Chicken Dijon. Two words, four syllables, my childhood in a phrase.
It was affordable, everyone ate it, and it was a great belly filler. Above all, it was DELICIOUS.
My mother made it at least once a week, exactly the same way. Jarred minced garlic, Grey Poupon mustard, Von's chicken breasts because she worked there as a meat clerk for most of her working years.
The only thing thing that varied was what she served it over. Rice was the usual, but every once in a while she put it over egg noodles.
I was always bummed when she did that. Creamy rice is my jam.
She usually served it with quick sauteed spinach with minced garlic and olive oil. Something about the combo was perfect. It begs to be served with something dark green.
She made it the same way her mother did. I always thought it was her dad who made it but just today I found out I was wrong. My Grandma Myer made it "a lot", mom says, "when Dad was out of town...which was a lot."
He traveled often for work but was the primary cook in the home when he was around. BBQ was his specialty but he loved the kitchen too. He grew up cooking, and was just five years old when he was handed a butcher knife to help with harvest days on the farm. He knew how to make anything taste good, loved things like "brains and eggs" and grew up eating whatever what leftover after the adults had eaten. They worked, you see, and the kids didn't. Therefore, the kids got any extra pieces. Workin' folks got the "good stuff" for their efforts and sacrifice. Children got the less desirable parts and pieces in his home. His ability to work with just about anything is only part of his kitchen legacy, but is perhaps why I thought this dish was his. There's no curious cuts of meat involved but it sure is simple and resourceful.
Grandma made the Chicken Dijon for herself and the remaining kids at home; my mom and my aunt. Mom says she thinks Grandma may have gotten it from "one of her women's magazines" but she can't be sure. Grandma was a great cook but preferred baking and the ease of this dish may have appealed to her. I'm sure by the time you're feeding your fourth and fifth children in their late teens, you've made enough meals to feel entitled to something quick and easy.
I suspect my mom makes it just like Grandma because it helps her to feel connected to her. I guess that's why we pass down recipes though, isn't it? Grandpa died when I was only two, Grandma when I was 8. Mom was heartbroken when her dad died but she never quite recovered from losing her mom. My mom is one of those hyper-resilient, seemingly thick skinned, fake it til you make it types. She is very, very convincing. Most would never know the pain she carries, but I do. She misses her, so much. I can honestly say I have never seen anyone grieve the way my mom has for her mother. It's a mostly silent, rarely discussed, personal pain that only those close to her see and feel.
Her method of remembrance is simple; she visits her at the stove. She has quite a few of Grandma's recipes that she fixes occasionally but Chicken Dijon has always been a constant. It was Grandma's presence in our home and I didn't even know it until today.
My brother, sister and I grew up mostly without our Grandmother. My mom went through the toughest years of her life without her mother. Her food, however, had a funny way of offering support. For example, when mom was in the trenches of raising us 3 kids as a single mom, Chicken Dijon was an affordable, relatively nutritious dish that brought us comfort, security and familiarity. Mom couldn't seek her mother's advice for those times, but her recipes spoke volumes.
Now, I feed my children Chicken Dijon. They are learning how to make it as well. We are on the 4th generation of this silly little meal and I hope it goes on forever. I have made a few tweaks along the way but I think Grandma would approve. Many of her recipes have little notes on the sides with variations or things she changed so I suppose I come by it naturally.
In a world of instant, pre-packaged and "fully-cooked", I hope dishes like this remind people that it doesn't take a lot of time to serve up some love to their families. You never know how far-reaching your efforts will be, or who will end up visiting *you* as they do it.
What was your favorite dish growing up? Leave me a comment and tell me all about it!
3 boneless skinless chicken breasts (more if you want more meat, less if you really wanna be frugal)
1/2 stick butter
2 tsp minced jarred garlic (I like the Trader Joe's one...Mom isn't a fan.)
1 TBSP whole grain dijon mustard (Mom only uses Grey Poupon)
2 quarts water
1/3 cup cornstarch plus 1 cup water (Grandma and mom both use(d) about 1/4 cup flour to make a roux for thickening the gravy. I recently discovered I prefer cornstarch. You choose, no pressure. )
salt, pepper and garlic to taste
Cut chicken into 1 inch cubes. Season with sea salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste.
Heat butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. Saute chicken until browned. No need for it to be cooked through just yet. Remove and set aside. Reduce heat to medium.
If using flour, make your roux now by adding it to the butter and drippings. If not using flour, skip this step. ;)
Add dijon mustard and garlic, and saute in butter and drippings briefly, being careful not to burn the garlic. Quickly add all the water. (If using the flour roux approach, whisk like crazy so it isn't lumpy.) Season again with salt, pepper and garlic. Add the chicken back and cook until the liquid has reduced by about 1/3.
If using cornstarch, whisk it together in a bowl with the water. Slowly whisk into the pot, whisking for a bit to avoid any lumps. Give it a taste. Add salt, pepper, garlic or dijon as desired.
Once you have your desired flavor and thickness, remove from heat and serve over rice. Brown Jasmine rice is my absolutely favorite but there are no rules here. Use what you love.
I highly recommend serving it with spinach, kale or broccoli. The bitter green veggies work best with this dish!
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