A little luxury

When I was in London this summer, I visited the V&A museum and had a wander around their exhibition on luxury. It got me thinking about the meaning of luxury, both how it’s culturally and socially defined, and how I define it for myself. Generally, it’s thought of as being something expensive, but the exhibition made me realise that luxury is often related to scarcity and, therefore, things that require unusual skill, opportunity or effort could all be seen as luxurious.

I cooked a luxurious meal the other night. Why was it luxurious?

  1. I made pudding just because I felt like it
  2. There was a bottle of wine
  3. I cooked a more time consuming and complex main course than I would usually attempt

Julia Child is one of the most well-known food writers of the last century, and I’m lucky enough to own a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The book provides a thorough introduction to French cooking techniques, all of which are clearly explained. The recipe I chose to make (Fricassée de Poulet à l’indienne) combined two key skills of French cuisine, neither of which I’d attempted before, which were making a fricassée and enriching a sauce with egg yolk and cream.

You start, as is standard for a stew, by softening onion, carrot and celery in a pan, then browning chicken pieces. Where this differs from a stew is that you then allow the chicken to cook without any liquid for about ten minutes, after which you add white wine and stock. You then allow it to braise in the liquid until the chicken is fully cooked. The difficult bit comes with the enrichment at the end – removing the chicken from the pan, straining the sauce and then using it to temper a mixture of egg yolks and cream, hoping all the time that the egg won’t scramble.

I modified the recipe substantially, adding curry powder (a variation suggested in the book) and serving it with spinach, rather than onions and mushrooms. I also used dried herbs rather than a herb bouquet, because they were what I had on hand. I strained the sauce earlier than the recipe stipulates, in the vain hope of reducing the mess, and omitted a final butter enrichment to the sauce, which I didn’t feel was necessary.

I’m really pleased I tried this recipe – the result was a triumph. It tasted rich and decadent and would be great for a special occasion. It wasn’t an expensive meal to make, rather the luxury of it was about having the time to create something fabulous (I was in the kitchen for a while), tending to it, trying something new and scary, and presenting it proudly at the end of the process.

P.S. The pudding I made was this chocolate pudding pie from Smitten Kitchen. Far less grown-up than the main course, but yummy.

P.P.S. For another good use of curry powder, I would recommend these curried potatoes from Budget Bytes. This recipe is a great blueprint – I threw in some spinach last time – and makes a filling meal with some naan bread on the side.

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