The presumptious-sounding Breast of Ozark Fryer Parisienne is a simple and elegant chicken-and-toast entrée. The recipe is adapted from the 1956 Beta Sigma Phi International Cookbook, one of nearly a dozen smothered-in-sauce chicken recipes from the extensive chapter on “meats”. The good ladies of mid-century Beta Sigma Phi were perhaps too patrician to follow emerging condensed soup casserole trends, but Breast of Ozark Fryer Parisienne is certainly a functional equivalent. When searching for your protein in a drowning pool of mushroom gravy it makes little difference whether the white sauce was homemade or factory-canned. The Parisian element to the dish is presumably the cordon-bleuesque pairing of chicken with thinly sliced ham. In practice this bears more resemblance to “s*it on a shingle” than anything one would be served in France or, as my children put it: “this tastes like the 1940s”.
Which is fine by me. Most of the comfort foods I grew up on taste like the 1940s. At home I was raised on a steady diet of canned good and takeout, but we usually spent Sunday dinner at grandma’s. Grandma came up during the Depression, was widowed as a very young woman, and struggled until marrying my grandfather. They were the archetypal beneficiaries of the post-war boom, where grandpa was able to turn his military experience into a respectable engineering job. When I was young they were financially comfortable, as much a product of their thrift as my grandfather’s salary. This Depression-era mindset fed over into her cooking, with most meals built from hand-mashed potatoes and inexpensive meats cooked properly – almost always smothered in a thick gravy.
But this sort of hearty stick-to-the-rib meal is a once-a-week kind of affair, and was a little bit much for a weeknight meal. Chicken is fried in butter and cooked in a cream-based mushroom gravy, then served over dark toast with a slice of ham. It’s delicious but will sink like a stone to the bottom of your gut and slow you down for the next couple of hours. It’s delicious, but I’m not sure that it’s worth it. If I’m going to plan for a stone-in-the-belly hangover I want to make sure I’ve spent it on something truly decadent like chicken-fried steak.
If you’re built of sturdier stuff than me give this one a whirl. The thin-slice-of-ham-and-chicken combo is enough to trick your mind into thinking you’ve got a pork loin instead of a boring old chicken breast, and mushroom gravy is wonderful with just about anything. Serve with a side of peas and, as the Beta Sigma Phi ladies suggest, a tart fruit salad. Or don’t listen to them: add a thick slice of tomato, a little bit of sweet and acid to defang the rich gravy. A good whole-grain bread is a good foil for the gravy as well. It doesn’t need to be crusty or artisanal or anything, so long as you can taste the grains more than the sugar and yeast. I used a sweet dark bread dusted with oats from Franz bakery and it worked perfectly. Enjoy!
- Pat breasts dry and season with garlic salt and paprika.
- Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add seasoned chicken breasts and cook in butter for 3-4 minutes per side until properly browned. Remove chicken and set aside.
- Add mushrooms to butter mixture and saute until lightly browned. Add flour and bouillon and saute to form a nice roux.
- Slowly stir in water and half-and half until mixture is smooth. Bring to a low boil, then return chicken to the skillet.
- Reduce heat and simmer 45 minutes until chicken is tender and cooked through.
- Stir in sherry a leave to simmer a few minutes more.
- Toast bread and spread with unsalted butter. Lay a thin slice of ham on top. Place one chicken breast on top of the bread and smother with mushroom gravy.