This past weekend I decided to cook Chicken Dijonnaise, a bastion of classical French cuisine. It’s a simple preparation whereby the chicken is sautéed then served in a creamy Dijon mustard sauce with onions and bacon. Chicken Dijonnaise is one of those dishes that became so popular in its heydey, that it spawned horrible imitations. You probably ate a bastardized version at a wedding or buffet in the 1980s. It is a simple dish that requires nothing more than patience to get right.
Naming French Dishes
French dishes are the sum of the land where they originate. The French love to name their dishes after the cities and regions that inspired their creation. Think Mayonnaise (originally named Mahonnaise), named after 1757 victory over Spain in Mahon. Or even Béarnaise named for the city of Béarn. When I went to cooking school in the early 1980s, we were taught the geography of France. We learned what grows in each region and what the famous dishes were. This simple lesson acted as a decoder ring for French cooking that has benefitted me since.
In the case of chicken Dijonnaise, I learned this. The city of Dijon is very fortunate to sit at the crossroads of one of the great breadbasket regions of France. The neighboring farms raise everything from the famed blue-footed Poulet Bresse chickens to incredible onions. Nearby Burgundy produces some of the world’s best white and red wines. It is quite natural then that we have a chicken dish in a mustard sauce with small sweet onions.
Make Chicken Dijonnaise at Home
In the old days, the creamy Dijon mustard sauce was made far heavier with copious quantities of flour, butter, and cream added. My version maintains the integrity of the dish while being lighter and gluten-free. Adding a squeeze of fresh lemon juice brightens the rich cream sauce with a touch of acidity, adding depth and complexity to the final dish. Give my recipe a go and hashtag us at #PistouandPastis so we can see what you made!
Chicken breast cooked in a creamy Dijon mustard sauce
- 16 cippolini onions peeled, see notes
- 1 cup chicken stock see notes for recipe link
- 3 tbsps unsalted butter
- 2 ounces slab bacon cut into thick matchsticks
- 4 6-ounce chicken breasts pounded, see notes about chicken paillard
- 1 tsp herbes de Provence
- 1 tsp flaked sea salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
To Make the Dijonnaise Sauce
- 1/4 cup white wine
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 1 tsp fresh thyme chopped
- 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
In a small saucepan over high heat, combine cippolini onions and chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes, or until the onions are easily pierced with a paring knife. Strain keeping both the onions and the stock.
In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter until foamy. Add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, about 3 minutes. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel to drain.
Season chicken breasts with dried herbes de Provence, flaked sea salt, and black pepper. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat until foamy and butter is just starting to turn amber-colored. Add chicken breasts to the pan, and cook 3 minutes on each side, until light brown and fully cooked. You may need to cook the breasts in two batches. Reserve chicken breasts on a dinner plate while finishing the sauce.
To make the Dijonnaise sauce: Add the reserved onion cooking liquid and white wine to the chicken pan and bring it to a rapid boil, and reduce liquid by 50%. Whisk in the Dijon mustard, heavy cream, and thyme and cook until sauce consistency. Sauce consistency means the liquid is reduced to the point where it will coat the back of a wooden spoon. Add the lemon juice and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper to your tastes.
Rewarm the chicken breasts by adding them to the sauce along with any juices remaining on the plate. Add the onions and bacon and serve immediately.
Cippolini Onions are a flat, disk-shaped super sweet onion that are widely available in grocery stores nationwide. Look for small ones that are slightly bigger than a pearl onion. Because of the high sugar content, they caramelize super easily. You will curse my name as you peel them, but they are so enjoyable to eat that you will forgive me afterward. Peel by trimming the root end base and pulling the first onion layer off. Save this part for chicken stock. Cippolinis have a squiggly top that I love to leave as intact as possible for aesthetic purposes.
Paillard is a French cooking term meaning a piece of meat or fish that is pounded thin and cooked quickly. In this case, we pound a chicken breast to between a 1/4 inch and a 1/2 inch thick so it cooks quickly and evenly.