Thursday Night Smackdown: Everything's Better With Butter

Nothing on this plate is not coated in butter. Nothing!

Every time I endure a Smackdown that stretches the boundaries either of food or my patience, I have to do a 180 the next week to recover. That’s why this week we turned to a chef who, although she has an entire chapter on meat-based aspics, would never ask me to eat pureed, extruded, poached, fried fish: Julia Child. Or, as I like to call her, La Grande Dame du Beurre. Join me on this buttery journey as we begin to Master the Art of French Cooking* with sauteed Mediterranean-herbed chicken with wine-butter-egg yolk sauce, baked cucumbers, and sauteed new potatoes, won’t you?

I could make this all sound much fancier by giving you the long, Frenchified names, but to do that I’d have to get off the couch and go upstairs to get the book. Although there is some Amaretto ice cream upstairs… nope, I’m not moving. Deal.

*$4 well-spent at a used book sale.

The French know their shit. At least, vis a vis radishes.

I stopped by Whole Foods on the way home from work to grab a few last ingredients for dinner. My stomach was rumbling since I’d only eaten leftover wonton soup for lunch, so I thought I would pick up the fixin’s for a little pre-dinner hors d’oeuvre: fresh radishes, some good sea-salted butter, and a baguette.

Along with the salted butter, I sprinked a little smoked grey salt on top. It was fresh and crunchy and peppery and salty. And I would never have eaten it had I read the recipes all the way through and known how much other butter my night would involve. Although I suppose you could legitimately argue that I brought it upon myself, since I should have just assumed that Julia would not be shy with the butter.

Yes, they’re covered in butter.

I prepped the cukes first, since they take an hour and a half from start to finish. I have a fixation lately on unexpected veggie cooking methods, like braising celery. Mainly because I don’t really believe that they’ll actually produce edible results. The celery was certainly not confidence-inspiring, so I’m not sure why I’m still on this kick, but there you go. And you kind of have to trust Julia, yes? Just tell me yes, please.

So I cut up my cucumbers – some nice English hothouse jobbies with few seeds and nice thick skin – and tossed them with vinegar, salt and sugar. I left them to sit for 30 minutes while I chopped some scallions and basil, then tossed the cucumbers and herbs together in a baking dish and poured melted butter over the whole thing.

And then they went into the oven for ONE HOUR. Maybe you bake cucumbers all the time and this isn’t surprising to you, but if you’d asked me what would happen to a cucumber after an hour in the oven, I’d say “melt.”

But who am I to say? I’ll tell you who I’m not: someone who has Mastered the Art of French Cooking.

Currently butter-free, but soon to be covered in butter.

I love that Mastering the Art of French Cooking has the basics as well as the insane. Like, there’s a recipe for white rice. Of course, La Grande Dame requires ultimate precision and inserts her own details for even the simplest dishes. For sauteed new potatoes, she instructed me to carve them into identically-sized olive shapes.

I didn’t listen, although I did try a little cutesy ring-of-peel thingamabob. Julia was a saucy lady, so I like to imagine that she would not judge this too harshly. I am, however, willing to concede that my failure to artfully carve the potatoes may negatively impact my Mastery of French Cooking.

NOW they’re covered in butter.

The potatoes went into a pan coated with 1/16th* of an inch of melted, foaming butter with a smidge of olive oil. La Grande Dame gives very precise directions: Allow the potatoes to sit still and brown for 2 minutes, shake them around in the butter, allow the other side to brown, sprinkle with salt, cover and cook for 15 minutes. All of which I did, and was rewarded with tater-tot like nuggets of creamy tuber goodness.

Well, that’s what they are once you’ve let them sit for a few minutes. If you were, hypothetically, to eat one out of the pan, it might seem a little more like a molten potato bomb.

*Okay, I didn’t really measure this. Would you have? Yeah right, you damn dirty liar.

Wait for it…

While I worked on the veggies, Brian dismembered the chicken. I include this picture solely so I could use the word “spatchcock,” because I am 12 years old.

