There are probably as many variations on rabbit (or chicken) à la moutarde as there are cooks in France. I generally don't slather the meat but add the mustard separately at some later stage. One unusual version I often make with rabbit (haven't tried it with chicken) is from Caux in Normandy, in which the meat emerges moister than in any other preparation I know. The procedure for *lapin à la cauchoise* goes something like this:
- Brown the meat in a copious amount of butter or butter and oil. (If cooking rabbit, which doesn't have a protective layer of skin and is leaner and can easily dry out, brown over medium heat. With chicken, the heat could be higher.) After browning, remove the meat and discard all the cooking fat.
- Return the pan to the burner, turn the heat to low and add 3 tablespoons crème fraîche or heavy cream, scraping the bottom of the pan to free the tasty brown bits. Return the meat to the pan, turning the pieces 2 or 3 times to coat with cream. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover the pan and simmer very gently for 10 minutes.
- When the 10 minutes are up, add 1 tablespoon cream to the pan and turn the meat. Cover and continue cooking for 10 minutes. Then add another tablespoon of cream, turn the meat and simmer for 10 minutes. Then add the last tablespoon of cream and simmer for 5 minutes more. (If making this with chicken, which cooks faster than rabbit, you might want to eliminate one of the 10-minute intervals.)
- Whisk together 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard, 3/4 cup dry white wine and 2 large, finely chopped shallots. Pour the mixture into the pan. Turn the meat again, then cover and simmer gently for 15 or 20 minutes. Correct the seasoning. Serve immediately.
The classic accompaniment is sautéed or French fried potatoes; alternatively, try buttered fresh noodles showered with chopped fresh thyme and chives. Uncork a supple red such as a Beaujolais, a gamay or fruity cabernet franc from the Loire or an unassuming pinot noir.
What you had was probably a variation of a French rabbit dish. If it is, then here's one of my favorite chicken dishes (I use chicken, too, as I find rabbit a bit lean for my taste.) This is based on a recipe for lapin a la moutarde in the "Saveur Cooks Authentic French" book. Note that measurements are approximate, and you can adjust it to your taste. It's a very "forgiving" recipe:
1 small onion, minced
butter and olive oil
4 lbs. chicken pieces, with or without skin (though you'll have to skim off a good deal of fat later on if you leave the skin on)
1/3 c. good Dijon mustard, or a bit more
salt and pepper
1/2 cup dry white wine, or a bit more
1/3 cup creme fraiche
parsley for garnish
Slather the chicken pieces with mustard. Salt and pepper them. In a large pan, saute the onion in enough butter and oil to keep the onion from sticking. (This recipe works better in a regular, rather than non-stick, pan.) When the onion is translucent, add the chicken pieces and brown on both sides. (Chicken should be more than half-cooked.) Remove the chicken pieces as they brown. Deglaze the pan with the wine, add the bouquet garni, and return the chicken pieces to the pan. Cover and cook the chicken through. Remove the bouquet garni, add the creme fraiche, check the seasoning, and bring to a simmer. Serve garnished with chopped parsley.
That's my basic recipe and technique too for adapting the basic rabbit recipe. I use a handful of shallots instead of onion, which I find gives it a more refined flavor. I like to use the small fresh spring chickens (about 1.8 to 2 lbs. each) that I buy at Ranch 99. They're easy to quarter with shears and I leave the skin on. I use about a pound of Plugra butter to saute the pieces. I love how the mustard crust forms with browning. Locally, I find Fallot Dijon mustard (2/3 jar plain and 1/3 jar whole grain) has the most consistent high quality. For the white wine, I use a good Petit Village Chablis or a Macon. Instead of garnishing with parsley, I top with a bit of snipped fresh tarragon, which releases its wonderful aroma that I adore with the flavor of Dijon mustard. If you want to gild the lily more, a traditional recipe enriches the sauce at the end with a couple of egg yolks. That step is worth trying at least once! I serve it with plain, boiled new potatoes to catch all that wonderful sauce.
Looks good. The only thing I'd urge caution on is the onion (or shallots, which, like Melanie, I prefer): whenever I brown them alongside meat, they end up turning into black carbonized confetti before the meat is browned. Better, I find, to brown the onions and meat separately; I usually do the meat first and then the onions in the leftover fat.