One of my habits when I travel is to pick up a new magazine in the bookstore or newsstand before I have to board my train or plane. Last Monday, as I was waiting for the train in Philly that would then take me to my plane in Newark, I browsed the bookstore, looking for something fun to bring with me. I settled on Cook's Illustrated (not as much fun as People, but far more delicious). Cook's is one of those magazines I always mean to subscribe to, as I find the level of rigor that they bring to food sort of fascinating. However, something always stops me from signing up and so I pick up random copies at newsstands or from the coffee tables of friends.
The recipe that stood out for me was the one in which they prepared French Chicken in a Pot. In it the bird is cooked in a covered pot at a fairly low temperature for one and a half to two hours (depending on the size of the bird). The writer emphasized the tenderness of the breast meat and the tastiness of the aromatic veggies that scented and flavored the chicken. I landed in Portland with a taste for this chicken in my mouth and so Tuesday I convinced my mom that I needed to try it. She doesn't have a cast iron Dutch oven, but she does a nice-sized oval-shaped aluminum pot that's been floating around the house since my childhood. And luckily the chicken fit nicely into that pot.
When we pulled it out after nearly two hours, it smelled terrific. The breast meat was, in fact, very tender. The only complaint I had was about the color of the skin, which the author had noted in the article. I ended up taking the lid off and browning the bird up under the broiler for a few minutes. However, it was not necessary. Look after the break for the recipe. It might seem like a lot of stuff at first, but the action is over quickly and then the chicken just takes care of itself. French Chicken in a Pot
from the February 2008 edition of Cook's Illustrated
The cooking times in the recipe are for a 4 1/2 to 5 pound bird. a 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 pound bird will take about an hour, an a 5 to 6 pound bird will take close to hours. We developed this recipe to work with a 5 to 8 quart pot with a tight-fitting lid. If ueing a 5-quart pot, do not cook a chicken larger than 5 pounds.
1 whole roasting chicken, giblets removed and discarded, wings tucked under back
2 teaspoons kosher salt or 1 teaspoon table salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, chopped medium
1 small celery stick, chopped medium (about 1/4 cup)
6 medium garlic cloves, peeled and trimmed (I smashed them and roughly chopped them)
1 bay leaf (I didn't use it as there weren't any around)
1 medium spring of rosemary (this added such nice scent)
1/2-1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1. Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 250 degrees. Pat chicken dry with paper towel and season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium heat until just smoking. Add chicken breast-side down; scatter onion, celery, garlic, bay leaf and rosemary around chicken. Cook until breast is lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Using a wooden spoon inserted into cavity of bird (I ended up needing a pair of tongs for this operation) flip chicken breast side up and cook until chicken and vegetables are well browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove Dutch oven from heat; place large sheet of foil over pot and cover tightly with lid (I skipped the foil step, to no ill effects). Transfer pot to oven and cook until an instant read thermometer registers 160 degrees when inserted in the thickest part of the breast and 175 degrees in the thickest part of the thigh, 80 to 110 minutes.
2. Transfer chicken to carving board, tent with foil and rest 20 minutes. Meanwhile, strain chicken juices from pot through a fine-mesh strainer into fat separator, pressing on solids to extract liquid; discard solids (you should have about 3/4 cup juices). Allow liquid to settle 5 minutes, then pour into saucepan and set over low heat. Carve chicken, adding any accumulated juices to saucepan. Stir lemon juice into jus to taste. Service chicken, passing jus at table.
I have to mention that I skipped most of step two. I poured all the cooking liquid, solids (you get this very tasty mess of tender onions, celery and garlic) and all into a large measuring cup and simply skimmed off the bulk of the fat on the top. We ladled the juice with the solids all over the chicken and it was wonderful. What was left I saved and used to make soup the next day.
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