Blog Archive

Friday, October 26, 2012

Easy Delicious Chicken Dijon and the History of Mustard

Easy, Delicious Chicken Dijon and a Bit of History of Mustard
by Victoria Challancin

Who doesn't love a dish that serves double duty?  This Chicken Dijon does just that.  The first time we made it in a cooking class, we served it with a Breton Potato Cake.  On Day Two, when I enjoyed leftovers, I removed the chicken from the bone, chopped it, and served it with all that luscious sauce over egg noodles.  Perfect.  But first, a little background and history...

What exactly is Chicken Dijon?
There is no easy answer to this question.  Chicken Dijon is a simple, bistro-style French dish made with chicken, Dijon mustard, white wine, and crème fraîche.  In France, where countless versions exist, this dish would be called Poulet à la Moutarde or Poulet à la Dijonnaise, both names signifying that the chicken is cooked with Dijon-style mustard, which originated in the Dijon region of France.

Happily, I can find large jars of the French Maille brand of Dijon-style mustard here in Mexico at Costco.  Maille has been making this type of mustard (and many others more recently) for over 260 years with two boutiques that feature nothing but the company's mustard, one in Paris and one in the city of Dijon.  This particular mustard is perfect for this dish, but any "Grey Poupon" mustard would work--both contain white wine which accentuates the wine already present in the dish.

This easy version comes form French in a Flash, a feature on Serious Eats, where I found it.  Author Kerry Saretsky is the creator of the blog French Revolution where she features easy versions of her family's French recipes and shares them both on the blog and on Serious Eats.

Cook's Notes:  I used extra virgin olive oil because I didn't have light.  I also used a combination of  legs and boneless chicken breasts and a dry white wine.

Recipe:  Dijon Chicken
(Recipe by Kerry Saretsky for Serious Eats)

3 tablespoons light olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon
10 chicken legs (or desired pieces)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 shallots, diced
3/4 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
6 stems thyme, plus extra for garnish
1/2 cup Dijon mustard
1/2 cup heavy cream

In a wide, heavy-bottomed pan, heat 3 tablespoons light olive oil on medium-high heat.

Season chicken with salt and pepper, and pat dry with a paper towel.  Sear in hot oil until golden-brown on all sides.  Remove to a plate.

Pour out the hot oil, and lower the heat to low.  Add 1 tablespoon fresh light olive oil to the pan.  Ad in the shallot, and then the garlic 1 minute later, and sauté just until translucent and fragrant--two minutes total from the time the shallots went in to the pan.

Pour in the white wine, and raise the heat to medium-high.  Reduce the wine--it will bubble the chicken bits up from the bottom of the pan, and reduce by about half.  The add the chicken stock and 6 stems of thyme.  Then, nestle the chicken back into the pan in a single layer.  Bring the liquid to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer, and cover the pot, simmering for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, remove the cover from the pot, and allow the chicken to simmer a further 5 to 10 minutes uncovered.  Take the pan off the heat.  Again, remove the chicken from the pan.  Whisk in the cream and mustard (I mixed these together first in a bowl) until the sauce is homogeneous.  Then strain.  Toss the chicken with the Dijon sauce, top with fresh thyme, and serve right away with crusty bread and a salad.

Mustard:  A Bit of History
Mustard, a condiment made from the yellow, white, brown, or black seeds of a mustard plant, is one of the oldest spices known to man.  The Chinese have grown mustard for over 3000 years.  Egyptians were known to have popped the seeds into their mouths when eating meat. Mustard seeds have been found in Stone Age settlements. And the Romans positively loved the spice, sprinkling the seeds along the roads where it flourished--all the way to France and beyond.    

In Rome the first century A.D. cook book, Apicius shows that mustard was used ground with pepper, caraway, lovage, coriander seeds, dill, celery, thyme, oregano, onion, honey, vinegar, fish sauce, and oil. These same spices can be found in various mustards today.

In England one early use of mustard was found in the form of mustard balls, coarse-ground mustard seed combined with flour and cinnamon which was moistened, rolled into balls, and then dried to be later mixed with vinegar to make a paste.  Even Shakespeare mentioned the famous mustard of Tewkesbury in  one of his plays.  

They etymology of the word "mustard" shows that originally it derived from the Latin mustum ("must" a type of unfermented grape juice), which is logical as the Romans were known to have mixed the seeds with "must" until they made a paste-like condiment of which they were very fond.  The English word derives from the Old French via Anglo Norman.   The "-ard" part of the word hails from the Latin ardens, which means "hot or flaming," and from these two words mustum ardens, we get "mustard."  

In ancient times, mustard was primarily considered a medicinal plant rather than a culinary one, being used from everything from a cure for toothaches to a poultice used to treat all manner of illnesses.  Both Pythagoras and Hippocrates cited ways to use mustard as a cure.

France's mustard history stems from that very mustard that sprang from those seeds planted by early Romans as they plied the ancient roads traversing Gaul.  In fact, the monks of St. Germain des Pres in Paris were early mustard-makers to kings dating to 1292.  By the 14th century, the condiment mustard existed and was actually called "mustard"; at the same time in the city of Dijon, the recognized center of mustard-making, mustard was considered the condiments of kings.  In 1382 mustard appeared on the motto of the coat of arms of the Duke of Burgundy for the city of Dijon in the motto which stated "Moult Me Tarde," or "much awaits me," clearly echoing the name moutarde.  Although Dijon was known as the home of the master mustard makers as early as the 14th century, it was in 1777 that Monsieur Grey developed the secret recipe for a strong mustard made with white wine, and thus Grey Poupon came into being and a new industry was born.

