Leek à la Wannée

Leek is such a tasty vegetable: essential when making stock, delicious when prepared in butter and served with a cheese sauce (Sauce Mornay) or when stir fried. Extravagant when served with a dressing (jus de truffe, lemon, mustard) and lots of summer truffle. A popular, tasty, aromatic and very affordable vegetable.

This was also the case in 1910 when Mrs. Wannée published her cookbook. A book dedicated to nutritious and inexpensive food. Or should we say cheap? She was teacher and director of the Amsterdam Huishoudschool, a school for domestic skills, aimed at training future maids and housewives. The book is currently in its 32nd edition and has sold over one million copies. It continues to be a popular cookbook because every new edition reflects the current views on food and nutrition.

We have a copy of the 14th edition (published around 1955?). It is beautifully illustrated (full colour pictures and drawings) and contains 1038 recipes. It probably very much reflects the 1910 style of preparing food. We followed recipe 451 for stewed leek with a corn starch-based sauce. Well, eh, honestly don’t do this at home. The texture of the leek was nice and soft, the taste gone and the sauce bland and gluey. Interesting as experiment but not worth repeating.

The recipe does not mention the use of pepper and/or nutmeg (both fairly obvious choices) which is part of a bigger problem. Another standard Dutch cookbook (Het Haagse Kookboek, first published in 1934) is also known for the very limited use of spices and herbs. Probably it is a reflection of the sober, Calvinist nature of the Dutch in the 19th and 20th century. Price over taste, quantity over quality.

This dominated Dutch cooking for many years. And in some cases it still does. As if Dutch food is over-cooked and under-seasoned.

Nonsense. When you read books by Carolus Battus or Mrs. Marselis you know that Dutch cuisine is absolutely about tasty and interesting food, using various herbs and spices.

What You Don’t Do

Wash and clean the leek. Slice it in 4 – 5 cm chunks. Cook these in salted water for 30 minutes. Drain. Use the liquid and corn starch to make a sauce. Add some butter to make the sauce richer. Transfer the leek back to the sauce and leave for 15 minutes.

We served the leek with organic pork loin in a creamy mustard sauce (yummy!)

Chicken with Tarragon, Leek and Nero d’Avola

Some combinations are made in heaven. Chicken and Tarragon is such a combination: it simply works brilliantly. Tarragon is a very powerful, aromatic herb, full of flavors such as anise and licorice. It’s the key ingredient of the sauce Béarnaise and it is of course wonderful when combined with vinegar and mustard. For kitchen purposes you need to buy French tarragon. The other well-known variety is called Russian tarragon. It’s a nice plant for your garden or balcony, with flowers and lots of leaves, but the taste is very bland, so not one to use in the kitchen.

We use butter to carry the taste of the tarragon to the chicken and to the sauce. It’s the principle behind enfleurage and maceration in the perfume making industry: fat is used to absorb the fragrance. So yes, you need an excellent chicken with lots of fat under the skin.

This recipe works with a whole chicken, with breasts and legs, provided they come with a skin. The crux of this recipe is to create a layer of tarragon butter between the meat and the skin, allowing for a crispy skin in combination with rich, flavored meat. You can stuff the chicken in the morning or the day before. Ideal when you’re having guests!

The sauce is very rich, so instead of using flour or cream, we create an emulsified sauce by blendering the mixture. The result is a velvety, filming sauce.

We enjoyed our chicken with a glass of Inycon Nero d’Avola. The wine is elegant, fruity, not too full bodied and it has soft tannins and a gentle acidity. You will also taste licorice, which is a nice reflection of the tarragon and the Pastis. The balance of the acidity of the wine and the filming structure of the sauce is essential to the dish.

Here is what you need

  • 2 Chicken Legs
  • 8 Sprigs of Tarragon
  • 20 + 10 grams of Butter
  • Olive Oil
  • Pastis
  • Chicken Stock
  • Optional: Leek, olive oil and water

Strip the tarragon leaves from the stem and chop. Let’s say you need one or two sprigs of tarragon per chicken leg. Use a fork to make the tarragon butter. Use your fingers to create space (a pocket) between the skin and the meat. Start for instance in the middle of the leg (outside) or at the rear of the whole chicken. Be careful not to open the edges, otherwise the tarragon butter can’t do its work. Put some of the butter between the skin and the meat and use your fingers to create a thin layer by pressing the butter to the sides. Coat the bottom of a shallow baking pan with olive oil.
Transfer the chicken legs to the pan. Add some additional butter to the pan (not on top of the chicken). Also add the sprigs you haven’t used. Put the pan in an oven of 200˚ Celsius or 390˚ Fahrenheit for 30 minutes.
Transfer the chicken legs and two sprigs of tarragon to a plate and keep them warm in the oven (just switch it of and keep the door open). Deglaze the pan with chicken stock and Pastis. Deglazing simply means that you add a liquid and then by stirring the mixture you capture the residue in the pan. As if you are cleaning the pan. Blender the mixture and poor through a sieve into a small saucepan. You now have a homogenous, emulsified sauce. Warm the sauce and stir occasionally for five minutes. Serve the chicken with the sauce, the fried sprigs of tarragon and the briefly cooked leek.

(P.S. Clean the leek, making sure you have removed the sand and dirt. Slice thinly and cook with some olive oil and a drop or two of water. Five minutes maximum should do the trick.)