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  • Writer's pictureMegan Jarrett

Worth the Wait

Updated: Feb 19, 2022

Like most people, I love things that give me instant gratification. Have a question? Google it. Immediate answer. Need something? Amazon Prime. It shows up tomorrow. I'm so accustomed to getting what I need quickly that when we decided to make a French-inspired dinner last weekend and I realized I had to start prepping a whole day in advance, I was unprepared for the amount of patience I was going to need to bring to the kitchen.


Once a month, Jordan and I schedule a virtual dinner date where one of us picks a country and the other person plans a menu inspired by dishes from that place. We'll each cook our own meal at home, but we get to chat on FaceTime while we cook and then eat dinner together. Actually, for me it's dinner and for him it's lunch, but we're working with the situation we have! This month, I picked France as our theme, so Jordan was in charge of the menu planning.


 

It was the weekend before we were going to cook and Jordan was still finalizing the menu. He had passed along some dishes he was debating between but hadn't quite decided on our final spread. At last, and after my impatient prodding so I could get my groceries for the week ordered, he decided on our menu. He chose chicken liver pâté, coq au vin, and a cocktail called Death in the Afternoon.


Chicken liver pâté is a chicken liver, onion, and butter spread that you can serve with baguettes or crackers. Although chicken livers are incredibly cheap, the dish itself is often served in upscale restaurants. Coq au vin is essentially chicken braised in red wine and then stewed with mushrooms and pearl onions. It's in Julia Child's famous Mastering the Art of French Cooking cookbook and an all around classic French dish. Death in the Afternoon is a cocktail that was supposedly created by Ernest Hemingway while he lived in France. It's quite simply absinthe and champagne; and it shares a name with one of his books about Spanish bullfighting.


As I was getting into bed on Friday night, Jordan let me know that he was planning to get his chicken thighs in the marinade that evening and he assumed I was going to do the same. Did I mentioned I was getting in bed already? Time zone problems. It turns out that tidbit of information was lost in communication, and I was definitely not planning to go back into the kitchen at that point. I decided I could do it Saturday. Life would go on.


Jordan did actually start his chicken on Friday night, but I ended up getting it started later. I had scheduled out my weekend already and was unaware I needed to factor that in, so I fit it in when I could. Little did I know that I would soon learn that I also needed to get the pâté made in advance so that it could set and chill before eating it. I was unaware going in that I needed to start Sunday night's dinner on Friday or Saturday, but Jordan convinced me it would be worth it to get the dishes started early. I got the chicken marinating on Saturday and made the pâté on Sunday so it could go in the refrigerator before we were scheduled to eat.


I was overwhelmed and we'd barely begun. Apparently the amount of time it takes to make French food blew right past me when I was watching Julie & Julia.


 

Sunday came around and I discovered that the chicken liver pâté was surprisingly much simpler to make than I expected. I used this recipe from Food & Wine, but I cut it in half since I was cooking for one. I started by throwing 1/4 pound chicken livers, 1/2 of a sliced

onion, 1 teaspoon minced garlic, a bay leaf, some fresh thyme, some salt, about 1/2 cup of water into a sauce pan.


According to Gordon Ramsey, the thyme branches also infuse strong flavor so I pulled the leaves off but also tossed the branches into the pot. He recommends using them in stews or skewering them into your meats while they cook and then removing before serving. I pulled them out of the pot later, but if the branch is good enough for Gordon, it's good enough for me.


To be quite honest, I had no idea what constituted a well cooked chicken liver, but Google hasn't failed me yet for instant advice in the kitchen. I brought my water to a simmer and let it go for about 3 minutes to cook the livers through.


Then, the recipe said to remove the pan from heat and let the mixture sit for five minutes. I think I forgot to do that step (or chose not to) and moved onto transferring the livers, garlic, and onions into my food processor to begin turning these gelatinous blobs into a gourmet dish. After the mixture was ground up a bit, I added 3/4 of a stick of butter into the bowl and kept blending until it was smooth.



Technically, I added in 85 grams of butter, because most things are sold in grams here in the UK and my recipe called for American sticks of butter. My trusty friend Alexa quickly informed me that there are 113 grams of butter in one stick, which means that 3/4 of a stick of American butter is 85 grams (which she also calculated for me). Cooking in the UK is a math equation sometimes.

