Saturday, May 30, 2009




Weekends are Market Days. Even if we take Marty out to the vineyards to run for an hour, we still try to hop over to the market before noon. And, of course, if weekends are Market Days, then that can only mean that we will be cooking.

Sundays we head over to the Marché Talensac, Nantes’ rather chi-chi place to shop for seafood, fruits and vegetables, cheeses and wine, and her only covered marketplace. The offerings are up-scale, the stands are neat and well organized, the prices following. But we know that the meat and chicken are fresh and top quality, the wines good, and we can find almost any spice, dried fruit, basically almost any ingredient, local or exotic, we crave to prepare almost any dish. And occasionally we even bump into M. Le Maire (the long-time Mayor of Nantes).

Marché Talensac, Nantes, though on Sunday mornings it is much more crowded

But Saturdays are reserved for Le Marché de la Petite Hollande. La Place de la Petite Hollande used to be on the water and where the Dutch boats would come and dock, selling their wares to the bustling crowds of “Nantais” who came to do their marketing at the covered “Halles”, thus the name “Little Holland”.

Marché de la Petite Hollande, Nantes, last century

Now La Petite Hollande is the “marché populaire”, the “people’s market”, tables set up willy-nilly displaying olives of every type, local cheeses and fresh eggs, vegetables still covered with dirt next to brown paper-wrapped flowers pulled straight from the ground. Trucks, side windows gaping, are lined up “la queue leu leu” (end to end) offering crêpes or pizzas, Russian pirogues, fresh brioches or roasted chickens hot and dripping straight off of the rotisserie, folding tables are weighed down with huge vats of bubbling Vietnamese or Madagascan dishes, and everything from Nems to Accras to baklava and spicy blood puddings can be found. And while Talensac market attracts the Bourgeois of Nantes, La Petite Hollande is where we come shoulder to shoulder with the North African, the West African and the Asian Communities, whole families often 3 generations together purchasing food, clothing and house wares, students looking for cheap eats and all those willing to fight the crowds, be pressed up against piles of lettuce and cool glass-fronted display cases, or insist (with much arm waving and laughter) on their turn in a mish-mash of clients in order to be able to fill their baskets with inexpensive, fresh products, fish, bread or tomatoes.

Marché de la Petite Hollande, this morning

A couple of Saturdays ago, we were wandering up and down the allies, ogling the prepared dishes, wondering if we should choose a roasted chicken or meat pirogues or sweet and sour shrimp when we came upon 3 young women surrounded by a trio of folding tables, selling the traditional specialties of their native country, Senegal. Two were calmly preparing fish and meat pastels, savory turnovers, one after the other, their KitchenAid mixer working furiously behind them, kneading dough. The third was standing in front of two huge pots where Poulet (Chicken) Yassa, chicken cooked in a thick sauce of onions and olives, and Boulettes de Boeuf (Beef Meatballs) Maffé, a rich peanut cream sauce, were simmering and giving off such an incredible odor that we couldn’t but stop and stare longingly at the gorgeous stews, breathing in deeply the heady odors.

We bought a barquette for two of the Chicken Yassa and a second filled with plain white rice and headed home where we sat down for an amazing lunch worth every ooh and ahh that it did indeed elicit. The sauce, as we soon discovered, surely made from a basketful of onions, was tangy with mustard and vinegar, bright and sharp with the juice of ever so many lemons and right then and there I decided that I absolutely had to recreate this delectable dish.

I searched the internet and came up with a slew of recipes, all rather similar seeing that it is a traditional dish, yet I came across one that seemed the closest to what I wanted proportion-wise, and in finding the recipe I also discovered the fabulous French-language cooking blog Passion Culinaire by a talented young woman Minouchka, filled with both French and more exotic, ethnic cuisines and dishes.

Haven't made the rice yet, but a beautiful Poulet Yassa all the same!

Inspired by Minouchka of Passion Culinaire

For 6 people, more or less

1 chicken, about 3.5 lbs (1.5 kg) or equivalent weight in favorite pieces
2.5 lbs (1 kg) onions
3 lemons
4 large cloves garlic
2 Tbs Dijon-style mustard *
2 Tbs vinegar (I used red wine vinegar) * + 1 tsp for marinade
4 Tbs vegetable oil, or as needed
1 cup or so olives, I used lemon-infused purple olives, but green are fine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cut the chicken into pieces and remove excess pockets of fat and skin.

Squeeze the juice from 2 of the lemons into a bowl or platter just big enough to hold all of the pieces of chicken comfortably. Add 1 teaspoon of vinegar. Push the chicken pieces into the lemon juice and allow to marinate at least half a day if not all night.

Peel and slice the onions. Try and avoid cursing the entire time you slice onions, as I unfortunately did. Peel and mince or crush the cloves of garlic.

(At this point, husband walked into the kitchen after listening to me curse and scream at my dull knife and not-the-freshest onions for 15 minutes and he said “I thought cooking was supposed to be a pleasure!”)

Heat a large pot or Dutch oven. Heat either a tablespoon of margarine or vegetable oil, if needed, and brown the chicken in 2 batches, making sure not to overcrowd. Once all the pieces are browned all over, maybe 5 – 10 minutes each batch, remove them to a plate.

Heat 4 tablespoons vegetable oil in the same pot and add the sliced onions. Stirring almost constantly, or at least to make sure they are moving so the bottom slices don’t burn and so they all cook evenly, cook the onions several minutes until tender and translucent.

