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Eating French Food With a Texas Accent

Funny what you remember, sometimes.

I can’t tell you what I had for breakfast two days ago, but I remember, verbatim, the audio tapes we used to listen to in high school French class.

“Où est Phillipe?”

“A la piscine.”

“Avec Luc?”

“No. Avec Anne.”

“Où est Sylvie?”

“À la bibliothèque.”

So, in case you missed it, Phillip is at the swimming pool with Anne.  Sylvie is at the library.  Luc must have gone missing, or is otherwise unaccounted for.

I grew up in South Texas, surrounded by speakers of Spanish.  Well, speakers of Tex Mex, actually.  Not the proper Castilian Spanish, Tex-Mex is sort of a hybridized Spanish/Native Latin American/English sort of thing.  With all that latin-ness going on, when it came time to take a foreign language, a forward thinking person would have opted for Spanish.  But not me.  I was not a forward thinking person.  I lived in the now.  And the now, back then, wanted to learn a more foreign language.  Since my choices were limited to Latin, Spanish, French or German, I chose French. 

I felt I was already too exposed to Spanish–even the grocery store announcements were bilingual–so I was rebelling against Spanish.

I am half German, and my grandmother spoke it.  I took it when I was younger, so that would have been the next logical choice.  But German is so guttural that even “I Love You” sounds something like “die, you evil bastard”.

And even at the tender age of 15, I knew that only those with a masochistic tendency, or who were destined for a degree in science took Latin.

So it was French.  And in French, it even sounds lovely when you are telling someone EXACTLY what they can do with themselves.  And I mean, I loved French fries, French bread, and French toast, so I figured I was already half way there.

The two years I took High School French was taught by the same lady that ran the ballet studio that my sister and I attended when we were younger.   Madame Sulek.  She was a lovely lady, with perfect posture, and her hair always pulled back neatly in a tight bun.  She was also a Georgia peach with a great southern drawl.  That means that I learned to speak French with a southern accent.  So, bonjour, rather than being pronounced “bon-ju” sounded something like “bon-ju-ah”

Actually, the French language goes beautifully with a southern lilt, so I am not complaining.  But my college French professor had hell for two years trying to correct my accent. 

Madame Sullivan was from Chamonix, France.  She looked exactly like what you might find in the dictionary if you looked up “French Woman”.  She was long and lithe–the body of a ballet dancer.  Her dark hair was very long and wavy, with no layers or bangs, but was almost always pulled back into a tight bun.  She wore leather dress suits, with shirt tight skirts and body hugging jackets.  As was the fashion of the time, the jackets had shoulder pads at the top and peplums at the waist.  And to complete the ensemble, always fashionable high heels.  She had a very wide mouth painted with red lipstick, and thick black eyelashes.  I don’t know for sure, but I bet she smoked.  If she did, I bet she smoked long cigarettes and blew gentle smoke rings while sipping red wine and eating baguette.

I learned much more about French culture than language in her classes.  How the French regard Americans in general, and the foods that wouldn’t appear on a French table.  One classmate was horrified to learn that ketchup is not well received in France.

Clueless girl to Madame Sullivan:   “Well, then what do they put on their fish?” 

Madame Sullivan to Clueless: “a nice sauce Meunier, or lemon and wine, and herbs.”

Crickets chirping…..Clueless was completely befuddled, and I am guessing to this day that her frame of reference for fish is Long John Silver’s. With ketchup.

If you are even remotely interested in the culinary arts, you know that the French wrote the book on the matter.  There’s a reason that the world’s best cooking schools are in France.  Being a “Cordon Bleu Chef” does not mean that the chef makes a really good chicken cutlet stuffed with ham and swiss cheese.   It means that he has graduated from one of the world’s most respected and elite cooking schools.  It means he can make a pretty mean pot roast.

One of my favorite French dishes–Chicken Lyonnaise–is simple and rustic.  The use of fresh and high quality ingredients is, as always, the key to success.  Use fresh vegetables and herbs–not canned, frozen or dried, and use organic chicken if you can.  It is far healthier and far tastier.

It’s been a while since I shared a Texas Fusion dish with you, and this recipe provides a great opportunity to do so.  Below, you will find it prepared both in the traditional French way, and then tweaked with a bit of a  Texas accent.

