Baked Quince and Chicken Stacks and the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte
Approx cost: €4.50
Approx calories (per serving): ~440
Approx preparation time: ~60 minutes
First off, let me tell you all about my weekend, and believe me – it was a good ‘un. I was speaking with my parents just before the weekend and they mentioned a Château with a rather interesting history not too far from where I live, so come Friday we’d hatched a plan to go and check it out. The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte was built by a “Nicolas Fouquet”, superintendent of Finances, under Louis XIV. During Louis’ reign it is believed by some that Fouquet was charging more than the legally permitted interest rate on debts and then pocketing the difference, effectively defrauding the King. Louis XIV was none too pleased about this and finally decided enough was enough. Fouquet was imprisoned for the rest of his life, and his Château seized. Whatever may have happened during this time, innocent or guilty, there sure was a lot of cash flying around. It’s said that he bought up and demolished 3 villages in order to make room for his “dream home”. These villagers were then employed to maintain his estate.
We started off by checking out the stables – they had a rather interesting display of old carriages and the like. One of them was even made in Bath, England apparently – not far from where my parents live. They had all manner of saddles and other horse-related items on display used during the era and it made for an interesting precursor to the rest of the visit.
We were eager to see inside the Château next so after a few pauses to take some more photos we went inside. These houses always amaze me – you have a maze of passageways and stairs going this way and that. You then have hidden doors, disguised to look like the wall, used by servants to make their “smooth entrances” into the room. After seeing a great many vastly opulent rooms it was interesting to come across a small bathroom.
Boy am I glad I have flushing toilets these days! After this was Madame Fouquet’s private room, the wife of the owner of house. Later on we saw the private chambers of Louis XV and XVI, as well as the King’s chamber – these were built just on the off-chance that royalty should suddenly decide to pay a visit to the Château. Behind these private chambers there was a narrow corridor with a small covered bed in it – I can only assume that some private servant for the chambers was sleeping here (it wasn’t mentioned anywhere else). From the first photo above you’ll notice that the Château has a large dome in the centre. You can actually go to the top of this and it’s a very fun experience to go up into the roof of such an old building. You go up several flights of rickety-looking stairs, across a walkway which goes directly over the other side of the dome (dusty, for sure!) and then up to the little tower on top, complete with a small bell. What was interesting was the numerous people who seem to think it’s appropriate to climb to the top of a 17th century national monument and then carve their initials into a doorway. I doubt the lead cladding over the door itself dates from the 17th century, but it still detracts from the overall atmosphere of the place and is quite sad.
In any case, the views, both from the top of the dome, and the floor immediately underneath were wonderful. I’m guessing the rich people didn’t go up here much – the design of everything was very cold and functional, compared with the lavish, marble and gold encrusted things downstairs. Too bad – they didn’t know what they were missing!
Continuing on the tour, we saw more state rooms, dining rooms, libraries and the like, and then headed downstairs to the kitchens and servants’ areas. The kitchen was amazing – cool, stone, high vaulted ceilings, so much space and ovens and stoves galore! I think I even prefered the servants’ dining room compared to the opulence of upstairs. Simple table settings in front of a huge fire. It looked like an enjoyable place to spend a meal.
After this the tour ended on a rather sad note. They’d converted a dark, damp part of an underground section of the tunnel into a small cell, and had chained a mannequin to the wall in there to symbolise the fate of Nicolas Fouquet. What did I learn from this? If I ever go back in time and meet Louis XIV, don’t get on his nerves! We made our way out into the bright sunlight and after a brief stop at a small café in the gardens we started wandering around to see the estate. The estate and gardens are actually fascinating – all sorts of trickery was used to perform effects which I’m still not quite sure I understand – decelerated perspective, for example. You can be walking along and you suddenly see there are two canals in front of you, which were hidden previously. There is a large square lake too. If you stand on one side you can get a full reflection of the Château, even though it’s about 1km away.