Once the onions are soft, translucent and just beginning to turn golden, add the minced garlic, the mustard and the vinegar. Salt and pepper generously.

Continue stirring as you let the onions continue cooking for 2 minutes. Now add a small glass of water, stir and allow to simmer for just a minute or 2 until the sauce thickens.

Add the browned chicken pieces to the onions and, stirring, cook for 2 minutes.

Add a small glass of water (I brought the level of water just up to barely cover the chicken) and the olives. Bring back up to the simmer and, over medium heat, cook for 20 – 30 minutes until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce has thickened.

Add the juice from the last lemon, stir into the sauce and remove from the heat.

This dish can then sit until ready to make your rice, because with rice it is served. Reheat gently as your rice cooks, check for seasoning (salt, pepper and lemon) and then serve over white rice.

This is one of those dishes that improves with time! Don’t hesitate to make extra to reheat the second, or even third, day!

* Results: An amazing odor filled the kitchen creating a kind of human Pavlovian drool reaction. The Yassa was exquisite, delicious, yet it wasn’t quite tangy enough for either JP or me. At first I thought to add more lemon juice, yet after finishing the meal, I decided that the next time I prepare Yassa – which I definitely will! – I will increase both the mustard and the vinegar to 3 Tbs each, maybe add a bit more lemon juice at the end and go from there. It is such a simple dish to put together and so scrumptious it will amaze family and guests.


doggybloggy said...

I love markets and I would love to try this dish!

Barbara Bakes said...

Sadly we do not have markets like that where I live. You are so lucky!

girlichef said...

Ah, dreamy post...I love wandering markets in search of treasures. How badly would I love to be at your lovely , crowded, sensory-filling market!? This dish sounds is the perfect day for me to be swept away with a dish like this.

Elra said...

Sounds delicious jaime, love the olives in there. Yum!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

I absolutely love caramelised onions and I think combining them with chicken would make for an ambrosial dish. Delicious!

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Jamie this is so glorious - your markets and your chicken yassa!
When I read you want more tang to the dish, I wondered if preserved lemon would work. I know it doesn't really go region wise but would the flavor?
I very much want to try this. Is there something special about the rice with this?

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

... and cooking is a pleasure especially with good tools but I guess you told him that.

Mary said...

I was born to lose wander in open air markets. I loved this post. The chicken sounds quite lovely and must be tried.

The Cooking Ninja said...

This looks fantastically delicious. I have to try it one day soon. Is that the Saturday market in Nantes? I miss that market - full of life :)

Jamie said...

To answer the various questions:

Preserved lemon is worth trying, but I am going to try adding more mustard and vinegar next time as I felt that this was what was missing.

Good tools :-) absolutely. When he complained about my cursing, I handed him the knife and told him to sharpen it.

Yes, Ninja, this is the big Saturday-only market between the library and the pool. Crowded and fun!

Oh, I used Uncle Ben's White Rice for this, but I think a well-cooked basmati would be even better. That is closer to what they sold at the market with the Yassa.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

A gorgeous dish! It looks delicious!



Chef E said...

I love this dish, and want to try it. I love preserved lemons, and the additions you mention sound great!

We are off to the South Philly market now!

Elyse said...

I loved reading about the market! Looks like a fabulous place to spend a weekend morning. I'm so glad you made this inspired chicken dish, too. Looks delicious! Sorry I've been away for the past week; I had a good friend in town and wasn't able to do much on the computer. I'm back now, though :)

Jamie said...

Welcome back, Elyse :-)

Green said...

Chicken looks so delicious.

Thank you for sharing a great story.

see you next post.

My Carolina Kitchen said...

I love the wonderful markets of France. How I envy that you get to go every Saturday.
Your chicken sounds really good with the caramelized onions and Dijon. Pass the plate please.

Donna-FFW said...

Thank you for sharing these market pictures. I find them so interesting. I love to see what they offer.

This dish sounds truly unique and delicious. Ive never cooked with preserved lemons before.

Maryann said...

I love market photos. Thanks :)

Sara said...

I wish I had a market like that nearby. There's one about 45 minutes away, but it's definitely not as good as this one. The chicken looks great too!

Gabi said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog and leaving such a nice comment about my Kouign Amann aux amandes.
Your blog is beautiful- I'm glad to meet you- we "feasts" must stick together ;)
Looking forward to reading more of your life and cooking!

Helene said...

That chicken looks so full of flavors. I enjoyed your makets pics.

Anonymous said...

Oh Jamie, thanks for taking me to Europe this morning! Reading your post, I could hear the sounds, smell the smells, and remember my market days of childhood with my Oma!

We have a Saturday Farmers' market here in Richmond, it's been held in the same area since Civil War days, but it's somehow not the same as those in Europe, particularly those in sea towns like Nantes and Hamburg.

Hugs to you and all your men!

Mindy said...

This looks delicious! I can't wait to try it!

Culinary Wannabe said...

How cool that you have markets like that at your fingertips!

The Cooking Photographer said...

Hi Jamie,

Wow. Wowowowow. That looks like a bit of heaven. Beautiful market, and pictures too.

I hate dull knives too and start swearing when I'm stuck with them loud enough that my husband will hear and eventually come sharpen them for me.

Wow, I'm passive aggressive I guess! Maybe I'll just ask him next time lol.


Natashya said...

What a great market! I wish we had markets like that here.
We have the St. Lawrence in Toronto, but it is a day trip from here into the city.

chili said...

One of my favourite , well cooked Jamie !


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