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Cook the Books: Chicken in Half-Mourning (Poulet Demi-Deuil)

For this round - our October-November selection - of Cook the Books, Simona of Briciole chose Tomorrow There will be Apricots by Jessica Soffer.* You can read Simona's announcement: here.

I wrote a little bit about this book when I posted my version of Masgouf for Foodie Reads 2016 a couple of months ago. What a delicious fish dinner! It's become a favorite preparation in our household.

On the Page...
Jessica Soffer is a gifted writer. But as talented as Soffer is, I found the plot implausible and the characters more cliché than compelling. Think about a troubled 14-year-old who self-harms and longs for the affection of her icy mother who is a professional chef. Think about an Iraqi Jewish immigrant who has recently lost a her husband and gets cajoled into teaching cooking classes. Everything you imagine about a widow with regrets and an angst-ridden teen exist in Victoria and Lorca, respectively. Then those two characters collide when Lorca signs up for Victoria's class, determined to learn the dish called masgouf about which her mother raved with longing. It's all pretty unbelievable.

Through the alternating narrative voices of Lorca and Victoria, the story does touch on many compelling issues including immigration, parenting, and - naturally - food. Food as sustenance. Food as comfort. Food as a replacement for love, attention, and attentiveness. And, like food, life is sometimes good, sometimes not so good, and sometimes you just have to make do with what you have on-hand!

On the Plate...
I was inspired by a scene in the book when Lorca angrily interrogates her mom who, remember, is a professional chef. "Why don't you ever cook for me?" I said. I snapped it. 

[Lorca retreats to take a nap.]

...I woke up to something amazing: the smell of chicken in half-mourning, a favorite of my mother's, done with black truffles, Maderia, garlic, and loads of butter. She was taking it out of the oven. ...

"There," she said, "Bon appétit."

...I ate as much of the chicken as I possibly could - one thigh, two drumsticks, a very large breast - though I wasn't hungry either. At first, it felt like I was eating away the space between use, but when I came to my senses, I kept eating, just to have something to do with my hands.

I had never heard of chicken in half-mourning. But, after a little research, I realized it's a classic French dish called “Poulet Demi-Deuil“, which loosely translates to “chicken in half-mourning.” The name refers to the thin black truffle slices showing through the chicken skin - like a black veil. This recipe is an amalgamation of the recipe provided in the book along with one or two others that I found online.

About to read about how I got my hands on some beautiful specimens in this post: Truffles, a Whole Fish, & Barolo. Note: you do need to prep the chicken the night before cooking so the truffle flavor permeates the chicken.


  • 1 fresh black truffle
  • 1 T Madeira wine
  • 1 T cognac
  • One  2 to 3 pound chicken (prefer organic and free range)
  • freshly ground salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 4 T butter, softened
  • 1 to 2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced

Pour Maderia and cognac into a small bowl. Slice the truffle as thinly as possible using a mandolin slicer or a very sharp knife and steady hand. Submerge the truffles in the Madeira-cognac mixture. Let stand for at least 5 minutes, then strain the truffles slices out and reserve the liquid another use, if you like. I stirred mine into a boozy mashed potato dish.

Moisten your hands, then, loosen the skin on the chicken breasts and thighs, sliding your hands between the skin and meat. Place the truffle slices under the skin as evenly as you can, forming a veil. Cover the chicken and refrigerate it over night.

Remove the chicken from the fridge and preheat the oven to 400°F. Season the chicken liberally with salt and pepper. Blend the garlic into the butter with a fork then rub the softened butter over the entire surface of the chicken.

Place the chicken, breast side up, in the center of a baking dish. Roast for 60 minutes. Raise the temperature until 450°F. Uncover and roast until the skin is golden brown and crisped. The truffles should be showing through.

Remove the chicken from the pan and flip it breast-side down so that the juices flow into the meat. Let it rest like that for 15 minutes before carving. 

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  1. I haven't read this periods selection yet but it is patiently waiting for my on my nook. This chicken sounds amazing Cam.

  2. Great choice of recipe and great result! I am glad that the dishes the book inspired were quite memorable, though the book itself was not. Thank you so much for contributing to this edition of Cook the Books.

  3. What a terrific recipe! Could you taste the truffles enough in the chicken? I've always been held up by the price, wondering if they would be worth it.

  4. Yum! This looks like a crowd pleaser!

  5. Now black truffles -- that's something I can get into - yum!

  6. Wow. Truffles. I will need to find out how you got your hands on them. I loved the writing, too, but some of the characters were annoying. For some reason I don't remember this scene in the book. Don't know how I could have missed it with that food description (and one of the few positive interactions between Lorca and her mother).


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