There is a saying in our house: "Il n'y a que Maille qui m'aille." (Loose translation: "Only Maille works for me!") It's a slogan of the venerable French mustard house Maille that my stepfather mutters at every meal on his journey from table to fridge, right between where he picks up his first bite and where he realizes there's no mustard. He slathers it on bread, on pasta, on fish, on meat. He is indiscriminate, and I have come to learn that the American stereotype of putting ketchup on escargot can be just as frankly reversed, as I have seen him anointing the most American of meals—hot dogs, French fries, grilled cheese, and even Kraft mac and cheese—in Dijon mustard.
So it was a great moment last summer when I emerged from the Metro in Paris and looked up to see a veritable Maille museum and shop. The shelves were like those from an estate library, and behind glass, brightly lit, were mustard jars, hand painted in the traditional fashion, selling for no small price. There were flavors ranging from the ubiquitous cassis, tarragon, and honey, to walnut and bleu and clementine. And mustard sputtered from great brass taps.
Mustard is something of a temple at which we worship en famille. I wasn't surprised that when I made this chicken for my stepfather for lunch, he took out even more mustard to slather on. I've always thought of Dijon mustard with its winey, spicy, tangy accent as a beautiful woman with biting, whipping wit. It looks innocent enough—mild even—in the jar, but the inimitable flavor is bold and will bring tears to your eyes. The creaminess of this dish mellows out Miss Mustard just a touch, and the lemony, earthy resin of the thyme is reminiscent of deep bowls of Moules à la Moutarde. The result is a simple, hearty, and rustic meal.
About the author: Kerry Saretsky is the creator of French Revolution Food, where she reinvents her family's classic French recipes in a fresh, chic, modern way. She also writes the The Secret Ingredient series for Serious Eats.
- 3 tablespoons light olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon
- 10 chicken legs
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 4 shallots, diced
- 3/4 cup white wine
- 1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
- 6 stems thyme, plus extra for garnish
- 1/2 cup Dijon mustard
- 1/2 cup cream
In a wide, heavy-bottomed pan, heat 3 tablespoons light olive oil on medium-high heat.
Season the chicken legs with salt and pepper, and pat dry with paper towel. Sear in the hot oil until golden-brown on all sides. Remove to a plate.
Pour out the hot chicken oil, and lower the heat to low. Add 1 tablespoon fresh light olive oil to the pan. Add in the shallot, and then the garlic 1 minute later, and sauté just until translucent and fragrant—two minutes total from the time the shallots went into the pan.
Pour in the white wine, and raise the heat to medium-high. Reduce the wine—it will bubble the chicken bits up from the bottom of the pan, and reduce by about half. Then add the chicken stock and 6 stems of thyme. Then, nestle the chicken back into the pan in a single layer. Bring the liquid to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer, and cover the pot, simmering for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, remove the cover from the pot, and allow the chicken to simmer a further 5 to 10 minutes uncovered.
Take the pan off the heat. Again, remove the chicken from the pan. Whisk in the cream and the mustard until the sauce is homogeneous. Then strain. Toss the chicken with the Dijon sauce, top with fresh thyme, and serve right away with crusty bread and a salad.