We change continents for a moment for good old Europe, specifically France. We also change centuries, to the reign of Louis XV (ruled 1715-1774). In 1767 one of the royal chefs, possibly a man by the name of Moutier (or possibly someone else), had his notes on cooking published in Paris as “Dictionnaire Portatif de Cuisine, D’Office, et de Distillation”. Since I unfortunately do not speak French, I am working with an abridged Finnish translation of said opus.
Louis XV, in stark contrast to his predecessor Louis XIV, preferred to eat simple meals in relatively restricted company. The book is directed to a wealthy clientelle, but emphasises simplicity and healthiness in the recipes offered. The book also contains “doctor’s recommendations” on various foods. Cockerel, the main ingredient in my dish, is recommended as “delicious, tasty, healthy, light and easy to digest” and therefore “suitable for convalescents when they are permitted solid food.”
I chose a somewhat unusual recipe as my first effort from this book, as you’ll notice in a moment. A translation of the recipe goes thus: “Loosen the breast meat and mince it fine with preserved lemon peel and marzipan. Add two yolks and some orange-blossom water and spread the filling onto a thin short pastry. Cook uncovered in the oven and glaze with regular sugar. When serving, sprinkle with some more orange-flower water.”
That made you raise an eyebrow, didn’t it? It made me raise an eyebrow, and I decided it had to be done. At least once.
What you need. I replaced preserved lemon peel with fresh grated peel.
I used about 400g of chicken (alas, no cockerel to be had at the shop, just broiler), 150g marzipan, the peel from one lemon, and about 2 tablespoons of orange-flower water – although I must admit I just poured some in until I though it smelled strong enough. I put the meat and other ingredients through a blender. I assume you would originally have used a mortar and pestle, but that’s not going to happen in my kitchen. Anyway, I then made the mistake of sniffing the product. Not good. The mixture of raw chicken and orange-blossom water (which gave me a very strong Eau-de-Cologne-flashback) was not pleasant.
But I soldiered on!
It wasn’t easy.
I spread the meaty filling onto some short pastry, as instructed, and popped it into an oven pre-heated to 220 degrees C. About 20 minutes in I sprinkled the pie liberally with sugar and popped it under the grill for a few minutes to melt the sugar nicely. I’m not sure what the original recipe refers to when it speaks of glazing with sugar, but this was my interpretation and it certainly gave the pie a pretty crust.
If you squint, you can almost pretend it’s not suspicious.
The finished product smelled quite nice, and I felt momentarily heartened. I splashed some more orange-blossom water onto it and served it up.
We were having a little litterary soiré that evening and I decided to subject my innocent guests to this monstrosity without actually telling them what was in it (apart from warning the vegetarians not to touch it). Many guests commented on the discrepancy between taste and texture. The pie tasted like a sweet pie, although one guest added “more sugar would help“, and many complimented the pleasant cooperation between marzipan and orange-blossom water. The texture, though, was definitely chicken, and more than a little unnerving. Opinions were divided – I couldn’t stomach the pie at all, but others found it “weird and suspicous, but goooood” or at least “not terrible, but still…“
Now, Louis XV may well have dined on this. He may have shared a piece with Madame du Barry (probably not Madame Pompadour, she died many years before the book was published). If you want to try making it, you can at least say you’ve eaten something fit for a king. But I wouldn’t recommend it. If I ever revisit this recipe, I’ll be replacing the chicken with something else. I don’t know what. Anything else. The only thing worth salvaging is the orange-blossom-marzipan combo.
I’ll let the final word go to this commentator: “A vivacious clash of flavours with a picaresque [roguish] aftertaste which truly invokes the political cynicism of Antoinette-era France.“
400 g chicken breast
150 g marzipan
The grated peel of one lemon
2 tbsp orange-blossom water, plus some to serve
2 egg yolks
4 tbsp sugar