Chicken Breasts with Pine Nuts, Cèpes, and Ham Goudalière

Blanc de Volaille à la Goudalière

This chicken dish, one of the best from the Landes, is garnished with pine nuts, cèpes, and country-cured ham. (Goudalière is a Landais word for a gastronomic society.) Today the Landes region is filled with pine trees, planted over a hundred years ago to hold back the erosion of marshy areas. It is not surprising, therefore, to find pine nuts in many local recipes. The tiny nuts are used in cookies and cakes, sautéed with grilled wild birds, and, as in this recipe, simply sprinkled over the dish.

The original version of this dish calls for a sturdy local wine, Tursan, which tasted to me like a mixture of vermouth and lemon juice—a combination I have employed for the base of the sauce. A well-reduced demi-glace is very important to the success of this dish: The richer it is, the less butter will be needed to thicken the sauce. The method of cooking chicken breasts in a reduced demi-glace is an unusual technique but one that results in an extremely succulent, silky piece of meat.

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Ingredients

  • 2 ounces dried French cèpes or Italian porcini, or, if available, 1 pound fresh or 1 can (10 ounces) whole or quartered cèpes (see Note)
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 4 large chicken breast halves on the bone (about 10 to 12 ounces each), at room temperature
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • tablespoons chopped shallots
  • tablespoons Fresh lemon juice
  • tablespoons dry vermouth or dry white wine
  • 1 cup demi-glace (storebought or homemade) or 3 cups rich unsalted chicken stock (storebought or homemade) or duck stock reduced to 1 cup
  • 2 tablespoons rendered duck fat or extra virgin olive oil
  • 12 ounces fresh white mushrooms, quartered
  • tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
  • 3 to 4 ounces jambon de Bayonne, prosciutto, or Serrano ham, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 1 tablespoon Cognac

Method

  1. Set an oven rack on the lowest shelf and preheat the oven to 300°F. Cover the dried mushrooms with hot water. Let stand for 30 minutes to soften.
  2. Put the pine nuts in a small baking dish and toast until golden and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Remove to a small dish and set aside. Leave the oven on.
  3. Rinse the chicken breasts and pat dry with paper towels. Season generously with salt and place, skin side down, in a hot cast-iron or other ovenproof skillet with 3 tablespoons of the butter over moderately high heat. Cook until the skin begins to turn golden, about 3 minutes. Do not turn the chicken over. Tilt the skillet and remove excess fat. Add the shallots, lemon juice, and vermouth. Continue cooking over moderately high heat until the juices are reduced to a glaze.
  4. Add ¼ cup of the demi-glace. Cover the skillet tightly and transfer to the oven. Roast until the chicken is just firm to the touch, 15 to 20 minutes. (The breasts are not turned over at any time.)
  5. Meanwhile, drain the cèpes in a sieve set over a small bowl. Strain the soaking liquid through a paper coffee filter or several layers of damp cheesecloth; set aside. Rinse the cèpes with cold water to remove any remaining dirt or sand. Drain dry.
  6. Heat the duck fat in a 10-inch skillet over moderate heat. Add the cèpes and fresh mushrooms and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the reserved soaking liquid and cook until reduced to a glaze, about 10 minutes. Add the parsley, garlic, and salt to taste. Toss lightly until well blended. Transfer the mushroom mixture to a small bowl.
  7. Add the ham cubes to the same skillet. Place over low heat, cover, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Return the mushroom mixture to the skillet and toss. Remove from the heat.
  8. Transfer the chicken breasts to a carving board; set the skillet aside. Use a thin-bladed knife to lift each breast off the bones in one piece. If the breasts are not fully cooked, return to the cooking liquid in the skillet to poach gently, for 1 to 2 minutes, or until done. Place the chicken skin side up on a work surface. Slice each breast into 4 slices diagonally against the grain. Arrange the chicken slices on a heated serving dish, overlapping them slightly.
  9. Skim off the fat from the cooking liquid. Add the remaining demi-glace. Place the skillet over moderately high heat and boil until the liquid is reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Remove the sauce from heat and swirl in the remaining butter, 1 tablespoon at a time to thicken. (You may not need all of the butter.) Swirl in the Cognac and season with salt and pepper to taste. Do not heat further, or the sauce will separate.
  10. Strain the sauce over the chicken. Reheat the mushroom and ham mixture over moderately high heat until warmed through and spoon over the chicken. Sprinkle the pine nuts on top and serve.
Inspired by a recipe from Bernard Cousseau.
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