And in my own life, I smile to remember that my flat in Bahrain was often called "The House of Mustards" due to the variety I had on hand (or alternately "The House of Tea" for the same reason).  And my own father always grew two kinds of mustard (for the leaves alone) in his garden:  flat- leaf and curly-, which my Mom cooked with hamhocks into those famous Southern greens, perked up with a bit of hot pepper vinegar.  Today, I break from that tradition and use the young leaves to be eaten raw in salads.  Also, as a part of my personal mustard history, there are fields of bright yellow mustard flowers dotting the Mexican scenery in the spring, a happy capsulation for me of a lifetime of mustard love.

The Legend and Lore of Mustard

  • Pythagoras in the 6th century B.C. applied mustard poultices to scorpion stings
  • Hippocrates (5th century B.C.) also prescribed it for various ailments
  • The Sumerians ground it into a paste and mixed it with verjus, the juice of unripe grapes
  • Wealthy Romans often ground it with wine right at the table
  • In the Christian faith, mustard is a prominent reference in the Bible to exemplify something small and insignificant, which when planted, grows in strength and power--as in faith, the size of a mustard seed
  • Westerners had mustard, a Northern Hemisphere plant, long before they had black pepper, which originated in India, making it the primary spice known to Europeans before the advent of the Asian spice trade
  • Pope John XII was so found of mustard that he created a new Vatican position for his lazy nephew who needed a job, the grand moutardier du pape, or mustard maker to the Pope
  • In German lore, it is recommended that a bride sew mustard seeds into the hem of her wedding gown to assure her dominance of the household
  • Legend also has it that some American baseball pitchers apply mustard to their fastballs in order to obtain strike-outs--though I'm not sure how that works!
  • Since 2005 products in the European Union must be labelled as potential allergens if they contain mustard
  • In both India and Denmark it is thought that spreading mustard seeds around the exterior of a house will keep out evil spirits
  • Queen Victoria appointed Jeremiah Colman, founder of Colman's Mustard of England, as her personal mustard maker--and Colman's dry mustard is still a staple on my shelf
  • French's mustard, that bright yellow American version, made brighter by the addition of turmeric, was used on hot dogs at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair
  • Mustard oil is popular, especially in the cooking of Bengal, India
  • Beer is often substituted for vinegar in some American mustards
  • In Dijon, both red and white wines can be found in mustard
  • Can't cut the mustard?  Can't measure up?  Yes, mustard also infiltrated the language in other ways
  • There are about 40 species of mustard plants
  • Mustard seeds do not become pungent until they are cracked and mixed with a liquid, usually wine, beer, or vinegar
  • The leaves with their stems are often eaten fresh as a cooked vegetable or younger ones enjoyed in salads
  • Mustard gas is a synthetic gas based on the idea of the volatile nature of mustard oils
  • White mustard originated in the Mediterranean Basin, while brown mustard originated in the Himalayas
  • Brown mustard is the base for the Chinese mustard served in many American restaurants
  • Black mustard is popular in the Middle East and Asia Minor, where it originated, but isn't much used in the West because it must be hand harvested
  • The paste we buy in stores in a jar is known as "prepared mustard"
  • Nutritionally, mustard has significant nutrients called isothiocyanates that have been shown to prevent the growth of cancer cells, (particularly related to stomach and colon cancer)
  • Mustard seeds also contain selenium, which reduces the severity of both asthma and rheumatoid arthritis
  • The magnesium in mustard may reduce high blood pressure and the frequency of migraines

Parting Shot:  In a Friend's Garden

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved.

Like life, recipes are meant to be shared, but please ask permission before using photos or text.  Thanks!

Easy Delicious Chicken Dijon


Eha said...

In spite of the fact that this European-born child these days rarely cooks European food, this particular dish has always been a firm favourite and you have reminded me to put it on the menu again! And love having the 'story of mustard' in front of me! Actually Maille is having a very active advertising campaign at the moment here in Australia: can't turn the TV on at night without being reminded :) !

Minnie(@thelady8home) said...

Fantastic. This is sounding so delicious. I am bookmarking this. Have to make this and try.

Hotly Spiced said...

This is a great dish and I haven't made it for a very long time. Thanks for reminding me of it! xx

Eha said...

On an accidental channel-surf last [Saturday] night I happened onto an Anglo-French wine series including some food. The making of Dijon mustard was the mainstay of the latter. Supposedly the factory producing was of prime importance in the Burgundy area?? According to the demonstration the only three ingredients used by them were mustard seeds, salt and VERJUICE rather than finished wine? Ignorant me watched and filed in memory banks!!

Not Quite Nigella said...

This looks like the perfect dish for this suddenly turned cold weather Victoria! :D said...

I can't tell you when was the last time I had this dish. I like the left over part with the noodles. ALso, who knew the benefits of mustard. I must rememebr to incorporate it more in my dishes.