Once the mixture was smooth, I added in a teaspoon of Cognac and some salt and pepper and gave it a final go around in the processor.


I transferred it to a ramekin and got it right into the refrigerator, knowing I was cutting it close to giving it enough time to set and chill before we were planning to start dinner. I had faith it would work out fine, though. I figured pretty much anything filled with butter and on top of a baguette had to taste at least okay.


 

An hour or so later, we jumped on a video chat to begin our cooking. We quickly learned that Jordan and I approached owning the menu a little bit differently. I had previously put together a Google Doc that combined our recipes into the order that we needed to do each step so that our dishes would end up ready at the right times. I also wouldn't have to worry about knowing what to do next when I was trying to just enjoy the evening. However, when I asked Jordan what our first step was, he said, "wait, do I need to have the recipes up?" It makes sense, though, because Jordan likes to feel it out as he cooks, whereas I'm more of a recipe follower. He found the recipes, though, and we were quickly back in action.


We were following a recipe from NYT Cooking for the coq au vin. We both used chicken thighs, but it's common for the dish to use a whole chicken or thighs and drumsticks. I did four thighs so I approximately halved the recipe, but Jordan ended up using around three pounds of chicken, which is what the recipe called for. We pulled our bags of chicken out of our refrigerators, where the poultry had been marinating in salt, pepper, red wine, a bay leaf, and fresh thyme for 24-36 hours.


Jordan used his large cast iron skillet with a lid and I had a huge non-stick pot I bought for making large batches of yogurt and vegetable broth. We started by frying about four ounces of pancetta (me) or thick cut bacon (Jordan) over medium heat until the fat rendered and the bits were crispy.


While that was cooking, we made ourselves a drink. Jordan mixed a heavy pour of absinthe with a splash of champagne and said it was "a little strong." I referenced this recipe for Hemingway's creation and used about a 1:4 ratio of absinthe to champagne and mine sounded much more palatable to me.


Once the pork was done, we removed the meat using a slotted spoon, leaving the fat behind. Jordan had much more fat left behind than I did, which is what you want. I think my pancetta was too lean and I didn't end up with much left behind.


Next, we removed the chicken from the marinade, set the marinade aside for later, and dried the chicken pieces off with paper towels. I added olive oil to my pan since I was low on liquid then turned up the heat to about medium to medium-high to get it hot. Jordan used the fat that was left from the bacon and got it hot. Then, we pan fried the chicken for about 4 minutes per side, just to to get the outsides browned. The insides would cook more later, so no need to make sure it was fully cooked now. Jordan had to run a few batches of chicken since he was making a lot more, which gave me a break to go sit on the couch. I forgot how being on your feet all day in the kitchen can make your feet sore!



With the browned chicken sitting aside, we added a chopped onion, a sliced carrot or two, around 2-3 cups of mushrooms, and a bit of salt to the pot and let the vegetables cook for around eight minutes until they were browned. I went a bit heavier on the vegetables than the recipe called for, but I wanted to use them up and assumed they would taste better in this dish than if I sautéed them on their own later in the week. Plus, vegetable quantities are usually pretty flexible when you're cooking, so I presumed it would work out just fine.



Garlic and tomato paste went into the pot next and then cooked for about a minute or so. We both used a lot more than the recipe called for of both ingredients. It said to use two cloves of garlic and one teaspoon of tomato paste. I probably used the equivalent of about two or three cloves of minced garlic and closer to a 2-3 teaspoons of tomato paste even though I was making half the recipe.


It was about at this point that we learned that the recipe called for lighting things on fire. Yes, we were about to flambé.

Clearly I hadn't read past the ingredient list or I would have known that I needed to start the chicken the day before, and while Jordan made it through step one, he hadn't made it down through step 5. It was a surprise to both of us. I didn't have any matches, only a lighter, and I wasn't about to stick a lighter into a pan that had brandy in it so I opted for a bit more.. creative approach.


