When I was young, Julia Child was as much a fixture in my family's kitchen as she was on television. Not only did my mother watch her, she cooked right along with her, as well. The local public television station sent the recipes in advance and my mother collected them in a three-ring binder that she still has today.
My favorite menu was what we referred to as "French Chicken," a butterflied chicken slathered with a mustard, white wine, and scallion sauce that bakes on during roasting, becoming a delectable crust and infusing the chicken with the heady flavors of Dijon.
The vegetable was fresh peas cooked with Boston lettuce, and dessert was a delicious apple tart with Grand Marnier-spiked applesauce and a layer of apricot-glazed apple slices on top. This menu often was served as a birthday meal, so it is a fitting menu as we near Ms. Child's 100th birthday celebration.
I knew my mother adapted Ms. Child's recipes, but I thought she created the menu herself. However, a few years ago I found a cookbook in an antique store that compiled all the menus of Ms. Child's TV series. As I thumbed the pages, I saw the menu I'd thought was my mother's.
I read through the recipes and realized that my favorite meal was literally taken from the show and I thanked Ms. Child for bringing a taste of France to my mother's very southern kitchen. I went on to become a huge Francophile, living in Paris and falling in love with the food, the culture, the sounds, everything.
When I came back to the United States, I started working in the food world and joined several culinary organizations. Much to my delight, even though Ms. Child was a reigning culinary icon and getting on in years, she attended the conferences and was always front and center at the seminars.
I was thrilled to meet her, and was impressed that even then she still wanted to learn more, even from people far less accomplished than herself. That characteristic influenced my life as much as her food did. I try to live everyday like I envisioned Julia Child living, eternally curious and listening to what others have to offer.
So, it is no surprise that I took my favorite childhood chicken dish and adapted it to the grill. The grill facilitates the browning and crisping of the skin and the mustard glaze, making this one chicken that you have to eat skin and all!
It may not be exactly as Julia intended, but it certainly brings her spirit into my home every time I make it, and I hope it will bring her into your home, as well.
I love the old-fashioned broiled tomato. It is simple, delicious and brightens every plate. This mustard sauce and the breadcrumbs make the best version of the dish, so I added it to the recipe and grill them while the chicken rests. If you don't like tomatoes, skip them.
Start to finish: 1 1/2 hours (30 minutes active)
2 small whole chickens (about 3 to 4 pounds each)
Olive oil, for brushing, plus 1/4 cup
Grains of paradise (optional) or ground black pepper
2 tablespoons white wine
⅓ cup strong Dijon mustard (such as Amora or Maille)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Pinch of cayenne pepper
3 scallions, chopped
1 cup panko or fresh white breadcrumbs, plus extra for the tomatoes
2 to 4 medium tomatoes, halved
Heat the grill and prepare it for indirect cooking over medium heat.
Use paper towels to pat dry both chickens. Using poultry shears or a very sharp knife, one at a time cut down the length of each chicken's backbone on both sides to remove it. Overturn the chickens to be breast side up, then break the breastbone by striking it sharply with a blunt object, such as can of beans (wash the can after use).
Spread the chickens open and lay them flat. Tuck the wing tips under the upper wings, then brush all over with olive oil. Season with salt and grains of paradise or black pepper. Place the chickens in the center of the grill skin side up. Cover the grill and cook for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, assemble the mustard sauce. In a small bowl, whisk together the white wine and mustard. Slowly drizzle the 1/4 cup of olive oil and the butter in the mixture to blend. Add the thyme, cayenne and scallions, then mix to combine. Reserve 8 teaspoons of the mustard mixture for the tomatoes (if making).
After the chickens have cooked for 20 minutes, turn them over and spread mustard sauce on backs of the chickens. Grill, covered, for 10 minutes. Turn over to breast side up and spread mustard on the skin, then grill, covered, for another 10 minutes. Sprinkle the breast-sides of the chickens with breadcrumbs and grill, covered, for another 10 to 15 more minutes, or until juices run clear and the thickest part of the thigh registers 180 F. Remove the chickens from the heat and let them rest for 10 minutes before carving.
During the final 10 minutes of cooking time -- or while the chicken rests -- spread each tomato half with some of the reserved mustard sauce, then sprinkle them with breadcrumbs. Grill for 10 minutes, or until the tops are crunchy and the tomatoes are warmed through. Serve hot.