Many years ago, and by many I mean at least 30, my mother started collecting the Time-Life cook books. There were quite a few in the series, about 30 from memory, with each booking covering one ingredient – chicken, pork, pasta, pulses and grains, etc. These hard cover books were quite expensive for the time but I’m so glad my mother persevered and over time purchased the entire collection. They contain fabulous pictures with step by step guides to quite intricate recipes and in the back there are many more recipes that aren’t showcased with pictures. These were books for serious home cooks and I love them dearly. It wasn’t until recently that I learned the editor of these culinary tomes was a man named Richard Olney. Olney whilst born in America spent a great deal of his time living and working in France and was widely published. One of his classic recipes that has once again seen the light of day, thanks to Food52, is this chicken gratin. If this recipe is anything to go by he must have been a prodigious cook. It is everything one could hope for in a chicken dish. Crunch and texture from the bread crumb topping, perfectly cooked moist flesh and a luscious cheese spiked custard tying it all together. This is one hell of a delicious dish and the best thing is it’s super easy. Try this once and you’ll be making it time and time again.
Ingredients – Serves 4 Adapted from Richard Olney’s Simple French Food
1.2-1.5 kg skin-on chicken pieces, I used a mixture of wings, things and drumsticks but breasts could also be used.
2 very large handfuls fresh bread crumbs – dried will not work and you don’t want them too fine.
⅓ cup white wine
¾ cup heavy cream
3 egg yolks
100g freshly grated Gruyère
Juice of ½ lemon – I always leave this out as it tends to curdle the custard – for me there is enough acidity in the wine.
Heat the oven to 200C. Salt the chicken pieces and cook them in the butter over medium heat until nearly done and lightly colored on all sides. Transfer them to a gratin dish of a size to just hold them snugly, arranged side by side.
Cook the crumbs in the chicken’s cooking butter until slightly crisp and only slightly colored — still blond, stirring. Put them aside (don’t worry if a few remain in the pan) and deglaze the pan with the white wine, reducing it by about half.
Whisk together the cream, egg yolks, salt and pepper, and cheese, then incorporate the lemon (if using) and the deglazing liquid. Spoon or pour this mixture evenly over the chicken pieces, sprinkle the surface with the breadcrumbs, and bake for about 40 minutes or until the surface is nicely colored and the custard is firm.