No country’s food escapes outside influences. Whether through invasion, immigration, or just plain geographic neighborliness, what we dine on often has echoes of other lands and cultures. France is no different. Surely this accounts for the inclusion of a dish called poulet aux bananes (chicken with bananas) in Mapie de Toulouse-Lautrec’s La Cuisine de France (1961).
The exotic pairing of bananas, a product of tropical lands, and chicken, the classic Gallic viand, blends more happily than you might expect. The mingling of France and the Caribbean is heightened through fragrant ginger and lashings of rum. Adding to the drama is the moment in the cooking process when you set it aflame, thanks to the rum, which is pretty dramatic and a great child-pleaser. Poulet aux bananes is the kind of dish one can imagine being on the menu at Malmaison, the home of Napoléon Bonaparte’s famously lovely Creole empress, Joséphine, a native of Martinique.
We had this toothsome recipe last night, though with the bananas on the side, along with plum tomatoes sliced in half and lightly cooked with pine nuts, chopped onion, balsamic vinegar, butter, and brown sugar.
POULET AUX BANANES
SOURCE: La Cuisine de France by Mapie de Toulouse-Lautrec (Orion, 1961)
2 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons oil
1-1/2 tablespoons rum
1/2 cup white wine
Pinch of ginger
Salt and pepper
Have the chicken cut into pieces. Heat the butter and oil in a deep skillet or sauteuse, and when hot, brown the chicken over a moderate heat. Stir the chicken with a wooden spoon so that it will be well browned on all sides. Season with salt and pepper and add the rum. Touch with a lighted match and stir until the flame subsides.
Add the white wine and a pinch of ginger and cook covered over a low heat for 1 hour.
Peel the bananas and poach them in simmering water for about 2 minutes. Drain, cut in rounds, and keep warm.
Put the chicken with its sauce on a heated platter and surround with the banana slices.