I’ve been thinking of Paris lately, and that has me thinking of crêpes. And as wonderful as dessert crêpes may be, the savory variety is what I always crave. Recipes for these delightful, paper-thin French pancakes and a satisfying poulet aux champignons [chicken in mushrooms] filling below.
This week, Blue Kitchen is all about France. A couple of events conspired to put me in this state of mind. First, the excellent biopic of French singer Edith Piaf, La Vie en Rose, has come out on DVD [more about this at What's on the kitchen boombox?]. And just last Friday, our friend Cara Black was in town promoting Murder in the Rue de Paradis [An Aimée Leduc Investigation], the latest in her acclaimed series of Paris-based mysteries [more about this at WTF? Random food for thought]. If you’re still hungry for Paris and France when you’ve finished here, you’ll find some interesting links at the end of this post.
A movie and a book got me pointed in the general direction of “something French.” What focused me on crêpes was Ben’s post about strawberry crêpes at What’s Cooking?
For me, crêpes are the ultimate French comfort food—the humble pancake made elegantly thin and filled with all manner of delicious concoctions, both sweet and savory. In Paris, they can even be gotten as street food, an even bigger treat. You get to watch your crêpe be made right in front of you, and then it’s wrapped and ready to eat on the go, as you make your way to your next attraction.
In Chicago, my go to place for crêpes is La Crêperie. This very French little neighborhood bistro opened its doors in 1972 and probably hasn’t been updated since. It has the wonderful, slightly scruffy, tobacco-stained patina that only age can give it. Some days, the food is stellar, others merely dependably good. But given the friendly, unhurried service and charming setting, that’s plenty good for me.
La Crêperie makes two different kinds of crêpes for their sweet and savory offerings. The crêpes for savory main courses are made with buckwheat flour. So when I started looking for recipes, that was one of the ingredients I had in mind. As always, I found numerous recipes, looked for similarities and differences, then created my own.
For the filling, I just knew what I had in mind, my own take on poulet aux champignons—chicken, mushrooms, wine, cream—and winged it. One of the beauties of crêpes, though, is that they are so wonderfully versatile; La Crêperie’s menu includes 15 different fillings that run the gamut from coq au vin to scallops to a chicken curry! So while I’ll give you my recipe below, once you’ve made the crêpes, feel free to experiment away with the fillings.
Crêpe-making equipment strictly optional. Restaurants and street vendors in Paris use special griddles that allow them to make larger crêpes, almost 16 inches in diameter. For home cooks, a 10-inch nonstick skillet will work just fine. What won’t work is a stationary griddle; You need to be able to swirl the pan to spread the batter into a thin layer over the entire bottom.
If you’re really lucky, though, you’ll have a French crêpe pan like this one. As Marion said with a little too much glee to suit me, she’s had it longer than she’s had me. While I’ve seen her use it countless times, I was dubious about my own ability to turn out paper-thin pancakes without the aid of Teflon, so I had a 10-inch nonstick pan at the ready, just in case. Not necessary. The well-seasoned French pan performed beautifully.
Crêpes with Poulet aux Champignons Filling
For the crêpes:
This recipe makes 10 or so 7-inch crêpes [you can freeze leftover crêpes]
3 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour [or double the all-pupose flour—see Kitchen Notes]
1 cup whole milk, plus additional, if needed
Canola or other neutral high smoke point oil for cooking
For the filling:
Makes enough to fill 6 crêpes
2-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
2 generous cups sliced mushrooms [I used Trader Joe's Baby Bellas]
1 teaspoon dried herbes de Provence, divided
1-1/4 cup dry white wine, divided
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup broth [I used Superior Touch's Better Than Bouillon Mushroom Base—you can also use low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth]
2 generous cups cooked chicken, torn/cut into small chunks [see Kitchen Notes]
1/2 cup each, heavy cream and whole milk [or 1 cup whole milk], plus additional milk, if needed
Make the crêpes.
Whisk eggs and salt together in a large bowl. Whisk in all flour until thoroughly blended. Gradually whisk in 1 cup of milk, stirring until completely blended. Cover and let batter rest for at least 1 hour; without this rest, the cooked crêpes will apparently be tough.
Lightly oil a small nonstick skillet or crêpe pan, spreading oil with a crumpled paper towel; heat the skillet over medium-high heat. Ladle about 2 to 3 tablespoons of batter into the skillet with a small ladle or measuring cup, tilting and rotating pan to spread the batter evenly over the entire bottom of the pan. Do this motion as you pour, not afterwards—otherwise, you’ll end up with a thick center.
