Thursday, February 7, 2013

Jacqueline Kennedy's Dinner at Mount Vernon and Chicken Chasseur

Two years ago this week, René Verdon  passed away.  He was the chef at the White House during the Kennedy ‘Camelot’ years.   The LA Times said in his obituary, “Most previous presidents had a housekeeper charged with putting food on the table, so the Kennedys' decision to bring in a French chef "struck a different note entirely....”

“He made his first official meal for a presidential luncheon honoring then-British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in April 1961. The menu included beef filet au jus and artichoke bottoms Beaucaire [with a julienne of celery, celeriac, endive, cooked ham and apples tossed with parsley, chervil and tarragon and rounds of cooked potatoes and beets], filled with a fondue of tomatoes simmered in butter.”

That’s quite a departure from Mamie Eisenhower’s meals (Mamie clipped grocery coupons and sent the secret service out to redeem them as well as demanding that leftovers be re-purposed –– when alone, she and Ike ate on TV trays while watching I Love Lucy).

I was reminded of Mr. Verdon when I went in search of an historical dinner that had Sauce Chasseur on the menu –– Sauce Chasseur –– a tomato-y, meaty, mushroom-y delight that I wanted for the next chapter in my sauces series.  I had thought I’d seen it on a million menus but couldn’t pin it down. 

I came across this whale of an event thanks to the brilliant blog Pink Pillbox that writes of all things Jackie –– that would be Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy (this blog is a real guilty pleasure, it should be a high-class A&E series –– I couldn't stop reading it). 

I actually had a brush with Jackie Kennedy years ago in the elevator of her publishing office.  I got into the elevator and she came in after me and stood in front of me with her back to me.  After the shock wore off I noticed (since she was about 6 inches in front of me) that she was incredibly narrow–– thin as a reed, that she smelled great (perfume fans take note, she wore Joy, Fleurissimo, Bal A Versailles, 1000 Patou, Jil Sander 4, Jicky, Lorenzo Villoresi(light Citrus), Mad Moments, Personal Artviva fragrance, Creed Fleurissimo, Valentino, Fiori Di Capri, Krigler Patchouli) and that she was terribly polite with the softest voice imaginable when she said, “pardon” as she got into the crowded elevator and I had to move back.  She seemed terribly elegant without any attitude at all. 

Mrs Kennedy at a grand White House table with an impressive French surtout de table

Another view of the mirrored surtout de table Notice the cigarettes?

As many of you know, Jacqueline Kennedy brought back many of the antique pieces that had lived in the White House throughout its long history and rid it of 100 years of poor quality furniture that cluttered up the place.  She found a Monroe-era table being used as a saw-horse in the carpenter’s room and the famous Resolute desk in storeroom collecting dust (yes she put them back in their proper places –– the desk is still used by President Obama).  

She began collecting historic American china and silver (although most of it originally hailed from France and England) and imported fine pieces from France.  Dinners became elegant affairs under her graceful eye.

It seems one of the greatest social successes of her early reign as the first lady happened when she hosted a dinner for the President of Pakistan in July, 1961 –– held not at the White House but rather down river at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.

It was Chef Verdon’s favorite dinner, albeit a logistical nightmare since Mount Vernon had no heat, no electricity and no toilets for the 130-odd guests. The food had to be driven from the White House kitchen in military vehicles that did double duty as mobile kitchens!  The guests arrived by yacht.

The very tall (6’1) Letitia Baldrige at the White House

It wasn’t just the logistics of the meal that were daunting that evening.  It seems there was a mosquito invasion that threatened the event.   Gallons of DDT were sprayed everywhere, including the kitchen –– can you imagine (the dinner area was sprayed again 2 hours before the dinner)?  The chef was prostrate with horror that the spray would poison the guests and there was no time to prepare the food again ("I'm not going to be responsible," he cried, "for the number of deaths from DDT!").  

The indomitable Letitia Baldrige (legendary White House Chief of Staff to Mrs. Kennedy and manners maven who attended Miss Porters and Vassar as did Mrs. Kennedy), would not allow disaster to strike without a fight.  She had the secret service taste all the food to see if they would be sickened by it. They had a bit of indigestion from over-eating but were otherwise unharmed so the dinner went on as planned.