Chicken Lyonnaise, with Brussels Sprouts and Rice

Chicken Lyonnaise

Serves 6

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 whole roasting chicken, cut up
  • Salt
  • freshly ground pepper medley (I use black, green, pink and white)
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 12 large garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup fat-free half and half

Preheat oven to 450°.  In a large, oven safe Dutch oven, or deep skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat.   Season all sides of the chicken with salt and pepper.  Place in the pan, and brown on all sides.  Add ½ of the butter, and stir to coat the chicken.  Place chicken skin side up.  Place the garlic on a cutting board, and give it a good whack with the side of a meat cleaver, just to smash it.  Add the Garlic and thyme to the pan.

Place the pan in the oven, and roast for 15 minutes.  Add the vinegar to the pan, swirling to mix.  Baste the chicken with the sauce, and return to the oven.  Bake until done, about 10 more minutes, basting a few times.  Remove the chicken to a platter to rest.

Return the pan to the stove top, and add the chicken stock.  Allow to simmer, scraping up any bits off the bottom of the pan. Allow to boil until reduced by almost half.  Use a whisk to incorporate the remaining butter and the half and half into the sauce.  Place the chicken back in the sauce, and simmer over medium high for a few minutes, to thicken the sauce–about 5 minutes—basting a few times.

Serve with a rice pilaf or a wild rice blend.  My favorite is below.

Confetti Wild Rice Medley

 Confetti Wild Rice Medley

Serves 8

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • ½ each red, yellow, and orange bell pepper, diced
  • 2 cups thinly sliced mushrooms
  • 3 cups Rice Select brand Royal Blend
  • 4 1/2 cups hot water
  • 1/3  cup chicken base (paste style chicken bouillon)

In a large heavy stock pot, heat butter over medium-high heat.  Add peppers and mushrooms, and cook until softened.    Stir in rice.  Add water and chicken base, stir well, and cover with a tight-fitting lid.  Reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 15 minutes.  Remove from heat, without opening, and allow to stand for ten minutes.  Fluff with a fork and serve.

 Leon Valley Chicken

Serves 6

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 whole roasting chicken, cut up
  • Salt
  • freshly ground pepper medley (I use black, green, pink and white)
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • ¼ cup butter
  • 12 large garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 cup loosely packed chopped cilantro
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 cup beer (I use Abita Amber)
  • 1/4 cup fat-free half and half

Preheat oven to 450°.  In a large, oven safe Dutch oven, or deep skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat.   Season all sides of the chicken with salt, pepper and cumin.  Place in the pan, and brown on all sides.  Add ½ of the butter, and stir to coat the chicken.  Place chicken skin side up.  Place the garlic on a cutting board, and give it a good whack with the side of a meat cleaver, just to smash it.  Add the Garlic to the pan.

Place the pan in the oven, and roast for 15 minutes.  Add the vinegar and cilantro to the pan, swirling to mix.  Baste the chicken with the sauce, and return to the oven.  Bake until done, about 10 more minutes, basting a few times.  Remove the chicken to a platter to rest.

Return the pan to the stove top, and add the chicken stock and beer.  Allow to simmer, scraping up any bits off the bottom of the pan. Allow to boil until reduced by almost half.  Use a whisk to incorporate the remaining butter and the half and half into the sauce.  Place the chicken back in the sauce, and simmer over medium high for a few minutes, to thicken the sauce–about 5 minutes—basting a few times.

Serve with a garlicky, coastal Mexican style white rice (see below)

Chicken With Coastal Rice

Coastal Mexican Rice

Serves 6

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium white onion, minced
  • 5 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 2 cups uncooked Texmati rice
  • 3 1/2 cups hot water
  • ¼ cup chicken base (paste style bouillon)
  • 2 teaspoons finally ground pepper
  • Juice and zest of two lemons

In a large (7 quart) stockpot, heat butter and oil over medium high. Add onion and garlic, and sauté until softened.  Stir in rice to coat with oil and butter.  Stir in the remaining ingredients, and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand (covered) 5-10 minutes longer.

 In the true French way, enjoy with plenty of wine…..

And for dessert, a little teaser for an upcoming article on French desserts…

Vanilla Bean Macarons

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Categories: dessert, Food, Gourmet, humor, recipes, Texas, Uncategorized, writing

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46 Comments on “Eating French Food With a Texas Accent”

  1. Tony Marquis
    2012/08/21 at 3:40 pm #

    I’m going to try the top chicken one this weekend. Sounds great. Tip for any brits who don’t know what 1/2 and 1/2 is. Just use 1/2 measure milk and 1/2 single cream.