Spatchcock. Spatchcock. Spatchcock.


Here it comes…

The chicken is sauteed in an entire stick of butter. Which I thought was excessive until I ate the final product, because I’m now firmly convinced that chicken should always be cooked in an entire stick of butter. Live fast and die young of a massive heart attack, I always say.

As with the potatoes, La Julia has a detailed agenda for the chicken; none of this season-with-salt-and-pepper-and-toss-into-a-skillet until done. When you cook chicken like this, you kill a Master of French Cooking in your heart. Instead, you must:

  1. Melt your stick of beurre.
  2. Add your chicken – not seasoned in any way – skin side down, and cook ’til just golden.
  3. Flip your chicken and cook for a few more minutes.
  4. Remove the white meat and season the dark meat with salt, pepper, ground fennel and fresh basil and thyme. Add 3 cloves of unpeeled garlic to the pan, cover and cook for 8-9 minutes.
  5. Return the white meat to the pan, season, bast, cover and cook, periodically basting with butter, for 15 more minutes.
  6. Remove all the chicken from the pan and mash the garlic into the butter and drippings.


Follow her instructions to the letter and reap the booty: the most gorgeously-colored chicken you’ve ever made and a kitchen that smells like an entire Provençal village covered in butter, villagers be damned.

Waste no butter, want no butter.

When the chicken was fully cooked, we put it into the warming drawer to hold* while we made the sauce. The “wine-butter-egg yolk” thing does not do it justice, because what this really is is a schmaltz hollandaise. Sit with that for a minute.

So we added wine to the butter, chicken fat and fond left in the pan – ALL the butter, you don’t pour any of it off – and let the whole thing reduce; we also squeezed the now-softened garlic into the sauce. In a separate pot, Brian whisked egg yolks and lemon juice. After straining the butter-wine mix, it’s slowly whisked into the egg yolk. Once all the liquid is incorporated into the egg, the pot goes back on the stove to heat and thicken a tad. You also – I shit you not – whisk in MORE BUTTER. You know, to enrich things.

Look, it made sense in the moment.

*I would have just used the oven, but you know how it is – baking cucumbers and all.

Danger, Will Robinson.

Meanwhile, cucumbers came out of the oven. There was still nothing to indicate that they would be good. I was impressed that they hadn’t completely liquefied, but they smelled like creepy warm pickles. And I don’t like pickles, which are just good cucumbers ruined.

Butter. The end.

But you know what they tasted like? Creepy warm pickles.

But everything ELSE was fan-fucking-tastic. The potatoes were gorgeously crusty and salty on the outside and soft and nutty inside. The chicken was tender and (duh) buttery, and the herb combination, which I’d been unsure about, melded into one glorious fragrance. The sauce was much thinner than a traditional hollandaise or bernaise and didn’t overwhelm the dish at all; in fact, it was the embodiment of umami. Savory and wonderful, with each mouthful more delicious than the one that came before. Every couple of bites, I had to stop and sigh a sigh of ultimate contentment.


Final Score: Us, 1; Food, 0; Julia Child, 10,000

0 thoughts on “Thursday Night Smackdown: Everything's Better With Butter

  1. I think I need some more butter. Warm creepy pickles? EW! lmfao But the rest? I would happily give my left artery for all this buttery deliciousness!

  2. I was really rooting for the pickles. Damn! Will have to try sauteing the white meat in butter next time I make chicken and then serving it to health-conscious friends. “White or dark?” Mwahaha.

  3. I was hoping that the cucumbers were good, too, as I have several massive beasts lurking in my fridge that I’m desperate to use up. Oh well, back to the Japanese pickled variety instead.
    Love the site, btw.

  4. Clearly you have never eaten the glory that is a battered fried pickle. Warm creepy pickles sounds just about right to me and though I have *3 copies* of the Art of French Cooking on my shelves somehow I never made them.

    I’m gonna have to try the radish thing too.

  5. I’m with Fuzzy, deep fried pickles are the best, and I cannot believe I’ve never made these braised cucumbers now! But then again, I’m a bit of a pickle whore, so I would be excited about these things.

