The French culinary icon and his granddaughter share holiday recipes for chicken sûpremes and meringues
“I have always cooked for my family,” writes chef Jacques Pépin in his latest cookbook. “The smell of food cooking, your mother’s or father’s voice, the clang of the utensils, and the taste of the food: These memories will stay with you for the rest of your life.”
The quintessential French chef has created a guide to create and remember these memories in his latest book, A Grandfather’s Lessons: In the Kitchen with Shorey, which he recently wrote and recipe-tested with his 13-year-old granddaughter, Shorey Wesen.
The book is filled with healthy recipes that are approachable for novice chefs, as well as notes on simple dining etiquette that can be increasingly hard to come by, including napkin-folding techniques and table manners. Illustrations of animals and produce, a trademark styling of Pépin’s, are sprinkled through the pages.
Writing the book was a learning experience for both of them. “Honestly, I like to say that I was an inspiration for this book, but almost all of these recipes were new to me,” says Wesen. “My grandfather picked them as something that we could make together, as something that he could teach me and that I would enjoy learning.”
Pépin takes a more artistic approach. “For us, cooking together was like a canvas upon which we could speak. I am over 80 years old and Shorey’s 13, so, you know, it’s a work of communicating for us,” he said.
At one point, Wesen noted that the legs of a chicken or turkey often have more taste and moisture than the breast. To show her that white meat can be flavorful too, Pépin prepared Chicken Suprêmes in Persillade, which is sautéed on high heat for no more than six minutes, then dressed in persillade, a provincial mix of garlic, parsley and scallions that Pépin’s mother, Jeannette, often used when cooking fish or fowl. (In French, “persil” means parsley, and “ail” means garlic.)
The book’s recipe calls for peanut oil, though other types will do. “I don’t like to use what people call vegetable oil; I don’t really know what it is,” says Pépin. “So I use peanut oil or canola oil or an oil that I know where it comes from.”
The mix of butter, oil and the chicken’s natural juices, combined with the brief cooking time, present an easy dish that is moist and tasty. To take the dish further with a wine pairing, Pépin recommends an easy-drinking Beaujolais or Côtes du Rhône blend.
His granddaughter, on the other hand, has strong opinions about dessert.
“If we had gone Shorey’s way, we probably would have dessert right away,” Pépin chuckles. She has a soft spot for chocolate, but around Christmastime, Pépin’s recipes for Meringues, which also come from his mother, are a holiday staple loved by all generations of the Pépin family.
“I love the meringues. I think they’re really good and I love the texture and everything,” says Wesen. The light dessert is a good way to use up leftover egg whites and can be spruced up with melted chocolate or apricot jam. Pépin recommends using cold egg whites and favors a less-is-more when beating the mixture, as overdoing it can result in a chewy, elastic texture in the final product. After the work is done, the meringues can be sealed in Tupperware and last for months.
For this year’s Christmas celebration, Jacques and his wife, Gloria, are headed to their daughter Claudine’s family home in Rhode Island—“so I can dirty someone else’s kitchen,” Pépin quips—and they’re planning a family feast that includes foie gras, oysters, bûche de Noël and more. Shorey will surely help out with the meringues.
The following recipes are excerpted from A Grandfather’s Lessons: In the Kitchen with Shorey, by Jacques Pépin (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017).
- 2 tablespoons peanut oil
- 4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (5 to 6 ounces each), preferably organic
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 6 scallions, minced (1/3 cup)
- 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped garlic
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 2 tablespoons water
1. Heat the peanut oil in a saucepan. Sprinkle the chicken breasts with the salt and pepper, add to the hot pan and sauté for about 3 minutes over high heat. Turn the breasts over, reduce the heat to medium, cover, and cook for about 3 minutes; chicken should be nicely browned on both sides and cooked through but still moist. Place the chicken breasts on warm plates.
2. Add the scallions, garlic, and butter to the saucepan and cook for about 1 minute. Add the parsley and water and mix well, then pour the sauce over the chicken. Serve immediately. Serves 4.
- 5 large egg whites, chilled
- 1 1/4 cups sugar
- Whipped cream, jam, melted chocolate, or ice cream, for serving (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 225° F. Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat at medium to high speed until foamy. With the machine still on medium-high, quickly but steadily add the sugar (should take no more than 10 seconds) and keep beating for about 15 seconds longer to combine well.
2. Using a large spoon, scoop out some of the meringue to create 4 large oval shapes on the lined cookie sheet. Then, for a different look, fit a pastry bag with a star tip or plain tip, fill the bag with the remaining meringue mixture and pipe out another 8 large meringues.
3. Bake the meringues for about 3 hours until firm and light beige in color. Cool completely, then place in a container with a tight-fitting lid and store at room temperature until ready to use. Serve plain or with whipped cream, jam, chocolate or ice cream. Makes 12 meringues.
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