You know the old adage “tastes just like chicken?” Well, if you’ve been eating as much chicken as I have, the taste of chicken becomes just that: a flavor as unique as grass. Your daily cognizance of its presence reaches the point of tedium. Chicken is wonderful, don’t get me wrong – yet the “lean protein” and “cross-cultural” accolades lose their luster after the 10th meal you’ve had with chicken…similar to hearing Vivaldi’s Spring for the umpteenth time. So here I was again, facing the inevitable task of creating a chicken dinner that didn’t taste like chicken. I went for the easy win, and chose the one thing that makes any meal beautiful – a pungent, fatty hunk of cheese. And I daresay these Blue Cheese Chicken Roulades were to DIE for!
Not to gross you out, but blue cheese is quite literally a “molded” cheese – it has been infused with Penicillum (yup, it’s the same genus that produces the antibiotic) to create those distinctive blue “spots”. It’s this addition that gives the cheese such fabulous depth – a salty, sharp taste that pairs well with honey and fruit (apples or pears especially). Like many a wonderful invention, blue cheese was a total accident – cheeses being stored in caves started to develop mold under the humid circumstances, and yet the flavor was a surprisingly welcome deviation from the original….WHY they ate the moldy cheese in the first place beats me, but I’m thankful they did.
This is one of those recipes that looks more difficult than it actually is…well, you might accidentally prick yourself with a toothpick, but it’s a minor threat for such an irresistible result. The trick is to soak the toothpicks for 30 minutes at least, so they are “heatproof” and won’t splinter easily. We decided to include spinach as an afterthought, but it was more for color than anything else. Basil would have been too overpowering, and any other green would defeat the purpose.
These roulades are the paragon of “comfort food” – no frilly sauces or special seasonings, just cheese doing what it does best: MELT. A castiron pan is best for this recipe, but any ovenproof skillet will do (or you can simply transfer the chicken to a baking pan post-searing…but then you lose all of those glorious pan juices!) Warning – you might attack your friend so that you can have his/her share…don’t say I didn’t warn you 😉 Click HERE to read more about this sinful recipe.
“Nutritional” and “daring” rarely define comfort food – this is a genre whose sole intention is to portray the joy of eating, a pleasure that is by no means a triviality. The goal is analogous to the philosophy of many a French composer during the 20th century. Conveying pleasure through art was a priority, as Debussy famously describes:
“There is no theory. You have only to listen. Pleasure is the law. I love music passionately. And because l love it, I try to free it from barren traditions that stifle it.” – Claude Debussy
While the music of Debussy is among my favorites, I chose another French composer as the subject of this pairing: Jean Françaix (a fan of Debussy himself!) Françaix was a musical prodigy from the start, telling his family that he would become the next “great French composer” following the death of Camille Saint-Saëns. While this may seem overly ambitious (if not arrogant), his musical abilities by and large merited such confidence. His Wind Quintet No. 1 (written in 1948) is a remarkable example of the virtuosic, joyous style that guided most of his writing. The opening is a slow dance, with a horn melody soaring above a texturally rich harmony. In an instant, the winds take off on a series of running scales – yet the horn is still singing, reflecting on the calm from moments before. The second movement is playful, alternating between a fast-paced presto to a lilting, honeyed waltz. We encounter a theme and variations in the third movement, where each instrument takes a turn. The fourth is pure fun – the winds are flying through runs and articulated passages, while the horn and oboe recall the opening’s joyful respite. It ends on a humorous note, as though Françaix is reminding us to smile – for after all, isn’t that what music (and food) are all about? The below recording is with the Berliner Bläserquintett – enjoy 🙂