So, would I go again? Most definitely, and I’d recommend you to go too. When I went, the weather was swealtering, so if it’s like this then I would recommend you hire a little motorised car to visit the grounds in. They cost only €15 for 45 mins, and €5 for each additional 15 mins, seat 4 people and allow you to easily travel to far away sections of the grounds. They have a restaurant there I think – I’d probably try and check this place out too. I hope I’ve given you a bit of insight into this wonderful Château, though I really recommend you visit the Wikipedia page I’ve linked above – there is so much more to read about this place! As usual, any photos I’ve taken for today’s adventure post can be downloaded, if desired, from my Downloads Page.
Anyway, now on to today’s recipe! I’ve used, or plan to use most of the quinces I had for various canning-related posts. I wouldn’t feel entirely satisfied unless I had prepared some sort of main meal with them however, so this is the result of that – a “Charles Special”, so to speak. My wife isn’t a big fan of fruit in savoury dishes so, as Kristy would say, from her side it probably only got about “2 spoons”. I was particularly pleased with the chicken. I had never minced (I say minced but it was more like “pulverised” by the time I was finished with it) and it wasn’t until recently that the idea hit me, when reading a post by Sissi. I loved the result – so flavourful and a wonderful alternative to minced beef, I see now. Expect to see more mashed up chicken in the future!
The guacamole I’m still not entirely sold on in this dish. Don’t get me wrong – I freaking love the stuff but one of the only reasons I made it here was because we had two sitting around in the kitchen and I was worried they might be spoiling. Of course, despite being blackened and soft from the outside, when I cut them open they were in perfect shape (even perhaps a little on the firm side). It provided a nice side-flavour but I think maybe some sort of tomato-based creamy reduction sauce might go better with such a dish in the future.
I’m a big fan of dishes made of lots of individual components like this… all stacked up. You really get the feeling that it’s been served to you at some fancy restaurant, even if it’s just something you cooked up at home. It makes quite a light meal, so if you’re really hungry you probably want to add extra chicken/make the patties thicker, add some more potato in there, and so forth. Hope you like it, and enjoy your Thursday!
- 2 Quinces
- 2 Avocadoes
- 2 Chicken Breasts
- 2 large Potatoes
- 2 Onions
- 1 Handful of Fresh Mint
- ~4 tbsps low-fat Yoghurt
- Juice from half a Lemon
- 4 tbsps Olive Oil
- 3 tsp Cumin
- 2 cloves of Garlic
- Start off by pre-heating your oven to about 170 degrees Celsius. Peel the Quinces and cut the top and bottom off. Cut each Quince into 4 equal width slices and carefully remove the core. Brush the slices with 1 tbsp of Olive Oil, sprinkle on a little salt and pepper, place on a baking tray and place into the hot oven for about 20 minutes.
- Peel the potatoes and chop lengthways into slices about 5-6 mm thick. This is a choice thing – feel free to make them thicker or thinner if you prefer. Heat another 1 tbsp of Oil in a large frying pan. Rinse the potato slices to remove any excess starch and when the oil is hot, add in the slices into the hot oil and fry. This process will take about 15 minutes so move onto the next step meanwhile – just bear in mind that you’ll need to flip the potato slices every 3 or 4 minutes or so!
- Next we’ll make a very fast, simple guacamole – In a food processor, place the peeled garlic, the peeled avocadoes, the yoghurt, 2 tsps of Cumin, 1 tbsp of Olive Oil and the lemon juice. Add a sprinkling of salt and pepper and blend until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and place in the refrigerator to cool.
- Wash out the food processor mixing bowl and then add in the chicken breasts, the mint leaves and the two onions, peeled and roughly chopped. Add in the remaining 1 tsp of Cumin and a sprinkle of black pepper and blend everything on high speed until well mixed.
- Use this opportunity to check on the potatoes and quince slices, flipping them over if necessary, and then heat the remaining 1 tbsps of Olive Oil in a large frying pan. Divide the chicken mixture into 8 pieces, form each piece into a patty with your hands, making it quite thin, before transferring it to the frying pan. Fry each side for about 3 minutes, until browning nicely.
- Finally, remove the potatoes, chicken patties and quinces slices from their various cooking implements and transfer to a plate. Get out the guacamole ready, and then form little stacks on plates. I laid a quince slice, a bit of guacamole, a chicken patty, bit more guacamole, potato slice, bit more guac, and then the same again, quince, chicken potato, before finally decorating the plate with a final touch of guacamole. Enjoy!