THIS LITTLE PIGGY WENT TO MARKET
THIS LITTLE PIGGY COOKED AT HOME
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).
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”.
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.
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.
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
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.