Chicken Gismonda

Rick Cooks Home Chicken Gismonda

gismonda.gif (111003 bytes) The year 1894 saw the convergence of three of the greatest figures of the Art Nouveau culture: the famed French playwright and librettist Victorien Sardou (writer of Puccini’s Tosca), the prolific actress Sarah Bernhardt, and the struggling Moravian artist Alphonse Mucha.

Bernhardt was a theater sensation in Paris. Sardou wrote a play for her called “Gismonda” in which she would play the title role. At that time, Mucha was trying to make a living in Paris as an apprentice painting posters for a theater scene painting firm. The producer of Gismonda commissioned the firm to paint a theater poster for Sardou’s new play to open at the Theatre de la Renaissance. Mucha was given the task.

The rest is history. (And so is the past, isn't it?) Bernhardt was at the apex of her long career, but Mucha’s was just taking off. His Gismonda poster (left) was such a sensation that it inspired a whole new art deco poster style called the Mucha style. For the next several years, Mucha made a handsome living in decorative art (what we would call “commercial art” today) that included not only advertising posters (Job cigarette paper, Perfecta bicycles, and De La Meuse beer), but also bank notes, postage stamps, and stained glass windows.

(Note: if you are a collector of the Job cigarette paper posters, it is illegal in California to display it within 500 feet of a school or place where minors are present.)

Mucha's work was significant because it contrasted greatly with the cubist movement in vogue at the time. Cubism was favored by art critics and intellectuals, who viewed the decorative arts with disdain. Mucha's work, which emphasised beauty over cubism, was not hung in museums, but endures in popularity to this day.

What does all this have to do with this recipe? Nothing. Unless a Paris bistro in near the Theatre de la Renaissance invented this and served it to the after-theater patrons. I’d like to think so. This is a bistro dish which is cheap, simple, and flavorful and can be dished up in a hurry.

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Chicken Gismonda

*Serves 6*

3 large whole chicken breasts, halved, skinned, and boned
All-purpose flour
salt and freshly ground pepper
3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 T water
c freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 c fresh bread crumbs
c butter
2 lb fresh spinach, sautéed
1 lb fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced

Coat the chicken breasts lightly but thoroughly in flour seasoned with salt and pepper.
Beat the eggs with the water and dip the chicken in the mixture. Blend the cheese and bread crumbs and dip the pieces in this, coating thoroughly. Pat lightly to help the crumbs adhere.
Melt half the butter in a large skillet and cook the chicken in it until golden brown on both sides, turning once.
Meanwhile, sauté the spinach according to Rick's recipe.
While the spinach cooks, the remaining butter in a skillet and cook the mushrooms, stirring, until light brown.
Spoon the hot spinach onto six hot plates and top each with a chicken breast. Scatter the mushrooms over all and serve hot.