  6. when i read the words ‘schmaltzy hollandaise’ i think my grandmother rolled over in her grave. or smiled. one or the other.

    day 4 of temporary veganism. i needed to give the ol’ body a break of butter and bacon for a bit. if nothing else. to ramp up for my upcoming nyc eating whirlwind, only to be followed by my then chicago eating whirlwind. so the buttery chicken smell and taste is coming through my monitor right now, full force.

    but i am strong and you can’t tempt me.

  7. What is it with the Juila Child thing right now?! (I hadn’t even heard of her until last week!! (blush))

    I’m loving the butter thing… though could probably survive without the creepy hot pickles…

    And your hors d’oeuvre look great!

  8. canary, i’m pretty sure we all need more butter.

    diana, i was pulling for ’em too, but you can’t win’em all. also, you are evil and i love it.

    rachel, thanks! i say dice the cukes and toss ’em with rice wine vinegar, mirin and a little salt a sugar. maybe through in some radishes. voila, fresh summer side dish.

    fuzzy, i just threw up in my mouth a little.

    ann, i always knew there was something strange about you.

    maybellsmom, it’s true. and yet, sweatpants did not feel entirely out of place to me. but that might just be because i’m a slob.

    claudia, way to tell me you’re coming to nyc. also, i totally can tempt you. i’m not even TRYING right now.

    kittie, whoa! you must search for footage of her cooking shows immediately, because she is beyond delightful.

  9. when i was young and intolerably skinny (luckily i found a man who likes meat on the bones) i never cooked with butter and wondered why my meals were just not quite right. now i throw butter on and into everything and i am a much happier person (and so are the people that sample my wares).

    i must admit i have had fried dill pickles and found them absolutely charming…

  10. I love this book although I have never made anything and Juila.Never thought about baking cucumbers< but they look good. Butter is a good thing.

  11. Everything looks incredible, even if the cukes were creepy. How long did it take for this whole meal for you? Might have missed that part. I have this cookbook and everytime I want to make something, I have to make sure I have A LOT of fucking time. But when I do, it’s always worth it.

  12. everytime some uptight little vegan tells me that butter is bad, i tell them that’s why their hair and skin looks like crap.
    Very nice cookery! I like the shot with the butter spot on the t-shirt!

  13. This looks awesome. Chicken really does benefit from some kind of fat, since it is for the most part pretty lean. A whole stick of butter is pretty mental, but hey it looks like the results turned out good.. And here is what I tell myself when I use a crap load of butter “hey, this is grass fed butter, so I get a bunch of Omega3’s from it too – bloody hell, butter is my new health food”.

  14. monkey, something about the phrase “sample my wares” sounds dirty.

    e-mom, no idea. it was julia’s idea.

    courtney, yeah, i never thought i’d actually use it. i just like to read it because i like the way julia talks about food.

    dani, hmm, almost 2 hours? including 30 minutes of cucumber-marinating. Meals always take a little longer when there’re two of us in the kitchen. because we canoodle.

    catherine, you are also evil. my readers are awesome.

    judy, i think maybe i would have liked the cucumber if they’d just been baked with some butter and salt…the vinegar was the deal-breaker for me.

    matt, ooh, i use grass-fed butter. i’m totally using your brilliant rationalization.

  15. claudia – LIES ALL LIES!!! ;)

    man I too was rooting for the cucumbers/pickles, but.. warm? ew.
    However it *looks* really good :)
    god i love butter! this seemed like heaven. sweet sweet heaven. I had no idea the amount of butter that is used in good food cooking till I met peter. MAN! he goes through a lb of butter in two days easy. well that is, of course, until I had my last baby and banned use of more than 1 tbsp of butter per dinner and 1 tsp of olive oil. sigh. (yeah, about once a week or so i get lax on him. i mean how would i get my wonderful Bearnaise from him??? :D)

    but still this, i could have this. like lots.

