
One truffle for this recipe cost more than the chicken itself! But, it was a tasty meal. The rice, the chicken, the slightly bitter Belgian endive, combined with the mayonnaise and the earthy yet crispy truffle made for a delightful salad.

. . . . . . . . . .

Running total: $281.42 + $26.86 = $308.28

Butter used so far: 4 pounds, 21 tablespoons