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Three Everyday Cooking Tips I Learned from a Great French Chef

Alsatian-born David Baruthio has cooked all over the world, from England, France, and Belgium to Beverly Hills; he now cooks and lives in the Great Midwest, where he met and fell in love with the jewellery designer who became his wife.

Together, we have collaborated on cooking classes and special soirées—he often brings cheffie twists and turns to my recipes; in turn, I translate his cheffie recipes for the American cook.

Through Chef Baru, I’ve gleaned some great recipes—a beautiful pâté, true French macaroons, eye-catching verrines, and more.

But it’s the little, seemingly minor tips that I’ve picked up from him that I truly appreciate, especially in the realm of everyday cooking.

Here are three that I especially cherish:

1. Season the Salad After It’s Dressed

Rather than adding the majority of a salad’s salt to your dressing (as I always did), go sparingly as you make the dressing. Then, add salt to taste as you toss the salad with the dressing. Ça chatouille,” he says. Indeed, it tickles the taste buds a bit, adding a little texture to the leaves and heightening the flavor of everything, as only well-placed salt can do.

2. Buy a Fish Spatula, for heaven’s sake.

Cooking alongside Chef Baru, I noticed how effortlessly he flipped everything from blinis to fish, and how easily he got macarons to slip off parchment paper. The trick was in this super-thin fish spatula, which has a slightly sharp edge to it that gets underneath even the most fragile food without breaking it. (Pictured: The Wüsthof Gourmet 6 1/2-inch spatula.)

3. Poach the Chicken Breasts and Cut Them like a Duck Breast

For quick, any-night chicken dishes that will be sautéed in a pan and served with a quick pan sauce, I have always pounded or butterflied my skinless, boneless chicken breasts to make them cook faster. After cooking, I remove them from the pan, cover them with foil, and make my pan sauce in the pan.

Here’s Chef Baru’s angle: He keeps the boneless chicken breasts in their original shape and thickness; after sautéing them, he removes them from the pan. He deglazes the pan with liquid (such as wine). Then, he puts the chicken back in the pan and lets them cook in the liquid while it’s reducing.

When it’s all finished, he slices the chicken breast as he would a magret de canard (breast of a fattened duck) and serves it with the sauce. The results are tender, moist—and elegant.

I like my pounded/butterflied method when I’m in a hurry and I want a higher ratio of crusty golden-brown exterior to interior meat. However, I like Chef Baru’s method when I have a little more time, and I’m looking for a little more elegance.

Try his method in my recipe, below. And use a fish spatula to turn the breasts!

Chicken Rapide with White Wine, Balsamic Vinegar, and Red Grapes
Makes 4 servings

4          boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 1 1/4 lbs. total)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4      cup all-purpose flour
2          tablespoons unsalted butter
1          tablespoon olive oil
2          garlic cloves, minced
3/4      cup low-sodium chicken broth
3/4      cup dry white wine
1          tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1          tablespoon honey
1          cup seedless red grapes, halved

1. Season both sides of the chicken breasts with salt and pepper; dredge in the flour and shake off excess.

2. In a large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter and heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook until nicely golden-brown on each side. Remove chicken from skillet.

3. Add garlic to skillet; sauté briefly. Carefully add chicken broth, white wine, and balsamic vinegar. Return the chicken breasts to the pan. Let the sauce boil around the chicken until the liquid is reduced to about 1/3 cup and the chicken breasts are cooked through. (Shift the breasts in the pan now and then as they cook to keep them from sticking. If the pan liquid reduces before chicken is cooked through, add a little more wine to the pan). Remove the chicken breasts from the pan.

4. Whisk in the honey. Whisk in the remaining 1 tablespoon butter until melted. At this point, sauce should be somewhat syrupy (allow to boil a little longer if it is not). Add the grapes and heat through. To serve, spoon grapes and sauce over chicken breasts.

Wini Moranville is the author of The Bonne Femme Cookbook: Simple, Splendid Food That French Women Cook Every Day [1], and the co-author of The Braiser Cookbook [2]. Follow Wini on Facebook at Chez Bonne Femme [3].