Mrs. Kennedy in her Oleg Cassini dress with the Pakistan President and his wife

A NYT interview in 2009 related,  “In a historic break with tradition, Mrs. Kennedy chose to stage the event, held July 11, 1961, for the president of Pakistan, under a tent at Mount Vernon, 16 miles from the White House. Her inspiration was a trip the Kennedys had taken to France, where President Charles de Gaulle had hosted a dinner in their honor at Versailles. Mrs. Kennedy’s social secretary, Letitia Baldrige, later wrote that a feast had materialized from behind “massive, 18th-century painted screens, which concealed the serving tables, electricity generators, warming ovens, and ice coolers. I remember thinking the whole thing was a logistical miracle. ...”

Jacqueline Kennedy had very definite ideas about entertaining.  She liked round tables with no more than 10 seats for easy conversation between the guests and low light and low centerpieces so you could see the people on the other side of the table – not a jungle of flowers.   She didn’t like bright overhead light and installed dimmers in chandeliers at the White House (Baldrige said such light made food and guest’s complexions look bad).

Jackie was equally particular about what was served.  She introduced the idea of seasonal fresh food  (Verdon quit the Johnson White House when the Johnson administration introduced cost cutting measures that re-introduced canned vegetables –– a particularly vile chickpea soup was the real deal-breaker) and fine cuisine in the White House. 

The First Lady limited the dinners to 4 courses (fish or soup, main course, salad and dessert (at home she often skipped dessert and had salad and cheese).  When she took over the White House, she printed the menus in French.  She changed to English menus with French dishes in French to be more American. If you want to learn more about Jackie and her menus, visit American Menu HERE to see many original menus and learn more about Jackie's food tastes.


Haut-Brion Blanc 1958


Moet et Chandon Imperial Brut 1955



Mount Vernon, Virginia
July 11, 1961

The menu was explained in the NYT article,  “The 130 or so guests dined on avocado and crab meat mimosa (the word is akin here to the “cocktail” in shrimp cocktail); poulet chasseur (chicken in a sauce of shallots, mushrooms and tomatoes — but without the usual white wine, in deference to the guests of honor); fresh vegetables and herbs with rice; raspberries in Chantilly cream; and petits fours dipped in chocolate.”
Poulet Chasseur –– that’s my dish this week.  As I said HERE, there are 5 mother sauces and this week I wanted to try the tomato leg of the sauce marathon.  Sauce Chasseur uses the classic French tomato sauce as part of its taste profile.  It differs from the version we are all used to in that it has a roux base and is cooked with bacon and pork for a few hours to intensify the flavors.  It isn’t tomato sauce as we know it since it's used as a deep additional flavor, not the main event.  

The finished product, Sauce Chasseur, is a beautiful mushroom, wine and demi-glace creation.  It is dark and rich and mysterious as well since a quart of stock is reduced to give it it's depth and soul.  This sauce has a lot of soul.
Guinea Hen

I decided to use D’Artagnan’s guinea hen to mix it up a little.  Not to worry, a chicken will work the same way but I wanted to try a slightly deeper flavor for my dish. They are the size of a small chicken and the flavor is mix between a chicken and a pheasant –– you should try them if you haven’t (David Tanis sings its praises in the NYT's this week HERE).  

I used Escoffier’s recipe so that I could make that sauce tomate (you can freeze the rest in 1/2 cup size portions to add to your meat and poultry dishes and to make a quick tomato sauce taste like you spent all day over a stove –– it’s a little kitchen magic) instead of the tomato paste in Verdon’s recipe. I’ve included his recipe as a simpler alternative to Escoffier (this recipe includes the wine that was eliminated for the dinner for the President of Pakistan).
Needless to say, most of this dish can be made way in advance so you just need to cook the chicken and reheat the sauce (this is probably why this worked for Jackie’s dinner –– this is easy to do in advance). I also made the rice dish on the menu that’s great with the sauce.

Escoffier Sauce Chasseur
6 medium mushrooms
2 T butter
2 T olive oil
1 t minced shallots
1 c white wine
2 oz brandy
½ c tomato sauce*
1 T meat glaze (boil 1/2 c stock till reduced to a thick glaze - pay attention to it –– it goes from glaze to burn quickly at the end, a non-stick pan is perfect for doing this)
Peel and mince 6 m mushrooms, heat ½ oz butter and olive oil.  Fry mushrooms till slightly browned.  Add t of minced shallots and remove half the butter.  Pour 1 c white wine and 1 glass of brandy reduce by half and finish with tomato sauce, 1 c demi-glace and 1 T meat glaze boil 5 minutes or until it is thickened slightly.  Strain and reserve. You will have 1 cup of sauce.

