A Fine Way With Beer and Chicken

Anne Willan is a distinguished culinary author who established an influential cooking school in Paris over 40 years ago, La Varenne (1975-2007).

She has written well on French provincial food. Her combination of on-the-ground experience and advanced education gives the writing extra verve and depth. (We are great rock fans but the injunction constantly heard a la “we don’t need no education” has limited application here).

Her 1981 French Regional Cooking is a classic, a worthy successor to the great works by Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson introducing French country cooking to English readers.

Unlike many surveys of French provincial eating, she deals in-depth with the north, an area always behind the others as optics go, due probably to propinquity, climate, and unhappy war memories. The volume mentioned is particularly well-illustrated.

Her northern recipe for chicken with beer seems from memory the same as this one under her name from an Internet source, so I followed the latter. You see a picture of the result. I used a few meaty wings of turkey instead of chicken.

Poultry in general can stand substitution in such recipes, one by the other, indeed it is probable most recipes blending poultry with beer were inspired by dishes of rabbit and beer, seemingly an older tradition.

The direction to make the sauce with yogurt and vinegar is intended, although this is not stated, to replicate the crème fraiche, a staple of French cookery. I may not use it as the turkey in this form is rich enough: with breasts or another lean cut it would make more sense. Enough natural gelatine is released to thicken the sauce I think, but I may do it just to see what it tastes like.

I took off a layer of fat last night by blotting with paper towels and the dish looks really good.

What makes it French, or specifically northern French, is not just the beer but the gin, thyme, bay leaf, and shallot. I followed the recipe more or less: onion went in for shallot, for gin I used a blend of a genièvre from the Lille area and Quebec-produced de Kuyper Dutch gin, which certainly adds a definite tang, and authenticity. I omitted the juniper berries as I didn’t have any.

This way with beer and meat omits sugar and mustard, more typically used with beef in the Northern carbonnades.

I think the suggestion of juniper was intended to convey a flavour of Ardenne cooking, allied to Nord-Pas-de-Calais’ but leaning also further east. It’s the taste of the forest and valleys in the area between the north proper and Alsace-Lorraine.

It’s true though that a dash of gin often goes into poultry with beer in recipes around the Lille region. Had I had turkey from Liques, that would have been the perfect touch. Liques is famous for the fine quality of its poultry, which owes its origin to monastic endeavour in the 1700s. How appropriate, given the abbeys’ considerable role in the history of European brewing.

I didn’t use a Trappist or abbey beer either: it was a blend of Lakeport Ice and an Ontario craft dunkel (brown lager).

But I’ll tell you, if I was patron serving this after the market day in Liques at the local bistro ils ne dédaignent pas. Du tout.

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