DRESS TO IMPRESS. COOK TO INTIMIDATE
When you want to look like a French chef, and impress the guests, there is nothing better than preparing crepes for dinner. The fact is, all of it can be made ahead, and nobody will be the wiser. Of course, I just did it all at once so I could panic before dinner.
This recipe is from the cookbook, “Cooking with Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey” who both worked for the New York Times. All of the recipes in this wonderful book were at one time included in the pages of the Times, and I don’t believe I have ever had a bad one. I love this dish for its relative simplicity, and the fact that everyone oohs and ahhs when you bring them to the table. The ooh and ahh factor is high here!
There are two parts to the dish: the crepes, and the filling. Half of the sauce is used for the filling, and the other half is spooned over each crepe when they are put on the plate.
It is helpful to have the chicken cooked and cooled before you try to cut it into tiny pieces. Saves on the finger burns, and believe me, I have done that!
To cook the chicken breasts, I use a method I read about years ago in Julia Child’s “How to Cook”. I just put them in a Pyrex dish, cover it with parchment, and bake them for 30 minutes in a pre-heated 400 degree oven. Let them cool for a few minutes, then dice the chicken up into very small cubes the best you can. I slice the breasts in half, butterfly like, and then dice them from there. It makes the cubes the perfect size. Set the chicken aside in a bowl and you’re off. You don’t have to deal with it again until you have your sauce made. For the sauce you want to have all your ingredients measured and ready to go.
YOU’RE ABOUT TO SAUCE IT UP A BIT
You’re gonna make a béchamel sauce, which is simple, but the recipe in the book never makes enough, so I tripled it. Now I have lots of leftovers, which is great!
Typically, when I make a béchamel, I use equal amounts of flour and butter, but this recipe calls for an extra bit of flour. You’re gonna want a pot big enough for all this sauce you are gonna make. I used too big a pot, because the right size pot was in the dishwasher. Didn’t make a difference. Note: It seems to be important to pour the chef a glass of wine at this step.
Melt the butter, add the flour, and whisk it like crazy. Let it cook for a couple of minutes to get the floury taste out of it, but don’t let it brown. I set the stovetop on about 6. On this stove. Who knows what yours is like. But I wanted it to heat and thicken but not to burn. When it is in danger of getting too cooked, add the chicken broth to it, and whisk like crazy again to make sure it is smooth. OK, so it’s broth, and not milk right off the bat. Is that really a béchamel? I guess not, but I’m about to add cream, so I’m calling it that. It sounds more French that way, anyway. Then add the cream, the salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, nutmeg and tarragon, and stir it over medium heat until it thickens a bit. You don’t want it too thick, but it should coat the back of the spoon.
Note on Tarragon: I never have fresh tarragon, and I can never remember how much dry you use to substitute for a fresh herb. But I really like tarragon, and that’s the whole point of this recipe, so I used a third of the amount of dried in place of the whole amount of the fresh. It called for a tablespoon of fresh tarragon, and I tripled the recipe, and used a tablespoon of dried. You can always add more if it doesn’t taste tarragony enough for you, but it’s gonna be hard to get it out once you throw it in there.
The amount of salt and pepper you use is up to you. Don’t over salt it though, because if you think it’s hard to get that “too much” tarragon out, you should see how hard it is to get too much salt out.
You can set both the chicken and the sauce in the refrigerator and have them ready to go when you are going to put the dish together. You will just need to heat them both up again. You can chop your parsley up now too, cover it with plastic wrap, and have it ready to go as well.
Now, spoon roughly half of that sauce over the chicken, and stir it up. DO NOT POUR ALL OF THE SAUCE INTO THE CHICKEN BECAUSE THE DOG IS RUNNING AROUND AND THE PHONE IS RINGING. I have done this. Let me be the one who has made this mistake. Don’t do it. I’m telling you up front. You’re gonna do it aren’t you? Don’t. As a matter of fact, I like to use a little less than half of the sauce, so that if it thickens up too much there is enough to add later to make it the juicy goodness it needs to be.
NOW FOR THE CREPES!
You will probably think that crepes are hard to make, but my husband, Chester, was taking pictures of me cooking, and I let him make a crepe. It didn’t turn out so great. It had a hole in it – and he said “I’m not good at this, am I?” But, then he made a second crepe, and it looked so good that I put it on the top of the stack for the photo. As a non-cook, if he can do it, you can do it!