Cook the crêpe until the underside is lightly browned, about a minute or even less. You’ll see the top side of the crêpe dry out and bubble as it nears doneness; the edges may start to curl or show signs of browning. Carefully loosening an edge of the crêpe with the tip of a spatula, work it under the crêpe and flip it. Cook until the second side is lightly browned, about 20 or 30 seconds or so. Slide the crêpe onto a plate.
If batter doesn’t spread easily to create thin crêpes, whisk in more milk, 2 tablespoons at a time.
If serving immediately, fill and roll or fold the crêpe. Continue to cook crêpes with the remaining batter, oiling the pan as needed and stacking the crêpes as you go. You never want oil standing in the pan, just a nice shine over the entire surface. Cover plate of crêpes with aluminum foil and transfer to warmed oven while you prepare the filling [I had done all the prep work for the filling before starting the crêpes, so they didn't have to spend too much time in the oven].
Make the poulet aux champignons filling.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high flame. Melt 1/2 tablespoon of butter with the olive oil, swirling pan to combine. Sauté mushrooms until they give off liquid and it evaporates, 4 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon of herbes de Provence and cook until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Add 1/4 cup wine, and cook until it evaporates. Transfer mushrooms to bowl.
Add remaining 2 tablespoons of butter to pan. Sauté onions until softened, about 4 to 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and remaining herbes de Provence and cook until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Whisk flour into pan and stir constantly until flour is browned, about 3 minutes, making a quick roux. Gradually whisk in broth and wine, stirring constantly to combine flour and liquid to make a smooth sauce. I find this kind of whisk indispensable for the task.
Stir in chicken and mushrooms and warm through. Stir in cream and milk [or just milk]. If the sauce is too thick, gradually add more milk; but do so sparingly—you don’t want the sauce too runny when you fill the crêpes.
Lay crêpe on serving plate. Spoon filling down the center and fold sides over it. Repeat. Admire your handiwork, then devour it.
Thanks, Marion! Being a crêpe-making newbie, I relied heavily on her expertise. She made the first few, then turned things over to me. As with pancakes, you sometimes just discard the first one or two. All of ours were usable, but as we went on, they became more beautifully browned.
Buckwheat flour. Although not essential, buckwheat flour gives the crêpes a heartier flavor. According to Marion, it also makes them a little sturdier. You can also substitute whole wheat flour for the buckwheat flour, or just use all-purpose flour.
Sweet crêpes. For sweet crêpes, use 1 cup all-purpose flour, with no buckwheat or whole wheat flour, and add 1 teaspoon of sugar. Don’t use more sugar than that—it will burn.
Already cooked chicken? You can quickly sauté skinless, boneless chicken breasts for this dish. You can also use a store-bought roasted chicken. I pan roasted some chicken thighs, basically following this recipe, but using a skillet on the stovetop instead. After browning the thighs on both sides, I covered the pan to keep the chicken moist. They were done in about 1/2 hour, and three thighs [minus the skin and the bones] supplied the 2 cups needed.
Also this week in Blue Kitchen, 4/9/2008
The dark side of Paris, by way of San Francisco. San Francisco-based mystery writer Cara Black’s Paris-based heroine is half French, half American. It is only fitting, since Cara seems to perpetually have a foot in both cities. You’ll see what I mean, at WTF? Random food for thought.
A double helping of “Little Sparrow.” A DVD and a 30th anniversary two-CD set illuminate the amazing, self-destructive life of French torch singer Edith Piaf. Enjoy some YouTube samples, at What’s on the kitchen boombox?
Hungry for more France? Check out these blogs:
Francophiles in America
French Kitchen in America. Chef’s daughter Mimi cooks up French-accented delights in Wisconsin. She also shares wistful stories of her trips to Paris with her husband and fond memories of her French grandmother’s kitchen.
Cara’s Paris Blog. Quick stories and links to news articles, by mystery writer Cara Black. At her website, you’ll also find Paris photos, her novels and so much more.
An expat in France
Thyme for Cooking. Katie has spent a year in Ireland and seven in Andorra. For the past four years or so, she’s called a little French hamlet half an hour from the Atlantic Coast home. There she cooks and gardens and writes wonderfully about food.
A French expat in America
La Tartine Gourmande. Béa lives with her Irish husband in Boston and writes eloquently in English and in French about food and cooking. All this great writing is accompanied by absolutely exquisite photography.
And finally, a Parisienne in Paris
Chocolate & Zucchini. Scratch any halfway serious blogger and you’ll find someone secretly hoping for a book deal someday. The charming, talented Clotilde already has two! One look at her wonderful writing and photography and you’ll know why.
And now it’s your turn. I’m sure there are many wonderful France-focused blogs out there. If you have any favorites, list them in a comment here. Thanks! Or perhaps I should say, “Merci!”