(Introduction by Malcolm Hébert, cookbook author, former food and wine editor of the San Jose Mercury News, and a gentleman of fine Louisiana stock.)
In New Orleans, this entree is considered to be one of the finest dishes ever created. It was first made at Brennan's restaurant in the French Quarter by Chef Paul Blange in the early 1950's.
"It was named after the beautiful Baroness Pontalba who came to New Orleans in the 1700's," says Ted Brennan, one of the owners. Like the Baroness who gave lavish parties and served rich creative Creole dishes, Chicken Pontalba is a rich lavish dish that is truly Creole in creation.
Knowing that every restaurant has "signature" dishes to enhance its reputation, Blange searched his culinary repertoire to create something different. And what could be more different than cooked chicken breasts napped with Bearnaise sauce all on a bed of deep fried potatoes, diced ham, mushrooms, onions, garlic and white wine?
In a large saute pan or skillet put in the 2 tablespoons butter, salt, pepper, and add about 1/4 inch water to the pan. Bring this poaching liquid to the boil, add breasts, cover, lower heat and simmer 15 minutes or until the breasts are done. With a slotted spoon remove the breasts and keep warm in 175 degree oven. Discard the poaching liquid.
- 2 teaspoons plus 1/2 cup butter
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- Dash of pepper
- Water for poaching
- 8 chicken breasts, boned, skinned and halved
- 4 tablespoons garlic, finely chopped
- 2 cups white onions, chopped
- 2 cups green onions, chopped
- 1-1/2 cups boiled ham, chopped
- 2 cups mushroom, sliced
- 1-1/2 cups diced potatoes, deep fried about 2 minutes
- 3 tablespoons parsley, chopped
- 3/4 cup white wine
- 3 cups Bearnaise sauce
In another sautepan or skillet, melt the remaining butter and saute the garlic, onions, ham and mushrooms until they are brown. Add the wine and reduce by one-third. Add fried potatoes and parsley and cook 2 minutes. Remove and keep warm in the oven.
To assemble the Pontalba, put 1/8 of the potato/ham mixture in the center of the plate. Place on each side of the mixture one half of a chicken breast. Top each breast with a generous amount of Bearnaise sauce.
Yield: 8 servings.
My friend Louise Pemberton, who recently read a biography of the Baroness, begs to differ with Mr. Brennan's above description of the Baroness, to wit: "The Baroness was not beautiful and wasn't even born until 1795! She left New Orleans when she was 15, returned around 1850 for a couple of years, and was even less beautiful then because that was after she had been shot a bunch of times by her father-in-law. And when she returned she didn't have any parties." Her hubby Michael concurs: "Based on portraits I can definitely vouch for the 'not beautiful' part. She was more a tough (though very rich) brawd than a debutante."
For your amusement and edification. :-)
Many thanks to Christopher Hébert for providing the recipe and his father's articles.
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Chuck Taggart (e-mail chuck)