When I was young, Julia Child was as much a fixture in my family's kitchen as she was on television.
Not only did my mother watch her, she cooked right along with her, too. The local public television station sent the recipes in advance and my mother collected them in a three-ring binder she still has.
My favorite menu was what we referred to as "French Chicken," a butterflied chicken slathered with a mustard, white wine and scallion sauce that bakes on during roasting, becoming a delectable crust and infusing the chicken with the heady flavors of Dijon.
The vegetable was fresh peas cooked with Boston lettuce, and dessert was a delicious apple tart with Grand Marnier-spiked applesauce and a layer of apricot-glazed apple slices on top. This menu often was served as a birthday meal, so it seems fitting as we near Child's 100th birthday celebration.
I knew my mother adapted Child's recipes, but I thought she created the menu herself. However, a few years ago I was rummaging in an antique store and I found a limited edition cookbook that compiled all the menus of Child's television series. As I thumbed the pages, I saw the menu I'd thought was my mother's.
I read through the recipes and realized my favorite meal was literally taken from the show and I thanked Child for bringing a taste of France to my mother's very Southern kitchen. I went on to become a huge Francophile, living in Paris and falling in love with the food, the culture, the sounds, everything - even the notebooks and pens.
When I came back to the U.S., I started working in the food world and joined several culinary organizations. Much to my delight, even though Child was a reigning culinary icon and getting on in years, she attended the conferences and always was front and center at the seminars.
I was thrilled to meet her, and was impressed that even then she still wanted to learn more, even from people far less accomplished than herself. That characteristic influenced my life as much as her food did. I try to live everyday like I envisioned Julia Child living, eternally curious and listening to what others have to offer.
So, it is no surprise that I took my favorite childhood chicken dish and adapted it to the grill. The grill facilitates the browning and crisping of the skin and the mustard glaze, making this one chicken that you have to eat skin and all.
I love the old-fashioned broiled tomato. It is simple, delicious and brightens every plate. This mustard sauce and the breadcrumbs make the best version of the dish, so I added it to the recipe and grill them while the chicken rests. If you don't like tomatoes, skip them.
It may not be exactly as Julia intended, but it certainly brings her spirit into my home every time I make it, and I hope it will bring her into your home, as well.
Elizabeth Karmel is a grilling and Southern foods expert and executive chef at Hill Country Barbecue Market restaurants in New York and Washington, as well as Hill Country Chicken in New York. She is the author of three cookbooks, including "Soaked, Slathered and Seasoned."
'French Chicken' with Dijon Mustard and Scallions
•2 small whole chickens
•1/4 cup olive oil
•Grains of paradise or ground black pepper
•2 tablespoons white wine
•1/3 cup strong Dijon mustard
•3 tablespoons melted butter
•1 teaspoon dried thyme
•Pinch of cayenne pepper
•3 scallions, chopped
•1 cup fresh breadcrumbs, plus extra for the tomatoes
•2 to 4 tomatoes, halved
Heat the grill for indirect cooking over medium heat.
Use paper towels to pat dry both chickens. Using poultry shears or a very sharp knife, cut down the length of each chicken's backbone on both sides to remove it. Overturn the chickens to be breast side up, then break the breastbone by striking it sharply with a blunt object, such as can.
Spread the chickens open and lay flat. Tuck the wing tips under the upper wings, then brush with olive oil. Season with salt and grains of paradise or black pepper. Place the chickens in the center of the grill skin side up. Cover the grill and cook for 20 minutes.
In a small bowl, whisk together the white wine and mustard. Drizzle the 1/4 cup of olive oil and the butter to blend. Add the thyme, cayenne and scallions, then mix to combine. Keep some for the tomatoes.
After the chickens have cooked for 20 minutes, turn them over and spread mustard sauce on backs of the chickens. Grill, covered, for 10 minutes. Turn over to breast side up and spread mustard on the skin, then grill, covered, for another 10 minutes. Sprinkle the breast-sides of the chickens with breadcrumbs and grill, covered, for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until juices run clear and the thickest part of the thigh registers 180 degrees. Remove the chickens from the heat and let them rest for 10 minutes before carving.
Spread each tomato half with some of the reserved mustard sauce, then sprinkle them with breadcrumbs. Grill for 10 minutes. Serve hot.