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I've been enchanted by everything Lyonnaise since my first trip to Lyon in 1992. Lyon was anointed by the famed gourmand Curnonsky as the "Culinary Capital of France" in the 1920s. There are conflicting opinions as to how that accolade was decided upon—I am one who believes it was because the food in the area is outstanding, across the board.
Lyon was famous in the past for its silk industry, along with other manufacturing. It is usually characterized as a working class city, and perhaps not surprisingly, the traditional cuisine is hearty and filling. These days Lyon is known for technology and medical research, and likewise, its young chefs (and some of the older ones, too) are putting a modern spin on their cuisine.
Traveling throughout France has taught me that the food folks cook and eat every day is not the fancy restaurant food many Americans presume is French. Chicken in Red Wine Vinegar Sauce is a great example of simple everyday cooking—a delicious dish made with just a few ingredients that can be prepared from start to serving in less than an hour. Known as Poulet au Vinaigre in French, this traditional Lyonnaise bouchon dish has been a local favorite for centuries. Not featured in gourmet restaurants, it is a staple in bouchons throughout the city. (Bouchons are rustic restaurants where the traditional food of Lyon is featured.) Some cooks add tomato paste to their sauce, but I prefer it with just the crème fraîche added to the syrupy vinegar.
I include this divine Lyonnaise dish in a class I have taught many times featuring four (and sometimes five!) chicken dishes from different parts of France. The techniques I emphasize to my students with this dish are how to cut up a chicken (into 10 pieces), not crowding the pan, careful degreasing, and especially practicing patience when reducing the vinegar to syrup. (You absolutely, positively MUST pour off most of the fat after browning/mostly cooking the chicken. Then, you must reduce the vinegar to a very thick syrup. Otherwise, when you add the crème fraîche, the sauce will turn out beige and watery.)
Many of my students are initially put off by the title of the recipe, but when the class is over, they almost unanimously declare this dish to be their favorite! I hope this dish helps my students (and everyone else who tries it) realize that French food is basically good simple food.
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 whole chicken (about 4 pounds) cut into 10 pieces -- you could use all breasts or all leg portions if you prefer. I use free-range chicken.
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 4 shallots, finely chopped
- 1 cup top quality red wine vinegar (I use Heinz)
- 1 cup crème fraîche or heavy cream, preferably not ultrapasteurized
- Finely chopped fresh (flat leaf) parsley, for garnish
For more on French food (sans white tablecloth), head here.