- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Preparing a dish ahead and allowing the ingredients to stand overnight in the refrigerator is an ideal way to use chemistry to distribute and blend flavors.

I experienced the most delightful example of this at the National Institute of Baking in Minneapolis.

I had just taught a professional baking class from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The students were an interesting group of teachers, caterers and even the head of research and development for Pillsbury.

I love teaching, and I put my all into it. So after class, I was physically wiped out from baking the best brioche you will ever eat; biscuits that get standing ovations, even in Italy; corn bread; and baguettes. I also was brain-drained from trying to include every bit of food science I could remember.

When Carole Brown, another cooking teacher, asked what I was going to do for dinner, I answered truthfully, “Grab a hamburger and crash.”

“I’m having a few friends over for dinner. Come eat with us,” she said.

I was stunned. “You can’t possibly fix dinner for guests. You’ve been here all day and helped me bake. I know you’re tired. I’m exhausted. How on earth can you cook dinner for company?”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s already done. I’m having a dish out of ‘Bistro Cooking’ by Patricia Wells (Workman). You put it all together the night before and place it in the refrigerator. When I get home, I’ll pull it out, let it warm up for an hour, then simmer it about an hour and dinner’s on,” she said.

“Let me take you to your motel now. You get a nap, and I’ll pick you up at 6:30.”

It was amazing. I couldn’t believe the fascinating flavors of the chicken dish. I thought, “Everybody should do parties this way.”

Carole had the table set and had removed two big casseroles with Miss Wells’ Tante Paulette’s bouillabaisse de poulet from the refrigerator and allowed them to stand for an hour. Then she had put them on the stove at a low simmer for 45 minutes.

One of her guests, who lived near a specialty market, brought several great cheeses, some interesting crackers and flatbreads, which we had with drinks. Carole had assembled a simple salad of crisp lettuces with good olive oil and set out a wonderful rustic bread with great butter.

She only had to add potatoes and chicken stock to the casserole and simmer another 30 to 45 minutes, and dinner was done.

You know how wonderful a stew is the next day? This chicken was marvelously better. In fact, Tante Paulette’s bouillabaisse de poulet is a great example of applied flavor chemistry at its best.

The recipe contains three flavor carriers:

• Olive oil, to dissolve and distribute fat-soluble flavors

• Water-type liquids to dissolve and distribute water-soluble flavors

• Alcohol

Tante Paulette used Pernod, a licorice-flavored aperitif. I substituted a hazelnut liqueur in my version of the dish, but either the Pernod or the hazelnut liqueur would dissolve and distribute alcohol-soluble flavors.

There are thousands of flavors; flavor includes aroma, texture, mouth feel and everything related to our perception of a food.

Taste is limited. As animals, we have five basic taste receptors to enhance our survival: sweet (indicating yummy, energy-giving carbohydrates), salty (indicating minerals necessary for life), sour (perhaps suggesting a cautious approach), bitter (meaning “spit it out,” because all natural toxins are bitter) and umami (indicating life-giving protein).

Flavors that are particularly appealing are the savory umami taste that is typical of ripe, sweet fruits and fermented products and the sweet-and-sour combinations that seem to stimulate our taste receptors.

In my version of Tante Paulette’s bouillabaisse, I included fermented products such as Worcestershire sauce and the hazelnut liqueur Frangelico as well as chicken to set off the umami receptors.

Then, for our sweet receptors, I included ketchup, brown sugar, Frangelico and tomatoes. The Worcestershire sauce and tomatoes also give our sour receptors a kick.

Salt will do many things, not just hit our salt receptors. Salt is an amazing suppressor of bitterness to magnify sweet and mellow the flavors of the dish.

Rubbing salt into the chicken produces a mild brining effect. Salt also enhances the juiciness of the chicken. Mildly salted water will flow into the cells, and this causes some proteins in the muscle to dissolve (changing some solids to liquid), and it also causes some denaturing (unwinding) of proteins, exposing protein bonds. Water actually bonds to some of these sites. This water is retained inside the muscle during cooking.

Meat normally loses 30 percent of its liquid during cooking, but a brined piece of meat loses only 15 percent. Our dish is not truly brined. We can’t use enough salt because we can’t wash off the salt afterward, so this is a very limited brining. Nevertheless, it is helpful.

I kept the classic French seasonings, bay and thyme, and added white pepper for a little bite. Be sure to remove and discard the bay leaves; they can be deadly if swallowed.

The flavor carriers and great flavor components and an overnight stay in the refrigerator all combine to create an incredible complexity. This may become your favorite dish for family or company.

Incredibly flavorful chicken bouillabaisse

This delicious dish is put together the night before or early the morning of the party and refrigerated. It is the perfect company dinner — one that requires minimum attention and allows the host to enjoy his or her guests.

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup ketchup

3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

1/4 cup Frangelico (hazelnut-flavored liqueur) or 3 tablespoons brandy

1 tablespoon dark brown sugar

4 cloves garlic, crushed

2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

6 whole bay leaves

teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

2 teaspoons salt

8 chicken thighs, skin removed

2 large onions, cut in eights

4 tomatoes, peeled, seeded, coarsely chopped (see note)

2 hearts of celery, sliced, leaves and all

1 pounds small red potatoes, quartered

2 cups chicken stock

In a large (about 4-quart) Dutch oven or casserole with a lid, stir together olive oil, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, Frangelico, brown sugar, garlic, fresh and dried thyme, bay leaves, and white pepper. Sprinkle the salt on both sides of chicken thighs, and rub the salt in with your hands.

Place chicken in the pot. Add onions, tomatoes and celery. Toss the whole mixture well.

Arrange chicken on the bottom, cover, and refrigerate overnight or at least 6 to 8 hours. Toss several times. I usually refrigerate overnight and the day of the party, as Carole did.

Remove casserole from the refrigerator an hour before you plan to cook it. (This needs to be 3 hours before serving, since the casserole requires 2 hours of cooking.) Toss well.

After the casserole has stood at room temperature for an hour, simmer it on low for 45 minutes. Add the potatoes and the chicken stock, bring to a simmer, and simmer for another 45 minutes until potatoes are quite soft.

Remove the cover for the last 15 minutes of cooking to reduce the liquid, but keep an eye on the pot. Make sure the potatoes stay under the liquid. (Add more water as necessary to keep casserole from drying out.) Taste and add salt, if necessary.

Spoon 6 servings into warmed shallow soup bowls. Be very careful to remove, count and discard every bay leaf. Makes 6 servings.

Note: If ripe tomatoes are not available use 2 14-ounce cans diced tomatoes.

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