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Beauty and the Brut

TIMES FOOD EDITOR

Beyond caviar-topped blini and wedding cake, there isn’t a lot that easily comes to mind when the average person tries to pair Champagne with food. For advice on what to serve with the inevitable bottle of Champagne this Valentine’s Day, we turned to chef Joyce Goldstein, founder of the influential (and recently closed) Square One restaurant in San Francisco and author of several cookbooks. Her latest book, “Kitchen Conversations” (William Morrow, 1996), includes wine suggestions from her son, Evan Goldstein, with every recipe. And Champagne is suggested with several dishes.

There is, for instance, a shrimp salad that Goldstein describes as “a smashing first course.” Shrimp are briefly sauteed in orange-balsamic vinaigrette (balsamic and Sherry vinegars, olive oil, orange peel, orange juice, salt and pepper), then stirred in the pan with pine nuts and raisins plumped in sherry and finally tossed with radicchio strips and spinach leaves. “This dish is a great Champagne dish,” Goldstein says. “And it’s a no-brainer to put together.”

Then there is her cream of salt cod, which Goldstein once served with a dollop of caviar to winemaker Remy Krug. “The man kissed me for that dish,” Goldstein says.

With chicken in walnut sauce, Evan Goldstein--or, as Joyce Goldstein calls him, “my son, the wine dude"--suggests, among other things, brut Champagne or other sparkling wines to play against the bitterness of the walnuts.

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Goldstein herself didn’t immediately think of Champagne when she developed the recipe (Evan Goldstein also recommends Merlot and Syrah blends, as well as Semillon). “It’s a rustic peasant dish to serve with such a festive wine,” she says. But the more she thought about it, the more she liked the match.

“It’s an easy dish to cook,” Goldstein says. “I think chicken is sort of a bourgeois kind of food that can be elevated with Champagne. And maybe a teeny bit of cream, say a tablespoon, would help soften the edge from the walnuts, make it a little more friendly toward the wine, because not everyone is going to serve brut Champagne.”

And what kind of Champagne does Goldstein prefer?

“I try all Champagnes,” she says. “Of course, I like the expensive ones. But I like what the average person might buy--Roederer Estate, Mumm Brut. I like to think about what people can get at the market and not send them on a quest for four days.”

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CHICKEN IN WALNUT SAUCE

Goldstein writes of this dish: “In Spain they love to use sweet almonds to thicken a sauce. In the Balkan countries and Russia, bitter walnuts are the nuts of choice. Some versions of this dish bake the chicken breasts and spoon the sauce over the top. I like to saute the chicken breasts and add the walnut sauce to the pan. This sauce is also excellent spooned over roast chicken or turkey and would even work well with fish.

“If you prefer, remove the bones and skin of the chicken breasts and pound them slightly between sheets of plastic wrap. Or leave the bones in and the skin on for baking or frying.”

If you don’t plan on using the sauce immediately after making it, you may need to thin it with broth or water before serving. You may also follow Goldstein’s suggestion to add a tablespoon of cream to the sauce to give the dish a more luxurious texture. This addition is especially recommended if you plan to serve this dish with a non-brut or sweeter Champagne.

4 chicken breast halves or 1 (4-pound) roasting chicken

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 cups ground toasted walnuts

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4 cloves garlic, minced fine

1 tablespoon grated lemon peel

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon or cloves

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

1 onion, chopped

1 tablespoon flour

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1 1/2 cups chicken broth

1 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice or vinegar to taste

1/4 cup chopped dill or cilantro

Season chicken with salt and pepper.

Combine ground walnuts, garlic, lemon peel, cayenne and cinnamon with little salt.

Heat oil in large skillet over high heat and brown breasts quickly on all sides. Set aside. Reduce heat to moderate, add butter to pan, and cook onion 8 to 10 minutes until softened. Add flour, stir well and cook about 5 minutes to get rid of raw flour taste. Add broth, stir well and bring to boil.

Reduce heat and simmer 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in walnut mixture and adjust seasoning with lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Add 2 tablespoons dill or cilantro. Return chicken to pan to coat with sauce and finish cooking, about 10 minutes.

Taste again and adjust for salt, lemon and herbs. Sprinkle with remaining herbs, if necessary, and serve at once.

4 servings. Each serving:

639 calories; 505 mg sodium; 92 mg cholesterol; 52 grams fat; 13 grams carbohydrates; 34 grams protein; 2.27 grams fiber.


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