After we moved the vegetables to one side of the pan, we added a couple tablespoons of brandy or Cognac to the other side. I decided my "safer" approach was going to be to put a folded up paper towel into a pair of tongs, light the paper towel on fire, and then use that to catch the brandy on fire. It seemed like a reasonable option. Or at least a better option than sticking a lighter into a flammable pan. I was actually pretty shocked when it worked out. Nothing caught on fire that wasn't supposed to. I got a blue flame on the brandy and it burned off as expected. And again, nothing caught on fire that wasn't supposed to.


At this point, we added the leftover marinade back in and brought it to a boil to reduce it down. We left it for around 15 minutes and then added the chicken and half of the pancetta/bacon back in. Now it was time to wait — and eat! Covering the dish, we left it to simmer over low heat to thicken for an hour while we enjoyed our chicken liver pâté.



Finally able to rest our feet and satisfy our rumbling stomachs, I used toasted baguette pieces while Jordan used some crackers that he had on hand to enjoy with our pâté. I have to admit, I was skeptical at first, but it was actually really tasty! How the slimy, funky smelling chicken livers I was cleaning a few hours prior turned into something so delicious is still shocking to me. However, I was thankful that Jordan had encouraged me to take the time to make it earlier in the morning so that it could get cold and set in the refrigerator before we were going to eat. Had I been eating it lukewarm and kind of runny, I would be telling a different tale. I also topped a few of the baguette slices with some goat cheese I had on hand and some olive oil and pepper, because I just can't resist warm goat cheese on a toasty baguette.


 

By now, I was really grateful for the break to sit and enjoy each other's company and snack on our appetizer. It turns out, there's a lot you can enjoy in the time spent waiting. It doesn't have to be wasted time. That's a bit counter-intuitive to my nature, but I'm trying to learn. It was now that we could finally stop talking about the task at hand and catch up on our weeks, share funny stories, and ask about each other's family.


After 40 minutes had quickly passed us by, we were refreshed and ready to finish off the last few steps of our main dish. We added some butter and olive oil to a skillet and got it hot on medium-high heat. Here, our paths diverged a bit. I couldn't find pearl onions at the store so I used a white onion sliced into wedges. Jordan was able to use pearl onions, which stayed true to the traditional French recipe. Tossing in the onions with a pinch of sugar and salt, we let them cook, covered, over low heat for about 10-15 minutes. Then, we tossed in the rest of our mushrooms (around 1-2 more cups), and turned the heat up to medium-high to cook until they were browned. There was a step to make croutons that we skipped, because I had baguette slices and Jordan still had crackers left.


It was finally time. We added our mushroom and onion mixture to our simmering chicken stew and mixed it up. The aroma was tantalizing and complex; I couldn't wait to try it. We served up a bowl of the chicken and vegetables, topped with a few of the leftover pancetta/bacon crumbles and some fresh parsley.


Jordan's final product was much more of a stew than mine was, which is more of what you'd expect. Mine was thicker, probably since I'd added extra vegetables, but both tasted delicious in the end. I wish we could have tried both to compare them! The chicken was incredibly tender from all of the time it spent marinating in the red wine mixture. The flavors were robust and had a real depth from the amount of time it spent simmering and reducing. You could almost taste the amount of time that was put into the dish because you just can't quite get that kind of flavor from a 15 minute dinner.




In the end, the wait was absolutely worth it. The flavors were so much more complex than we could have gotten if we'd not taken the time to let the chicken marinate and to let the mixture stew. In the process, I was also reminded that the time spent waiting doesn't have to be wasted; you can use it to enjoy the people around you.


 

Waiting is hard, and it's almost certainly never what we want to be doing. Your feet get sore standing over your pot of stewing chicken and you get hungry waiting for your chicken liver pâté to chill. But the depth of flavor you taste in the dish you've let marinate and stew for hours can't even be compared to what you might find in an instant version.


In life, it often feels the same way. It's not always comfortable in the process but I believe God works on us in the waiting. When we choose to slow down and do things God's way instead of rushing to do it our own way, we experience a fullness in life we couldn't otherwise comprehend. For today, I'm learning to embrace the waiting, knowing that I can't even begin to imagine the goodness that's in store for me if I'm willing to put in the time and to know when to step back and let God turn the yucky bits into a gourmet dish.

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