Is there a single person on the Outer Cape who doesn’t pine all summer long for September? Friends and neighbors talk about it all year long — it’s mythic. Why then, I ask myself, am I on an airplane headed to France?
There are the Alps, of course. But what got me to leave Truro for a week at this time of year was not mountains but our nephew Max. Freshly minted high school diploma in hand, Max is starting a gap year at the université. He’s here ostensibly to study French, but I suspect skiing is also going to be part of his curriculum.
It takes some determination to get from Bozeman, Mont. to Grenoble when you’re 18. My brother and sister-in-law seemed a little worried about whether Max would be able to navigate the bureaucracy that makes France so French. I like to think I’ve been helpful tagging along with him on opening a bank account, getting a SIM card, lining up an annual bike rental, and buying bath towels. But I know I’m mainly here to feed him.
Each evening we have dinner out at some little restaurant and recount what we’ve learned since yesterday. I get to know Max a little better, hearing about his friendships, his still cloudy plans for the future, and his ongoing devotion to Legos.
At the end of the week, we meet at 10 a.m. at L’Agence de Mobilité on the Avenue Alsace-Lorraine. Max gets his tram pass without me having to utter a single mot. When he gets on the B tram to class, I realize my mission is accomplished.
I’m on my own for lunch. Trying to stay in the shade — it’s still hot here at this time of year — I wander without a plan into the oldest part of the city, taking in the narrow alleys and medieval buildings and the fruit and vegetable market on the Place aux Herbes.
La Ferme à Dédé is bustling. Its terrace is shaded by a large tree, and a cheerful waiter motions me toward the one empty table in view. I strike up a conversation with two women who are surrounded by the spoils of a shopping expedition at Galleries Lafayette.
One slim advantage Grenoble has over Truro is that here I get to trot out my French, which isn’t too bad even though it’s been well over 30 years since I lived and studied in Paris.
It’s come in handy this week on errands, but chatting up these ladies is much more fun. They tell me they often lunch here and recommend the special, which today is cocotte de cuisse de poulet à la forestière.
“Le plat du jour s’il vous plaît,” I tell the waiter in my best accent. It seems odd to order what is essentially a stew in the heat of the day, but when the waiter sets the small, well-seasoned Dutch oven in front of me I’m very glad I did. Under the lid are a chicken thigh and leg bathed in mushrooms and cream. The waiter places a sliced baguette, a salad, and a pichet of wine on the table. A slight breeze cools the terrace, and I think, “Grenoble may not be Truro, but it’s not so bad.”
Back home, the weather has turned noticeably cooler, and the sun is already low on a Sunday late afternoon. It’s the perfect day to replicate the poulet à la forestière for our supper.
“Forestière” refers to a dish made with mushrooms. For my Truro version, I used bone-in chicken thighs, first browning them and then finishing them with a mushroom sauce that’s spiked with booze and enriched with crème fraîche. While I won’t say it’s quick to make, it’s a simple dish, and once you’ve got it going you can leave it to come together over a low fire.
As is usually the case with dishes in shades of brown, poulet à la forestière isn’t particularly photogenic, but no matter: in person the sauce is lustrous and inviting.
Since all I could find at the store here were conventional white mushrooms, I dry fry them to boost their flavor and color. Then for additional depth I add some dried porcini. Dried mushrooms are one of the great secrets of a well-stocked larder — they last forever and have tons of flavor.
With roasted potatoes, half a baguette found in the freezer, and a little Truro Vineyards chardonnay in our glasses, we toast Max from this side of the ocean, take a quick selfie, and send it with our best wishes for a good week.
4 large skin-on chicken thighs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Flour for dredging
1 oz. porcini or other dried mushrooms, rehydrated
12 oz. fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. butter
2 large shallots, sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
½ cup dry white wine
2 sprigs thyme
¾ cup chicken stock
2 oz. brandy
½ cup crème fraîche or cream
1/8 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 Tbsp. chopped parsley for garnish
If you have time, salt chicken generously with kosher salt to dry brine a few hours before making the dish, allowing the salt to penetrate and flavor the meat. When ready to begin the dish, rinse off the dry brine and pat the chicken dry.
Cover the dried mushrooms with 1 cup of boiling water and allow them to sit for at least 10 minutes. Squeeze out excess water, reserving liquid, and chop the mushrooms.
Cook the fresh mushrooms in a large, dry sauté pan (the same one you will use for the chicken). Sauté until the mushrooms give up their liquid and turn golden, but don’t allow them to dry out. Spoon into a bowl and set aside.
If you dry brined the chicken, re-season it with salt and pepper and dredge lightly in flour. Otherwise, simply season the chicken with salt and pepper and dredge.
Heat the butter and oil in the same pan you used for the mushrooms over medium high heat. Once the butter is sizzling, add the chicken thighs skin side down. Cook for about 8 minutes without disturbing until the chicken skin is golden brown. Flip the thighs and cook for an additional 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.
Lower the heat to medium. Add the shallots and garlic. Cook until the shallots are lightly caramelized. Add the fresh and rehydrated mushrooms, thyme, white wine, chicken stock, and a half cup of the mushroom-soaking liquid. Season the sauce with salt and pepper and cook 10 minutes, then return the chicken to the pan along with any accumulated juices. Cover and cook for 20 minutes on medium-low heat.
Again remove the chicken from the pan, add the brandy and crème fraîche (or cream), and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning. Return the chicken to the pan and cook uncovered for 10 minutes or so, until the sauce thickens slightly. If the sauce is thicker than desired, thin it out with the reserved mushroom soaking broth.
Garnish with chopped parsley.