  16. I don’t think the cucumbers are getting a fair shake here. I ate them right up. And not because I’ll eat anything that’s put in front of me, which I will (i.e., fish dangle). The baked cucumbers were good and I would absolutely make and eat them again. However, I really like pickles. Michelle, as some of you may now realize, does not like pickles. At all.

    I still don’t know exactly what was so creepy about these.

  17. julia child did love her butter. it’s a wonder she lived as long as she did.

    the usa had julia child, canada had madame benoit (pronounced ben-wa). she also cooked with lots of butter. interestingly enough, when microwaves became popular she put out a series of cookbooks relating totally to cooking with microwaves. they’re actually pretty good.

  18. Oh wow the chicken and potatoes look delicious. I love butter so much it’s ridiculous. Especially when it’s cheaper to buy vintage champagne than butter these days…Hee I think spatchcock is a funny word too. The world needs more spatchcocking.

  19. Butter is good for your skin.
    Great idea turning to Julia after last week’s ordeal- the chicken looks perfect! She will rarely let you down.
    Having said that, the term “creepy warm pickles” gives me the heeby jeebs. They sound totally gross in so many ways.

  20. Creepy warm pickles? Very appetizing. I think I’ll stick to cold cukes.

    Chicken is always wonderful covered in butter. I like covering it in melted butter before I roast it. The skin gets really rich and crispy that way. *pauses to wipe drool off the keyboard* Bacon also works very nicely too though.

  21. christey, good food/restaurant cooking is a little terrifying, isn’t it! but so, so good.

    noble, don’t let the pickles get you down! i’ve cooked far more disgusting things than those.

    brian, you’ve adorable and i love you. you have a great ass. but those cucumbers were fucking gross.

    naomi, i think it’s a lesson for all of us. eat MORE butter, not less butter.

    laura, spatchcock. spatchcock. spatchcock.

    molly, no, she definitely meant cucumbers. i really think they would have been ok if not for the vinegar, though.

    brittany, they are totally gross in more ways than you’re even thinking of right now.

    susan, thanks! butter makes the world go ’round.

    rachel, we never do the butter-on-the-roast chicken thing. i wonder why? i’ll have to check with brian, who heads up the chicken roasting department here.

    monkey, i got your butter right here, baby.

  22. Yeah, I pretty much agree. Butter does make everything better. Unless you have gallstones, and then it will send you into a miserable attack (yep, that was me.) But since I recently had it removed, I can go all out with the butter again. BTW everything’s better with wine too. That’s my mantra.

  23. *laughing*

    I absolutely LOVE your ‘me’ description. You and I seem to be cut from the same cloth…I just watch my language because my extended family reads the blog. Otherwise…I should really watch my mouth soon or my son’s first word will most definitely be fuck. Or shit. Or “…hey Grandma, that asshole didn’t signal!”. Eeek.

    Thanks for stopping by the blog, I’ll be perusing yours as soon as I have time!

  24. Wow that looks good! I love dipping radishes in butter. It’s good to know that there was a time when celebrity chefs that had a penchant for butter weren’t all useless hacks. On the cooking vegetables that weren’t meant to be cooked thing, have you tried sauted lettuce? It’s really become my new thing. I made some stir fry with edamame, fishcake and lettuce with oyster sauce last night that was pretty good.

  25. That is gorgeous chicken, and the potatoes? Give me a humungous plate of them, please! The cukes…I guess I’d probably stop at the marinading stage–sounds like they’d be better that way. Though still maybe a little pickley.

  26. This looks like such a fabulous meal. I want to sink my teeth into all of it.

    I’ve never had baked cucumbers before. Very, very interesting.

  27. I’m with you on pickles. Only every once in a blue moon will I eat a cuke pickle on purpose. I do like pickled other things though. watermelon. mmm.

  28. I’m glad I finally got to read this post because I am serouisly making chicken this way next time. NICE.

    I just told someone else today I am a 12-year-old boy masquerading as a mature 33-year-old woman. I was laughing because they said “caulk.” Hehehehehe. Caulk.

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