Put the eggs, flour and salt in to the mixing bowl and whisk it. Add the milk and stir. Melt the butter and add it in, stirring with your favorite wooden spoon.
The book says to strain the batter and press the solids through with the back of a rubber spatula. But I didn’t read that, so I used a hand mixer to liquify the whole thing, and that worked great. You don’t want any solids floating around in the batter.
Stick it in the fridge and go to work, or whatever.
When it’s time to eat, heat up the chicken mixture and the sauce. Add a little sauce to the chicken if you think it needs it. And make the crepes.
The size ladle you use to pour the sauce into the hot pan will vary depending on the size of the pan, but I use either a two tablespoon size ladle or one twice that size. Experiment.
IF WE CAN DO IT, YOU CAN DO IT
You heat the pan, ladle the sauce in a circle in the middle, and very quickly tilt the pan around to coat the entire bottom, let it cook for about 30 seconds, peeking underneath it with a spatula to see if it has browned. And then flip it and cook it for another 15 or so seconds. It will slide right out of the pan onto some wax paper. Then do the next one. And the next one. And the next one. It’s FUN! Well, Chester says “It’s not fun. It’s stressful!” But only if you care how they look. You’re gonna pour sauce over them anyway. Nobody will know.
Even those can be kept in the refrigerator and reheated between layers of parchment for 15 seconds in the microwave.
Then all you have to do is put them together at the last minute, sprinkle with parsley, add a vegetable, and you’re a French Chef!
Crepes that will make you look like an expert chef.
3 skinless, boneless chicken breasts cut into bite-sized cubes
6 tablespoons butter
8 tablespoons flour
3 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cup heavy cream
salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
3 tablespoon tarragon
A good handful of parsley
1 1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 cup milk
6 tablespoons butter salt to taste
Note: The amounts in this recipe are tripled from the original… because, it is that good.
PREPARE THE CHICKEN:
- Preheat over to 400 degrees. Place chicken breasts in Pyrex baking dish, cover with a sheet of parchment, and bake for 30 minutes, or until chicken registers 165 degrees on an instant read thermometer.
- Remove from oven, and set aside to cool.
- When cool, dice chicken, place in a saucepan and set aside.
PREPARE THE FILLING:
- Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the flour, stirring with a wire whisk. When blended and smooth, add the broth, stirring rapidly with the whisk. Add the Cream, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, nutmeg and tarragon.
- Add half the sauce to the chicken, and stir to blend and heat through.
- At this point you may refrigerate both the chicken mixture and the sauce for later.
PREPARE THE CREPES:
- Put the egg, flour and salt into a mixing bowl and start beating and blending with a wire whisk. Add the milk, stirring.
- Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a small saucepan, and then pour it into the crepe batter.
- Pour the batter through a sieve into a mixing bowl, straining the batter, pushing any solids through with a rubber spatula. (Or, use a hand mixer to liquefy it, like I did).
- You can let the batter sit in the refrigerator over night or up to three days, to make more tender crepes. Or use the batter right away. The crepes will also store well in the refrigerator for days.
MAKING THE CREPES:
- Melt a tablespoon or two of butter, and keep on hand to lightly butter the pan, as needed. Brush the pan lightly, and place it on the stove. When the pan is hot, but not burning, add 2 tablespoons of the batter (it is preferable if you use a small ladle with a 2-tablespoon capacity), and swirl it around neatly to completely cover he bottom of the pan. Cook over moderately high heat for 30-40 seconds. Sometimes it doesn’t even take that long. Cook until lightly browned on the bottom. Turn the crepe and cook the second side for about 15 seconds. Turn the crepe out onto a sheet of wax paper.
- Continue making crepes, brushing the pan lightly as necessary to prevent sticking, until all the batter is used. As the crepes are made, turn them out, edges slightly overlapping, onto the wax paper.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER:
- If you have prepared everything ahead of time, you should reheat the filling, and sauce, and add a little of the sauce to the filling if needed to give it a good consistency, if it seems a little drier than you would want it.
- You can reheat the crepes in a microwave on high for 15 seconds.
- Use equal portions of the chicken filling to fill each of the crepes. Fold the crepes as desired.
- Spoon the remaining cream sauce over each serving and sprinkle with chopped parsley.