Eventually, Aratow wound up producing two movies, 1984's "Sheena," the story of the famous queen of the jungle, which received multiple nominations from the Razzie Awards -- the reverse Oscars -- and "My Man Adam," which was released in 1985.
Aratow painstakingly cuts the chicken into pieces, peels away the skin and then arranges the meat on a platter. The sauce is a pale ivory, thick and rich. He begins to pour it over the chicken straight from the pan, then stops and carefully spoons it on instead.
"What would Madame say?" he asks.
He put together the Madame Saint-Ange project the same way he would produce a movie. He had negotiated a deal for the American rights from Larousse, the French publisher, and then began a long campaign of persuading a friend at Ten Speed Press to fund it.
"I'd been talking to Ten Speed for 10 or 15 years, telling them this was the best cookbook in the world," he says. "Finally they called and said they'd asked Madeleine Kamman [author of "When French Women Cook"] about it and she agreed, so they were going to publish it." Kamman wrote the foreword.
Aratow arranges cooked mushroom caps around the edge of the plate, and the poularde a l'ivoire is completed. The chicken is moist, perfectly cooked, with a deep, pure flavor. The sauce is silky and subtle, tasting mostly of cream with a shadowy bass note of rich stock. It's the kind of thing we're not used to tasting anymore, the culinary equivalent of a Louis XIV chair.
"Wow," says Aratow. "Doesn't that taste French?"
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Tips from Madame:
* When sauteing blanched vegetables, start them in a hot dry pan and only add the butter after the surface moisture has evaporated. This way the butter will coat the vegetables rather than puddle in the bottom.
* Potato salad can be eaten cold or warm, but it must always be seasoned when it is hot so the flavors will penetrate the potato.
* When preparing duxelles (finely chopped mushrooms cooked with shallots), place the chopped mushrooms in a towel and squeeze them tightly to extract as much water as possible before you begin cooking.
* Fat rendered from beef kidneys is without a doubt the best for deep-frying. It can withstand a high temperature without burning, and food fried in it will stay crisp longer.
* Braise in a pot that is just big enough to barely hold the meat comfortably. If the pot is too small, the meat will scorch; if it is too big, the sauce will be overly diluted.
* Cold is the enemy when making mayonnaise; all ingredients and utensils should be at room temperature.
* Use only oil or butter to baste a roast, never liquid, which will hinder the browning. For this reason, do not baste with the fat from the bottom of the pan because it is very difficult to spoon only pure fat without any cooking juices.
* Always core apples before peeling them. The peel helps support the pulp and keeps it from bursting while you're cutting out the core.
* To tell when fish is done, insert a metal skewer into the thickest part and then press it to the back of your hand. The skewer will be burning hot if the fish is sufficiently cooked.