*Tomato sauce
1 large can tomato puree (I used Muir Glen fire-roasted crushed tomatoes)
1 strip bacon, chopped   
small piece ham knuckle or trotter with bone or piece of ham with bone - about the size of a child's fist
3 T carrot, chopped small 
3 T onion, chopped small
bouquet garni
small clove of garlic 
1 T butter (the bacon will give up about 1 T of fat, add more butter to make 2 T fat
2 T flour 
1  t salt
1 t sugar
pinch pepper
1 c stock

Cook bacon in butter, sprinkle with flour, add tomatoes and veg and ham and stock.  Boil and cook over low heat for 2 - 3 hours, stirring frequently (it will scorch a little). Take out bouquet and ham and strain, pressing on the solids. Whisk till smooth

Escoffier’s Guinea Hen Chasseur (the guinea hen will serve 2 - 4, a  chicken will serve 4 - 6
guinea hen or  a 3-1/2 lb chicken cut into serving pieces (breasts without bone, legs, thighs and wings –reserve back and breast bone for stock) or 4 breast or 8 thigh pieces
salt and pepper
1 T butter
1T olive oil
¼ c white wine
1 T cognac
1 c chasseur sauce
8 sliced mushrooms ( I used shitakes and chanterelles) 
chopped parsley (tarragon and chervil are nice too but optional)
Salt and pepper the meat and brown it well  in equal quantities of butter and oil. Cook at medium heat until cooked through.  Cook the breast meat less than the rest of the meat. Place on a dish and cover.  Sauté the mushrooms in the remaining fat.
Pour out the fat. Swirl the saucepan with white wine and cognac and reduce.  Put the chicken back in the pan and toss with mushrooms,  pour chasseur sauce over the meat and sprinkle with herbs.

COURRONE DE RIZ CLAMART (a southwest suburb of Paris) from Tastebook  Makes 6 servings
            2 tsp butter

            1/2 cup each finely chopped red and green pepper
 ( I used 1 poblano pepper)
            3 cups cooked long grain rice
 (I used brown rice)
            2 eggs, beaten

            1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
 (I think 1/2 c is better)
            1 cup chicken stock

            2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

            1 plum tomato, peeled, seeded and finely chopped (I used about 8 un-peeled cherry tomatoes since they have flavor at this time of year)

            1/4 tsp each salt and pepper

            1 cup baby peas


In skillet, melt half the butter over medium-high heat. Add peppers, cook, stirring often, 
for about 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Reserve

In bowl, gently stir together rice, eggs, Parmesan cheese, chicken stock and parsley.
Stir in peppers, tomato, salt and pepper.

Spoon rice mixture into generously buttered 1 quart round tube mold or Bundt pan, 
packing down gently with spoon (I used a copper mold and put ramkins in the center since I wanted a taller shape!

Bake in 350 degree oven for 25 minutes or until lightly browned (mine took 35 minutes).
Remove from oven and let stand for 2 minutes.
Invert over serving platter over top of mold and turn out rice mixture.
Toss peas with remaining butter, spoon into center of rice ring. 

   POULET SAUTE CHASSEUR: A Treasury of White House Cooking by François Rysavy, as told to Frances Spatz Leighton (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1972) SERVES: Four (4) persons  from Aesthete Cooks

1 3-pound fryer, cut into 8 pieces

¼ pound [unsalted] butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

½ pound raw mushrooms, sliced
3 shallots, finely chopped

1 cup chicken consommé
1 cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons brandy

¼ cup tomato paste

½ teaspoon chopped tarragon, 
Parsley (chopped, for garnish)

        Salt and pepper the pieces of fowl, and sauté them in a large skillet with the butter and olive oil until brown.
Take the pieces of chicken out of the skillet and set aside on a platter or dish. Sauté the mushrooms and shallots in the skillet, using the now-chicken-intensified butter/olive oil mixture. When they begin to turn a golden color, pour in the consommé, white wine, and brandy. Let simmer, uncovered, until the liquid is reduced by about one-third. Then add the tomato paste and tarragon, and immediately return the chicken to the pan.

 Simmer the chicken, covered, until tender—about 30 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.


Barbara said...

I met Jackie once. Both our sons took Outward Bound at the same time and I sat next to her at the Boston airport while we were waiting for their return. She was gracious and charming.
I also remember reading about the dinner at Mount Vernon. Logistic nightmare is right. A lot of people gave Jackie a hard time about the French chef. I thought she was a smart cookie to hire him. Those years were something, weren't they?
Brilliant photos of your dish, Deana. It looks divine.