    • 2012/08/21 at 3:43 pm #

      Yes…or you can use cream….I just reduced some of the fat…I also usually omit the butter in favor of more olive oil…

  2. 2012/08/21 at 3:47 pm #

    Gosh this looks so yummy..

  3. the 40 year old
    2012/08/21 at 3:56 pm #

    Chamonix is a beautiful place, nestled below Mount Blanc. I’ve been there about 4 times. I’m sure you do a beautiful accent.

  4. 2012/08/21 at 4:05 pm #

    That chicken looks delicious and I love the story of your French classes! I wanted to take Italian but my school didn’t offer it, so I took Spanish instead.

    And I’m completely with you on Germany. I always joke about the fact that even their I love you sounds angry and violent hahahaa

  5. 2012/08/21 at 4:17 pm #

    Salut, Luc! Salut, Matthieu! Comme ce va? I had the EXACT tapes when I took French in Junior High. My god …. reading the first part of your post brought it all back to me.

    Your chicken recipe sounds delish ….. will see about making it this weekend. 🙂

  6. Gary Lum
    2012/08/21 at 4:37 pm #

    Mmm chicken and macarons 🙂

  7. 2012/08/21 at 4:53 pm #

    My husband, Jay Cook, shared this latest blog with me. I think it was because when I first started teaching, I taught Spanish at a high school in Catasaugua Pa. I was born and raised in the south…definitely a southerner. I thought I was doing fine until at the end of the year, my fourth year students mentioned that at first they had trouble understanding my english AND my Spanish which were both spoken with a southern accent!

  8. 2012/08/21 at 4:56 pm #

    Totally agree n the German language, guttural is the bet word for it. I had to laugh at the ‘I love you’ translating in to ‘die you evil person’

  9. Suzanne Banfield
    2012/08/21 at 4:56 pm #

    LOL! I remember those tapes too! I think Luc is at au cinema. Avec Sylvie. I remember Mrs. Sulak too-she looked like a french dancer-didn’t she have a dance studio? Funny story-we have a family from France at our school and I quoted from those tapes…with the Texas accent. We had fun in that class! Good times!

  10. 2012/08/21 at 6:09 pm #

    Great recipe.

    I took Latin and French. I waltzed through Latin as it is basically English and with studying Chaucer as well it was one class I could ace without studying. My French teacher was Scottish – with a lisp. I never made it out of that class. Though I can ask with certainty where the window is! 🙂

  11. changeforbetterme
    2012/08/21 at 6:13 pm #

    Your post made me laugh about learning French! I too chose French in High School. Good thing for me though is I pick up on accents really easy. Course right now I’m lucky if I can speak a speck of french! I’m from the midwest, so I had that accent to deal with. Then when I moved to Texas I picked up that accent. Now I’m in Canada and no one can understand a darn word I say because I speak midwestern/Texas/canadian dialect all my own! 😉 Now I want to cook one of these delish chicken dishes! Yum!!

  12. 2012/08/21 at 6:51 pm #

    I asked a Latino friend why Mexicans talked so fast. He said he doesn’t talk fast, us Southerners just talk too slow. He said we talk so slow he could go to sleep in the middle of a conversation. HA That chicken does look good. And I kinda resent that fish remark, if it ain’t fried, it ain’t fish! HAHA!

    • 2012/08/21 at 7:55 pm #

      Oh, heavens…they do talk fast. I understand Spanish..can read it very well. But when they speak, they talk so fast I can only make out 10% of what is being said.

  13. 2012/08/21 at 7:48 pm #

    I also remember that tape – from learning french in Canberra, Australia! Chicken looks great and I have brussel sprouts in the fridge…

    • 2012/08/21 at 7:53 pm #

      Wow! Even down under, huh? So funny. It must have been the quintessential audio for French class.

  14. 2012/08/21 at 8:08 pm #

    You’re right, there is something about French that makes even asking someone to take the garbage out sound good. The chicken looks great, too!

    • 2012/08/21 at 9:10 pm #

      I remember my French teacher telling someone “don’t argue all the time”, and it sounded lovely!

  15. Donna Gough
    2012/08/21 at 9:33 pm #

    Chris, the Lyonnaise Chicken sounds absolutely delicious! If I ever cooked, I would certainly try this recipe!