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

Good morning my dear Deana,

I loved what you said in your comment. Like you, I am deeply saddened by many of the changes (inevitable) that are happening in the values of life. You are so correct in what you said about our images and computers and everything else we create passing with us.

This era, the Camelot era, struck me very strongly. I was only four years old when President K. was shot, but I already had a sense even at that age, that something lovely, something we all wanted, had been killed. These flavors you share, are more than a recipe for fine dining. They are the life work of an individual that was able to bring surprise, elegance and a chapter in our history that can only bring tears to our eyes, if we stop long enough to "read" between the lines.

You are a historian in the most sterling sense of the word. You, like my husband, are passionate about not just the images, the artifacts, but about the lives and the VALUES that ruled, conquered, influenced, but have faded away.

Your visits and posts always leave me much richer. Thank you Deana. Anita

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Deana:
The easy elegance that was Jackie Kennedy, oh how this pervades everything you write and show here about entertaining at the White House during her time there.

Chicken in a 'chasseur' sauce has always been a favourite of ours, particularly so when one is sure of really flavoursome tomatoes. Regrettably, this is rarely the case in England where tomatoes tend to be orange not red and have no taste at all.

pam said...

Fascinating as always. I loved the book, "Mrs. Kennedy and Me" and I remember reading about the nightmare that this was for the secret service.

La Table De Nana said...

Makes me wonder exactly which perfume she was wearing..she did look narrow to me also..and so elegant a sweater set and straight pants or a sleeveless shift w/ matching coat heels and a pillbox.
Her large sunglasses..
A beauty to me..
Your couronne is perfection:)

Kathy Walker said...

Great post! Jackie was one classy lady. She was amazing...I enjoyed exploring the Pink Pillbox...great fun.

Diane said...

Can I come to dinner please, I am sure that you can make this very much better than I could. My mouth is watering :-) Keep well Diane

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

You know that I find all of your posts fascinating but this one in particular! You often read about the Kennedys but you don't read about the way they ate or entertained, just the scandalous stuff! I find this much more entertaining and interesting! :D

Erika Beth, the Messy Chef said...

Lovely! Minus the DDT story. Eek! lol

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

What an interesting post, Deana, and how wonderful that you were actually in an elevator with Jackie! She really did bring so much class to the White House. It seems everything she did was elegant.

I can't even imagine the DDT being sprayed all over before the dinner. Doesn't it just make you wonder if that's why she got Hodgkins Lymphoma and died so young? Then, it could have been all the cigarettes she smoke also.

What a lovely meal. I'm sure Jackie would approve :)

Rosita Vargas said...

Bello post me emociono mucho al leer adoraba el matrimonio Kennedy y sus comidas preferidas,saludos desde el sur de Chile,hugs,hugs.

Marjie said...

I just adore Mount Vernon, although holding a state dinner there with no modern conveniences must have no mean feat. And I don't blame Jackie's chef for quitting the Johnson White House; canned vegetables, really?

Reggie Darling said...

What a divine post and so beautifully illustrated. Thank you, I read and the re-read it, I liked it so much. If you haven't seen it already, I would encourage you to go to the NYTimes website and watch an interview of her sister Lee Radziwill, who is a real character, to say the least. I met Mrs. Onassis a couple of times, and found her charming and understandably somewhat reserved. Thanks for this marvelous post!! Reggie

Reggie Darling said...

Oh, another thing -- have you seen "Cooking For Madam" (or some variation thereof) , a memoir and cookbook written by a woman who cooked for Mrs. Onassis and her family for many years? I recommend it if you have not. Not so much for the recipes, but rather the photographs and reminiscences of what they ate and did, etc. RD

Erica said...

Love this post...Very interesting and fascinating!What a wonderful meal!I love reading about the Kennedy family!

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

I LOVE this! Of course, anyone who grew up in the 60s would be transfixed by anything JFK and Jackie! And I love the fact that Jackie staged a dinner at the estate of American royalty - Mount Vernon!

Chocolate Shavings said...

What an interesting post - Jackie Kennedy represents elegance at its best.

El said...

An amazing post with so much good research. I really enjoyed reading this piece. Thanks for sharing!

Frank said...

Wow, DDT with your poulet… sounds divine!

The dish, however, does look and sound wonderful. Real old-time French cuisine of the kind you hardly ever see any more.

Lori Lynn said...

I am eating this up!
Love the Kennedy entertaining!
And as an extra bonus, your dish looks fabulous. I like the idea of the rice mold, may have to play with that...

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Darryl Grant said...

So very true!