  16. 2012/08/21 at 10:08 pm #

    the chicken sounds divine… yes, I love French food too, but how about Italian, after all, Marie de Medici brought her cooks from Italy to start that French tradition!
    Oh dear, I can hear de Pomiane, Brillat Savarin, Elizabeth David, and a few others turning in their graves.!

  17. 2012/08/21 at 11:06 pm #

    Great imagery and the recipes look magnifique as well.

  18. 2012/08/21 at 11:56 pm #

    You are the Boss!. the musings are so appropriate. I am afraid my french was more from the traditional french texts much more formal about greetings etc. Wine and a good bouillabaisse still steals the show:)

  19. 2012/08/22 at 6:29 am #

    Love these recipes! Can’t wait for Vanilla Bean Macarons!

  20. 2012/08/22 at 10:34 pm #

    Oh, Christine – I snorted – I remember the same French tapes, and visited France after 1 year of high school French… It was not nearly enough. And you haven’t seen an arrogant French waiter until you’ve tried to speak bad first year French to one. Oh, and we were visiting from Germany – where “I love you” sounded like hacking up a hairball… (which I considered doing to the French waiter, but I digress…) Many years later – my son went to Paris with his class – and had a memorable experience that I can’t quite call “culinary” – but… memorable… http://tomroush.net/2010/02/03/cat-piss-and-asphalt/

    Take care – and keep writing – it’s wonderful.

    Tom

    • 2012/08/22 at 11:43 pm #

      I think French waiters are the same even if you are a fluent French speaking American, in general. My high school French teacher said that she asked the waitress for another roll, and the girl hurled it at her from across the room, and it hit her in the chest and landed on her plate. Makes me REALLY want to visit. My parents said it was like that all over France, except for in Normandy, where they still remember who saved their asses during the war.

    • 2012/08/22 at 11:50 pm #

      Ha! Just read your story. Love the imagery. The real and the imagined. Note to self: don’t drink beer in France. I hear Belgium has good beer, and they’re sorta French, right? 😉

  21. 2012/08/23 at 12:08 am #

    I’ve had belgian beer… it’s almost as good as German beer. I have not ever had french beer, and will likely believe my son’s sincere recommendation about it.

  22. 2012/08/23 at 12:02 pm #

    J’aime cuisine Francaise! I’ve been looking for a good macaron recipe, looking forward to your post.

  23. 2012/08/23 at 12:32 pm #

    I can relate to the whole high school French thing. I took Latin for three years and added two years of French my senior year. I kind of wish I had learned Spanish because 1. more people speak it, and 2. the French is so deeply embedded that even when I’ve studied Spanish it comes out with a bad French/southern Ohio accent! This was a fun piece to read.

  24. 2012/08/26 at 1:41 am #

    “die, you evil bastard”. – so funny. And so true ! 😆

  25. 2012/08/27 at 2:46 pm #

    I am always looking for new ways to cook chicken. Thanks for the ideas. I took French, but remember nothing, I tell you nothing lololololol

  26. 2012/09/04 at 2:27 pm #

    Yum, this looks nice! I may give it a go 🙂

  27. 2012/09/05 at 1:48 pm #

    LOL this was a chuckle-worthy post. I have to say I agree with your assessment of the sound of German even though I absolutely love the language and culture. And the reference to Latin…similar reason why I did not choose to study it – unfortunately, I cannot for the life of me get the beautiful French accent – the best I can do is with a German accent, which in my book is slightly better than having an English-French accent. Now French with a Southern drawl would be a treat to hear! 😉

  28. 2012/09/06 at 6:38 pm #

    As someone who lives across the river from Quebec, “la belle provence,” I can tell you that our exposure to French culture is quite different from yours. Quebecois is not exactly “lyrical” and the cuisine is pretty much poutine and meat pie. And English is pretty much FORBIDDEN on Quebec soil, but French is forced upon the rest of the country. I would gladly have opted for Spanish, German, or yes, even Latin in a heartbeat. lol.

    • 2012/09/06 at 10:01 pm #

      Sounds like your experience with French is nearly identical to mine with Spanish!

  29. Posmarito
    2012/09/18 at 11:38 pm #

    Reblogged this on ujeongdo.

  30. 2014/01/06 at 10:28 pm #

    Sounds like the same French phrases we learned in the Hill Country, except my Madame also had us say, “Mel est tres beau” constantly, bc she was in love with Mel Gibson. Ketchup on fish??!

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